Doll Prehistory

Dolls have been around nearly as long as humans have been on this earth. Small human-shaped figurines carved of mammoth ivory dating back to 28,000 and 35,000 years ago were found in Germany. And many believe dolls go back even further in our prehistory too; but, as these even older dolls were likely made of wood and fur, they have long since decayed and therefore no longer exist to be found.

antique-egyption-rag-dollSince those very early days of doll-kind, other ancient dolls have been discovered made of wood, clay, ivory, marble, stone, bone, leather, cloth, wax, and even papyrus. Not all early dolls were overly simple pieces either. In fact, jointed dolls of clay existed in ancient Egypt, and a fragment of an alabaster doll with movable arms was found in ancient Babylon. That means articulated dolls date back to thousands of years before the birth of Jesus Christ and the start of our current, Gregorian, calendar system!

While we see dolls with movable limbs as having been created to delight children, many archaeologists say that such jointed dolls were charms, created simply to make noise — noise designed to keep bad things away. Truth be told, there is a lot of debate among professionals as to whether these early prehistoric and ancient dolls were first and primarily made for religious reasons, or if they were the playthings of children.

In ancient Egypt, for example, there are many dolls found. Dolls were so popular, that there’s archaeological evidence of an ancient Egyptian doll factory!

paddledollAmong the oldest, dating to 3000–2000 BC, are the flat wooden dolls with strands of hair made of sun-baked clay strung on flax thread. These ancient Egyptian dolls seem to emphasize the female form, especially the hips. The wide hips of these dolls have earned them the name “paddle dolls”. The more exaggerated female shape of these “paddle dolls” leads the experts to believe they are fertility dolls, much like the Venus of Willendorf, and not toys.

While we can thank the Egyptians and their elaborate burial rituals for preserving so many of these ancient dolls, the very fact that dolls were included in burial chambers and tombs has lead many to believe that dolls had more to do with religious ideas of death and afterlife than with the life of a child. However, since a number of dolls have survived simply due to the arid environment deftly preserving them, we have other evidence of dolls in Egypt.

When it comes ancient Egyptian dolls, clay dolls seem to have been the most common. For living along the Nile meant everyone had access to the two basic ingredients in sun-baked clay dolls: clay and the sun. Therefore, as strange as it may seem to us, wooden dolls and rag dolls made of cloth (often stuffed with papyrus as well as textile scraps) were more costly than clay and not so available for everyone. But while those dolls may have been more expensive (and, by today’s thinking, more coveted), clay dolls seem to have been very popular among children. No matter what level of society they lived in. That’s probably because the children themselves could make and “bake” their very own clay doll designs. Not unlike what many children do today with modeling clay.

When and how dolls truly became the playthings of childhood is very open to debate. In some cultures, old and new, dolls are made for use in religious ceremonies; however, once the ceremony is over, the ceremonial dolls are “retired” and given to children as playthings.

In ancient Greece and Rome, the lines between dolls for religious ritual and childhood pastime appear to have a very different trek — and an exceptionally poignant connection.

bone-doll-with-articulated-limbsDating back to at least 200 BC, many dolls in Greece and Rome had jointed limbs that moved, and some even had removeable clothing too. Then, as now, doll clothing was as fashionable and up-to-date as what young ladies and women of the day were wearing. (It’s difficult to imagine that such clothing would be purely for religious reasons.) We know this from the number of young girls buried with dolls. Most dolls found in the tombs of children were very simple creations made of terracotta, rags, wood, or bone. However, some of the more unique dolls, designed to look as lifelike as possible, were made of ivory or wax.

There also are the stories and images from ancient Greece which depict little girls playing with dolls. And, in fact, the ancient Greek word “kore”, which literally means “little girl”, was also applied to dolls. This takes on an even more powerful meaning when a young Greco-Roman girl came of age.

As a Greco-Roman girl approached marital age, she would dedicate her doll to a goddess. This doll dedication was a gift presentation given to the goddess in hopes of receiving the blessing of fertility during marriage. When she became a woman, she would literally put away her childish things!

While the archaeological record may seem confusing in terms of the true origins and purpose of dolls in human history, it is not difficult to imagine that children would be fascinated by miniature versions of people. No matter what the original purpose of dolls, children would want to play with them.

Image Credits (in order of appearance): Egyptian rag doll, paddle doll, and ancient Grecian bone doll with articulated limbs.

Polly Dolly (Or, Of Boys & Dolls)

I don’t write about dolls here much because I write about them for Diane’s Doll Hospital. In January, I wrote this piece for their newsletter; but since it was such a personal story, they graciously gave me permission to publish it here.

