These homely little dolls may not look like much compared to the oh-so-chic mod Barbies of the previous post, but they have a charm all their own, as well as a wonderful history. (I learned most of this history from the fantastic book Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls, 1840-1990, by Marcie and Bob Tubbs.)
The little dollhouse family of four includes a mom and dad, just over 4 inches each, and a boy and girl, just under 3 inches. They're made of a solid, flexible vinyl over a wire armature, and feature naively handpainted features, hair, and shoes with felt and cotton clothing. The tiny dolls were made by the Flagg Doll Company in the 1950s.
The firm began in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, just after WWII. The founders, Sheila and Charles Flagg, met during the war while she worked in a factory and he served at the Navy ship yard. Sheila was the artistically creative side of the partnership, sculpting the dolls from soap, designing and sewing their clothes, and painting their hair and faces. Charles was the mechanically creative partner. He made the molds, created the special casting oven, designed a hydraulic press to cut out the clothing, and invented a stapler to affix the clothing to the dolls. He also handled the advertising and business end of things.
The family's children sometimes helped in the factory as well. The Tubbs report in their book that "daughters, Leslie and Penny, first painted toenails and fingernails on dolls before graduating to painting faces. Neither daughter was allowed to be a 'costumer' after Leslie stapled her finger on the foot powered machine. One person in the factory boxed dolls, a thankless and unpopular task, as it was difficult to place the feet in the pre-cut tab openings. The Flagg's youngest child, Charles III, was often the nominated 'boxer.'"
The Flagg's first dolls came out around 1947, and appealed not only to children but also to child psychologists, who used them in diagnostic play with their young patients. As dollhouse play declined in the 1970s and '80s, this clinical market became the Flagg's biggest customer.
Profitability became an issue as cheap import toys began flooding the American market in the 1970s and '80s, and the company, after being sold following Charles' death, finally closed in 1985.
The charming little dolls, with their rich history as part of one of the last American family-owned and run toy companies, are a precious addition to any collection. I was thrilled to find my set in a box of bargain priced "junque" at a local sale. Even in their well loved and played with condition, they're still tiny treasures.