In 1972, the Ms. Foundation for Women produced Free to Be… You and Me, an illustrated book and record album set. Initiated by Marlo Thomas, the mission of the Free to Be… You and Me project was to provide healthy messages refuting and rejecting gender stereotypes while encouraging the positive and empowering post-1960s ideas of gender equality, individuality, comfort with one’s identity, and tolerance. Using her celebrity clout, Marlo Thomas got a number of her celebrity friends to create, write, and perform the modern day lessons to children in song and story form. No doubt the hope was that the parents and other adults in children’s lives were listening — and learning — too.

Just two years later, in March of 1974, ABC aired the Free to Be… You and Me television special. The TV special also had the celebrity cast of singers, performers, and narrators, known as Marlo Thomas and Friends. For the special, the LP tracks were often produced with animated cartoon visuals, designed to capture the attention of children who were used to being fed a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons. (By this time, Schoolhouse Rock! was already seeing great success with its educational animation work.) A number of the segments from this TV special were also reformatted for educational use in schools, including audio-visual materials such as filmstrips. As a result of this heavy media saturation, many adults today readily remember Free to Be… You and Me. In fact, the principles behind Free to Be… You and Me combined with the nostalgia continue to drive the foundation and push sales; the record has remained in print all this time (as well as put onto CD) and a newly remastered version of the television special was released on DVD in 2010.

Among the most memorable and iconic Free to Be… You and Me stories was William Wants A Doll, based upon Charlotte Zolotow’s children’s picture book William’s Doll (1972). The animated TV version of William Wants A Doll, performed by Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas, was about a little boy who really, really wanted a doll. But William’s desire for a baby doll wasn’t encouraged.

william wants a doll

His friends told him not to be a “sissy”. His brother said not to be a “jerk”. His father tried to distract William with more manly toys, giving his son a basketball, a baseball glove, and other sports items as gifts. But none of this deterred William. In spite of all the mocking and manipulation, he still wanted a doll.

Eventually, William’s understanding grandmother gets William a doll! The boy is elated!

william and his doll

But William’s father is concerned by the gift, and it’s up to the grandmother to explain that it’s OK. After all, William just wants to love and care for a doll — and that’s how he will learn care for his own baby “as every good father should do”.

William’s lesson of boys and dolls was given over three decades ago. Since then, many studies have been done and many articles have been written. Over and over again they indicate that dolls are perfectly fine toys for boys. But still, the social pressure of “the boy code” persists so strongly that many people today remain shocked that little boys would like to play with dolls. Or that grown men would collect dolls. Thanks heavens for all the boys and men who ignored those people and just continued to love dolls!

[Break]

I was just 10 years old when William Wants A Doll hit television and I still remember it vividly. Not just for the whiny and grating (yet somehow infections) chorus of “A doll, a doll, William wants a doll”. (It is quite catchy!) Nor for the hoards of kids who sang it, matching the whiny and grating sound with mocking and contemptuous sneers. What made William Wants A Doll so memorable then was the shock I received seeing and hearing it — I was flabbergasted that it even existed.

How could the idea of a boy loving a doll even be “a thing” — let alone a thing so big that there had to be a counter-movement against it?

Now, you might say that I was a wise and accepting kid. Or that all kids are wise and accepting, at least until someone teaches them not to be. Or maybe you think I was just naive. …It is true that I didn’t have any brothers, so what did I know of male gender roles and doll troubles? But the truth is, I knew a little boy who had a doll — or, I should say, I knew of a little boy who’d had a doll growing up. That boy was now a man. And that man was my father.

This is my father, Dean, with his doll, Polly. Actually, to the family she is known as Polly Dolly.

deanwithpollydolly

Though Polly Dolly bears no marks for maker or origin, she is likely a German-made, soft-bodied, composition doll.

We aren’t sure exactly when Polly Dolly was made; but we do know that she was really born the day she was given to my dad and he christened her “Polly Dolly”. Not that my dad remembers that day. As far back as his memory goes, there’s always been a Polly Dolly. The best he can guess is that he was given the doll when he was about three years old. Since my father was born in 1942, that would be about 1945.

It was during those years that America, like most of the world, was involved in WWII. Even if you had a lot of money (and his family didn’t), toys were quite rare due to wartime rations. Now, as an adult, my father believes that Polly Dolly was a secondhand doll, likely given to his mother by a neighbor or family friend. Not that it mattered to the three year old boy. It was a toy — and it was his, all his!

At least for the next few years.

You see, my dad has a younger sister. Being three years his junior, her arrival was around the same time as Polly Dolly’s. That’s probably not a coincidence. More than likely, news that a baby was on the way was what motivated someone to give the doll away. Here was a little boy who needed to learn how to be gentle with a real baby coming into the house; some wise and generous person know a doll was in order!

Baby sister grew. And young Dean learned to share. First, he had to learn to share the bedroom he already shared with his grandmother. And then, he had to learn to share Polly Dolly too.

One day, when my dad was about seven or eight, his mother took his little sister on a walk down the block to the park — and his sister insisted upon taking Polly Dolly along. But when mother and daughter came back from the park, little Dean discovered that his sister had left Polly Dolly there!

Being that she was so little, it was up to Dean to go back to the park and get the doll. He was furious! This was more than just some annoying thing a big brother had to do to help his little sister; this was her mistake, and she should fix it. This was inexcusable! It was one thing to walk down the block to the park and let his pals see him running errands for his sister — but it was something else to be seen carrying a doll! Remember, this was 1949-1950, or so. Boys didn’t play with dolls. Teddy bears? Sure. But a doll for a guy was different. Heck, G.I. Joe hadn’t even been invented yet! (Not to mention, as my husband and all the other men in my life remind me all the time, G.I. Joe is an “action figure”, not a “doll”). Little seven or eight year old Dean did not want to be seen carrying a doll!

But — it was his beloved Polly Dolly; he had to go get her!

No one else was going to do it; it was up to him.

So young Dean waited as long as he possibly could before he went to rescue Polly Dolly. He figured the later it was, the less of his friends there would be at the park to see him fetch the doll. I obviously wasn’t there that night, but, as a parent myself now, I know the boyhood version of my father had to have a knot in his stomach waiting as he did, worrying with every passing minute whether Polly Dolly would be there… The longer he waited, the greater the risk that someone else could take her or break her… Was the potential embarrassment worth such a risk? What a gamble it all was!

I envision my father as a boy venturing out on Operation Rescue Polly Dolly… I picture him sticking to the lengthening shadows as much as possible to hide his face — his flushing, sweating, anxious face. I imagine his joy when he spots his doll, safe and sound, at the park… Perhaps some tears spring to his eyes; one part relief, another part shame at having risked, for the sake of his boyish pride, never seeing his friend again. I see him scooping Polly Dolly up and turning quickly to make that uncomfortable run home, still trying not to be spotted by any of his friends, as his emotions twist and turn into anger at his sister once again.  And how he ends up at home, winded and spent, just glad to be able to return Polly Dolly to her proper place in his bedroom.

So you see, even at 10 years old, I didn’t need William Wants A Doll to tell me that boys can love dolls. Nor today do I need a bunch of studies or articles to tell me how boys who play with dolls grow-up to become nurturing parents and caregivers. I’ve always had my dad to show me those things.

dean with polly dolly

[Break]

As you can see, Polly Dolly has seen better days. Or, as we learned in The Velveteen Rabbit, Polly Dolly has been made Real by someone who REALLY loves her. Like the Skin Horse in the book explained, “These things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” And we all understand.

Along with the damages to her pretty face and head, Polly Dolly also has some issues with her fingers and is completely missing her toes.

polly dolly vintage composition doll

back of polly dolly's head

composition doll's hand

momma crier doll hole

And there’s a hole punched through the fabric on her soft body, exposing that she once was a mama crier doll (though my father never recalls her having made any noise; the crier was likely damaged before he ever got her).

…OK, Polly Dolly may be a bit too Real. While I completely believe in what the Skin Horse says, that “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always,” dear old Polly Dolly is in need of some serious repairs — if only to make sure she will be able to survive to supervise the stories about her as they are told to future generations.

polly dolly face

 I’d like to thank Diane’s Doll Hospital, again, for allowing me to post this article here. February is the month of sweethearts for me; not only for Valentine’s Day, but my daddy was born in February. So I am happy to celebrate him — and Polly Dolly — this month!

PS If you collect dolls, or just love them, you really should subscribe to the free Dolls By Diane newsletter. *smile*

Remember These Children’s Books?

Anyone else remember these vintage fairy tale books with the fancy “winky” cover inserts? If you are of a certain age, they are iconic as well as nostalgic.

RARE 1st Cover Snow Queen Child IZAWA SHIBA PRO GOLDEN Book 1968 PUPPET 1 ED 3D

Often called 3-D books, the iconic images on the front cover are actually lenticular designs created in Japan. Most of these books date to the 1960s. By the 1970s, the books were republished without the plastic inserts on the covers; instead, they were replaced with standard photographs of the posed puppets Those images themselves are rather iconic — to those of us who are of a certain age. This one is The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson illustrated by Shiba Productions and published by Golden Books. Via Little Slice of Heaven.

vintage Snow Queen Book 1968 PUPPET lenticular 3D

Helping Children Collect

There’s a lot of discussion, sometimes couched as a “panic,” about how there are not enough kids interested in collecting. Whether you are concerned about the collecting industry or not, there are valid reasons to get kids interested in the hobby. Collecting is a self-directed activity about passion, and in our world of (sometimes overly) scheduled activities, the self-motivated journey of collecting builds more than a collection of objects, but skill sets as well.

In my new work as a columnist at Collector Perspectives (sponsored by American Collectors Insurance, the nation’s leading provider of collector insurance), I give a list of 10 things you can do to encourage collecting among the young.

Collector Perspectives Blog Badge

Not All Disney Princesses Were Legal

In the 1920s through the 1940s, carnivals, state fairs, and the like gave away figurines made of plaster to those who successfully answered the calls of carnival game barkers. Because they were made of plaster or chalk, these pieces are called carnival chalkware. Given that they were made of a less-than sturdy material as well as given away to men trying to impress ladies and kids (both temporary conditions!), relatively few of the rather large number of plaster carnival prizes made and given away have survived; thus making them collectible.

The most popular of these pieces, then as now, are those depicting famous people, personalities, and icons of those times — including non-real folks, such as beloved comic and film characters. And not all of these were approved or licensed creations. Like my vintage Snow White carnival chalkware piece.

snow white knock-off chalkware

While characters such as Snow White and Cinderella (and their stories) are in the public domain, it’s pretty clear that the makers of vintage carnival chalkware pieces were ripping-off the intellectual property of Walt Disney.

Disney characters weren’t the only ones to be copied in plaster, but they seem to be among the most popular — both in terms of having been saved by original owners and in collector desirability. A true testament to the longevity of Disney.

Antique “Stuffed” Child’s Chair

This lovely antique child’s chair came from the Hammett estate in Sheboygan, WI.

As the estate company folks noted, “The family was once listed as one of the 250 most important families in the USA. The grandfather was the vice president of Northern Furniture ..the family also owned the Hammet gift shop on the 4th floor of the then Security Bank Building downtown. They spent time in Italy buying for the store which was there from 1926-1940 The great grandfather raised Percheron horses.” This little chair, however, was locally made.

Sheboygan was once the Furniture Capital Of The World. Having lived there, I can tell you I’ve seen many lovely examples to prove such a large claim. But I’ve never seen a child’s chair like this. Not only is it covered and skirted in leather, but look at how finely it was made!

It bears it’s original maker’s label, proving the chair to be made by the American Chair Company of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

American Chair Co. furniture is so nice, it is mentioned at many fine collectible furniture websites as fine examples of Arts & Crafts furniture, even mentioned with names such as Stickley.

In terms of age, this chair was called “Grandfather’s chair,” having belonged to the 86 year old gentleman’s grandfather — so tack on another 40 years or so and that makes the chair 120+ years old!

We have it for sale here. You can contact me if you are interested in it!

Vintage Pin-Ups For The Nursery

Once upon a time, brightly-colored graphics on pressed layers of cardboard in the shape of characters from nursery rhymes, Mother Goose stories, and other childhood tales covered the walls in baby nurseries and children’s bedrooms.

Once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States joined World War II, Japanese imports disappeared from store shelves and American companies began to take over the toy and other markets once previously held by importers. At the end of the war, Phil Riley of the Dolly Toy Company in Tipp City, Ohio, designed this new kind of wall decoration. They were dubbed “Pin-Ups” and promptly patented.

The Pin-Ups hit stores in 1948, marking the entrance of Dolly Toy Co. into the “Baby Business”, and quickly spawning knock-offs. Dolly Toy would defend their patent in court — and win, thus cornering the paper Pin-Ups market. With such success behind them, Dolly Toy sought to increase their line. By the the 1950s, the company had created other matching décor items for baby’s room. Along with Tidee-Ups (a decorative wall hangers with pegs for clothing), there were lamps and even the company’s first Disney designs. By the early 1960s, crib mobiles would be sold too.

The following photos are of the Dolly Toy Co. items I have listed at Etsy. (You can also search eBay for deals too.)

I personally adore the vintage Western cowboy designs. I soooo wanted to do my son’s room in a vintage cowboy theme, but I didn’t have these then. I mentioned that to my son when he was about six years-old and he put his hand on my arm and said, “You can still do that it you want, Mom.” It just about broke my heart it was so sweet! Of course, now that he’s 11, all I get is an eyeball-roll. *sigh*

If some of these seem vaguely familiar or faintly nostalgic, even if you never had them in your family’s home, you may recall seeing them on reruns of at least one classic TV show.

According to the long-gone Dolly Toy website, Dolly Toy Co. products were featured on one of the most popular shows, I Love Lucy, thus making Pin-Ups part of The World’s Most Famous Nursery. While Dolly Toy Co. was not featured in the 1953 ad, you can spot the Pin-Ups in Desi Jr’s nursery — there’s Jack Jumping Over The Candlestick and what appears to be Mary & her Little Lamb.

A more complete Dolly Toy history (or corporate obituary, as the company ceased in 2008) can be found here.

Vintage Tin Lithographed Popeye Pail

In this vintage photo, two children play with water and a tin lithographed pail. You can see Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl from Popeye The Sailor Man.

This is the vintage pail in color, along with some other vintage Popeye sand toys.

The photo was found in a 1956 magazine from Sweden, confirming that this was likely a European-made tin litho sand or water toy.

Sails All Set For Vintage Valentines

One of the things I like best about vintage Valentine’s Day cards, especially the children’s cards, are the puns. (It bears repeating!) The other thing I like about vintage Valentines are the graphics. So much nicer to look at than today’s pop culture Valentines, I think. …Then again, today’s stars and fads will become the nostalgia of the future. But then that just means I still have time to change my feelings about them.

This vintage Valentine combines both puns and great graphics — with a few other goodies we don’t see today. This vintage Valentine greeting card featuring a little boy sailing as the captain of his ship is slightly embossed, die cut, and has a stand on the back so it can be displayed.

The best thing about it though is that both the bottom of the card and the stand are rounded, so when the card is standing up, it rocks and rolls, like the motion of the sea!

I can’t keep all the lovely vintage Valentine’s Day cards (or anything else I get my hands on), so I’ve listed it and others for sale. Sometimes, scanning and blogging about things is enough time to cherish something before letting it go to another collector. Hopefully one who won’t have to keep things stored, but can display it and let it be adored.

Adventures In Cute: Child Collectors

After reviewing her book, Hello, Cutie!: Adventures in Cute Culture, I had the chance to interview the collector and author, Pamela Klaffke. In her book, she mentions that her young daughter is also a collector. Since I’m a big fan of children who collect, I wanted to speak with Pamela specifically about her daughter’s collecting.

Hello again, Pamela. Let’s talk a little bit about your daughter and what she collects.

Her name is Emma, she is 11-and-a-half and is in sixth grade. She primarily collects Blythe and Dal dolls, anime figurines, Pokémon plush toys and game cards, plus stuffed animals in general.

When and at what age did she begin collecting?

She’s been collecting since she was a toddler — first with Care Bears, then My Little Pony, and big-eyed Lil Peepers plush toys. Her interest in each collection lasted about 2-3 years and she was really focused. She would usually just buy items for her collections, rather than just a bunch of random toys.

Did you have to encourage her to collect?

It’s not something we really discussed, but being a collector myself I certainly didn’t dissuade her, except maybe when the stuffies started to edge her out of her bed! We had to start keeping them in bins. But collecting has always interested her and come quite naturally.

As a parent and a collector, I feel that the act of collecting is a great thing for children. It helps with practical things such as handling money, negotiating, making decisions, etc. While regular shopping has some of these things, collecting is different and even better than just going to a toy store. Even without the vintage aspect of learning about history, there’s far more involved… It’s not as easy because there’s more to sift through, no catalog pages to circle, etc. A child learns to value imperfect things — while perhaps learning to take better care of the things she collects (because “older” can mean “more fragile”). And I do believe that the role of collector is rather like the role of artist. What things do you think your daughter has learned or gained from collecting?

She’s definitely learned how to save money for an item she wants — she saved for four months earlier this year to pay for a special, limited edition Blythe doll. She’s also learned how to research the best price for items online and can spot a good deal. Many of the things she collects have to be ordered from Asia, so she’s become pretty savvy at ferreting out the bargains. She also combs every nook and cranny of a thrift shop in search of a genuine 1970s vintage Kenner Blythe doll. She’s heard the stories of people finding them in unlikely places and hopes one day it will happen to her!

Here’s hoping Emma finds her big score!

If you or child collect dolls, toys, and other cute things, you’ll love Pamela’s book.

She’s A ‘Lil Bit Country; He’s A ‘Lil Bit Rock & Roll

I’ve never scored a storage unit at auction, but over the holiday weekend, at Maxwell Street Days in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, I met a guy who did. He ended up buying a storage unit that had once belonged to Western Publishing, and in it was the sweet stuff of a 1970s childhood… Among the items I purchased from him these great Donny & Marie show collectibles, each copyright 1977, Osbro Productions Inc.

Donny and Marie: The Top Secret Project, by Laura French, illustrated by Jan Neely, a Little Golden Book (number 160).

Donny and Marie: The State Fair Mystery, a Whitman Tell-A-Tale Book (number 2635), story by Eileen Daly, pictures by Olindo Giacomini.

Donny & Marie, a Whitman coloring book or “color book” (number 1641) with paper dolls to cut-out on the back. Inside, there are pages of clothes to color and then put on the paper-doll Donny and Marie.

Donny & Marie, a sticker book, Whitman number 2188. There are photos on the cover, but inside, the stickers and pages you stick them on are illustrations.

Two Whitman Frame-Tray Puzzles (B4542-1 and B4542-2), each with a different photo of Donny and Marie Osmond. Each in its original factory-sealed plastic covering.

Each item is new, never used, as minty-fresh as you’d find on store shelves back in the day! I’m saving one of each for my collection, and selling some too — to bring joy to others.

(Another) Back To School Primer On Collecting Vintage Children’s School Books

It’s that time of year again, when children head back to school. While parents feel that special mixture of worry and relief, many children head back to school with a groan. But school must not be all that bad — or why else would so many adults collect vintage school books?

Of course, like any collection, a collector may begin collecting the books they had as a child but find themselves adding editions that came before (and after) the versions they were assigned… Adding more books by the same author, publisher, illustrator… And there are other books besides primers and reading books. Every school subject had its texts. There are books on geography, math, science, sociology — even text books for adult learners on accounting, typing, welding, etc. Every one of those niches has its collectors, whether they are collecting to preserve memories or the history of an occupation or industry. Literally not sticking to the subject is one way to amass great shelves full of old school books.

Some collectors primarily collect, or begin collecting, the old children’s school books for the illustrations, photographs, and images inside. For many collectors, it is the pretty pictures which they fondly remember and seek. As many illustrators of children’s books had prominent careers, with their works seen outside of school walls (and homework at the kitchen table), some collectors end up with vintage readers etc. simply collecting the careers of their favorite illustrators. Others just find old images fascinating; after all, old pictures are still worth a thousand historical (and sometime hysterical) words.

As you can see from the history of Dick and Jane books, there’s more then mere nostalgia involved in collecting antique and vintage school books.  Not in spite of — but because of — old or outdated information, assumptions, and omissions old school books document the history of educational movements and culture in general.

Of course, primers existed long before Dick and Jane, or even the two Williams (Gray and Elson) themselves. The history of primers, of literacy itself, has links to the history of the Bible and the Reformation. FromThe English Primers, 1529-1545, by Charles C. Butterworth:

The name itself was given by the people of England, as early as the fourteenth century, to what was known in Latin as the Book of Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Compiled from materials used in church and monastery, the Primer was intended specially for the laity, to guide the devout layman in his private daily devotions or to help him bear his part in the services of the Church.

…It is supposed by some that the name Primer was derived from Prime, the first of the Hours. But most authorities believe that from the start the name was applied to what was naturally regarded in many households as their first book (liber primarius), either because it was in such constant service or, more likely, because it was useful in learning to read, especially in Latin. No evidence at hand is of sufficient antiquity to settle the question.

As time passed, we can thank (or blame) primers and their instruction of children and adults for the loss of Latin as a primary language and for the empowerment of the everyday person in general. These old school books educate us about more than issues and movements of religion, slavery, city life in an Industrial Age, prohibition, etc., but about the treatment of the people living through them. Depictions, descriptions, and even omissions tell the story of how we once treated women, children, the physically and mentally handicapped, the aging, native peoples, the poor, and even wealthy white men. Through these old educational books, we see the the documented history of how people were treated — and just when society demanded that we treat them better. These books are the documentation of our societal values, of our tolerance and intolerance.

Along with nostalgic collectors, scholars, and historians, many parents today are buying vintage school books and primers to use with homeschooling and helping assist their children with learning. (Since the way we instruct our children in the classroom has changed over the years, some older books are actually sought for teaching those with special needs; it’s another way to try to reach and teach.) This increases the competition for primers, readers, math books, and other books for which the information is not dated.

When selecting a book to add to your collection, condition is always an issue. Children’s books always have condition issues. Along with underlined text, attempts to solve problems, and the doodles of a bored or distracted student, many primers and texts were passed down to the next child in the family or to new students at the start of a new year. Passing through so many hands means more wear and tear. Along with more smudges, dog-eared pages, rubbed corners, and even notes from one child to the next child assigned the book, there’s the greater likelihood of torn and missing pages, fatigued or spent bindings, and lost covers. School copies, even teacher editions, will have stamps and official markings; though typically less than library copies.

Expecting antique or even vintage primers, readers, and other school books to be pristine or collectible-conditions clean is unrealistic. I’m not saying finding such a copy is impossible, but given the fact that these old texts were often tossed out for being obsolete, it’s amazing we have any around at all. Suffice it to say, the prettier the book, the prettier the pennies you’ll pay for it.

For some of us, signs of use are part of the charm. Not just the doodles, or notes which tell you of the previous owners, but even covers rubbed bare and split signs are signs one can compare to a well-loved stuffed animal. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, books can become real with love.

PS All the images here are from books I will be selling, either at eBay at our yard sale this weekend.

A Back To School Primer On Collecting Vintage Dick & Jane Books

Dick and Jane books are among the most popularly collected school books. This is because the series of books was used for over 40 years in American schools. That’s millions of children who were taught by Dick, Jane, Sally, Pam, Penny, Mike, their neighbors, families, and pets! Here’s a bit of history on the vintage Dick and Jane series of books.

In the late 1920s, Zerna Addis Sharp sought out William S. Gray, a renowned educational psychologist and reading authority from the University of Chicago, and pitched to him her philosophy that children are more receptive to reading if the books contained illustrations related to them and their lives. Gray was impressed enough to hire Sharp. While illustrations of the family Sharp created were published in earlier versions of primers by Scott, Foresman and Company, it wasn’t until later that Dick and Jane would appear by name.

In 1930, Gray and William H. Elson, along with May Hill Arbuthnot, created the Curriculum Foundation Series of books for Scott, Foresman and Company.  Here Dick & Jane and their family appeared in the first edition of the Curriculum Foundation Series pre-primer called Elson Basic Readers. In this edition, the baby sister was not named yet (she was simply called “Baby”), the cat was called “Little Mew”, and Spot, the dog, was a terrier.

In 1934, the pre-primer was renamed Dick and Jane and a second book, also a pre-primer, More Dick and Jane Stories, was added. In 1936, the series title changed to Elson-Gray Basic Readers to acknowledge Gray’s role in the series (Sharp was not acknowledged, despite what would be a 30 year career at Scott, Foresman & Company). Eleanor Campbell and Keith Ward did the illustrations, and Marion Monroe also authored some of these early editions of the Dick and Jane books.

Scott, Foresman and Co. retired the Elson-Gray series in 1940, but Dick and Jane remained in the Basic Readers and their Think-and-Do workbooks. Now the baby sister is named Sally — and she gets a teddy bear named Tim, the cat becomes Puff, and Spot becomes a Cocker Spaniel. New books in the series were introduced in 1940 and 1946. In Canada, English and French versions of the Dick and Jane books were translated and published by W.J. Gage & Co., Limited; and British English versions were published by Wheaton in Exidir in the UK. Official Catholic editions of the series, the Cathedral Basic Readers, were created to teach religious themes along with reading. For example, Sally, Dick, and Jane was retitled Judy, John, and Jean to reflect Catholic Saints and to include stories on morality. In the 1946 edition, Tim the teddy was removed and a toy duck was added. Also, Texas had its own editions of the the books in 1946. Another author, A. Sterl Artley, began writing Dick and Jane books in 1947. By the end of the 1940s, the Collection Cathedral was published for French-Canadian Catholics.

By the 1950’s, over 80% of first-graders in the United States were learning to read with Dick and Jane. New editions whose titles began with “The New” were added, and Robert Childress would become the illustrator. But it was during this decade that Dick and Jane et al. would find themselves under strong attack. Concerned groups criticized everything from misrepresentations of perfection and other cultural issues to matters of literacy itself. In 1955’s Why Johnny Can’t Read, Rudolf Flesch blamed the look-say style of Dick and Jane readers for not properly teaching children how to read or appreciate literature. While phonetics were always a part of the Dick and Jane series, there was not enough for the growing movement of phonics fans. For all of these reasons, most of the major changes to the Dick and Jane series occurred in the 1960s.

In 1962, Helen M. Robinson was the new head author, the books had new material (including more phonics), new illustrations by Richard Wiley, and Dick and Jane had matured, in age and sophisticated. The initial printings of the 1962 soft-cover Dick and Jane books increased in page size and did not have the white tape reinforcement on the spine. The covers of these editions fell off rather easily — which is why they are so hard to find with covers intact.  As a result, Scott, Foresman and Company added the reinforced taped spines and advertised the feature heavily. (These books were never issued as hardcovers; any hardcover copies were either library bindings or were rebound later.)

But in 1965, both Civil Rights school integration and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act would continue to challenge the book publisher.

Scott, Foresman and Company worked to address the school integration and inclusion issues by once again employing Zerna Sharp’s literacy philosophy. The African-American family, including twins Pam and Penny and their brother Mike, first appeared in the 1964 Catholic School books; public school students were introduced to the African-American family in 1965. (In response to outrage from racist complaints, Scott, Foresman & Company offered alternative covers of the 1965 integrated books; these Child Art editions removed the characters from the covers and replaced them with finger-paint art designs. Later editions of Think and Do books just had solid color blocks.) Also in 1965, the Pacific Press Publishing Association published an integrated version of Fun With Dick and Jane for Seventh-day Adventists. Entitled Friends We Know, Jesus appears on the covers along with Dick, Jane and Mike.

In the mid 1960s, Scott, Foresman and Company tried to address the phonics issue by introducing books in an experimental language called Initial Teaching Alphabet or ITA. The Experimental Edition of the Scott-Foresman pre-primer was titled Nou Wee Reed. These ITA Dick and Jane books are rare finds.

In the late 1960s, the Dick and Jane books expanded to include three new series based on academic performance. For those performing below grade level, there was Open Highways. (Original printings of these books had “The Open Highways Readers” printed on the spine; later printings just had “Open Highways”.) For strong readers, Scott, Foresman and Company added Wide Horizons, self-directed readers which did not have workbooks, and for even more advanced or gifted readers, there was also Bright Horizons. Reading Inventory tests were added to the Dick and Jane series to use as a placement guide.

Despite all Scott, Foresman and Co. tried to do, the book publisher just couldn’t overcome all the objections, especially those regarding the too-perfect Dick and Jane world. The goody-goody kids and their ideal gender stereotyped simplicity was no longer relatable or desirable.  The series was officially ended in the late 1960s, replaced in 1970 with Scott, Foresman Reading Systems. (However, in 1975, the 1962 pre-primer was republished by the American Printing House for the Blind in a large type edition with black and white images for sight-impaired children.) Still, Dick and Jane books continued to be ordered and sold from warehouse stock well into the 1970s.

The books Dick and Jane collectors are searching for today are those which managed to be saved — and held onto — by teachers, staff, and students, despite the fact that many schools were even ordered to destroy all remaining copies of works in the series. For these reasons, along with the usual wear and tear of children’s books, finding vintage Dick and Jane books in pristine conditions is very difficult. Collectors learn to live with writings, doodles and marks, missing pages, etc. — or pay steep prices for not having signs of use.

Over the decades, many Dick and Jane materials were produced. Along with the readers and primers mentioned, there were other subject books, such as art, health, math, etc. There were teacher editions; books on teaching techniques; large display books placed on easels, called Our Big Book; posters and picture cut-outs for classroom display; picture and word flash cards; LP record albums; games for the classroom; and other teaching aids.

On the business end, Scott, Foresman and Co. sent out catalogs, newsletters, and promotional items, such as calendars, greeting cards, and Christmas ornaments. These items were produced in much smaller quantities and, being ephemeral in nature, are rare finds.

But Dick and Jane live on.

In 1977, George Segal and Jane Fonda would star in Fun with Dick and Jane, a film based on a Gerald Gaiser story about the failed promises of a Dick and Jane perfect world. (The film was remade with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni in 2005.)

In 2003, Grosset & Dunlap rereleased original Dick and Jane primers, selling over 2.5 million copies in just over a year even with a publisher disclaimer that the books were nostalgic and not to be used to teach children to read. Due to the popularity of the reissue, reproductions and new related merchandise featuring the iconic imagery and catch phrases, like “See Spot run!”, has been produced.

Additional Resources:

A rather complete list of original Dick and Jane books is here.

Carole Kismaric’s Growing Up with Dick and Jane: Learning and Living the American Dream captures the nostalgia while tracing the cultural points of the Dick and Jane series.

Image Credits:
(In order they appear)

Our Big Book, Dick and Jane Teacher’s Classroom Edition, via into_vintage.

First Dick and Jane book, the 1930 Elson Basic reader, via Tiny Town Books & Toys.

Set of 11 vintage Dick and Jane readers from the 1940s and set of 13 readers from the 1950s, via Wahoos House.

The 1963 Judy, John And Jean New Cathedral Basic Reader, via Keller Books.

Set of 13 books from 1960s, via Wahoos House.

A set of 1930s Dick and Jane flashcards, via Wahoos House; vintage Dick and Jane Blackout Game, circa 1950s, and 1951 Poetry Time three-record Dick and Jane set, narrated in the voice of May Hill Arbuthnot one of the original Dick and Jane authors, via Tiny Town Books & Toys.

The 1954 Scott, Foresman and Company Dick and Jane sales catalog, via Tiny Town Books & Toys.

Vintage Tee-Vee Howdy Doody Toys

When I first discovered this little plastic man with a movable mouth in an auction lot of winnings, I thought the was Uncle Sam or something because of his red, white, and blue coloring — and the hat. Well, he’s red, pinkish, and blue… And the hat wasn’t your typical Uncle Sam hat, but that’s what I thought. Until my mom schooled me that he was Mayor Phineas T. Bluster from the Howdy Doody Show.

Sometimes you’ll see these vintage plastic figures called “cake toppers” but while there’s nothing to stop anyone from using them on top of cakes, these are little plastic toy puppets made for children who were fans of Howdy Doody. They were early television show merchandising tie-ins from TeeVee, Kagran Corp.

According to one of the original point-of-sale display cards, there were five characters from this classic TV show: Mr. Buster, Clarabell, Howdy Doody, Princess Summerfall-Winterspring, and Dilly Dally.

The display card encourages kids to “Put On Your Own Puppet Show.” To make them talk, “simply jiggle the lever in back of his head.” That’s a bit less than Buffalo Bob Smith had to do. *wink*

Staying in character, Clarabell does not talk — instead, kids could blow his “musical” horn.

The toys stand about four inches tall and are made of plastic, not celluloid.

Additional Image Credits:

Original Tee Vee display card via 69ferrari69.

Photo of all five vintage Tee-Vee Howdy Doody toys by Kagran via PACKRAT-COLLECTIBLES130.

Vintage Chalkware Baby Statue With Removable Diapers

This vintage chalkware piece isn’t as creepy (or racist) as these vintage chalkware babies, but there’s still something creepy about the “hair” spray-painted on it… It reminds me of the old bowl-haircuts mom used to give us. *wink*

The baby’s diaper is cloth and even has old (rusty) safety pins holding them up. This I found surprising as, even though I collect old chalkware pieces, it is the first time I’ve seen clothing or fabric attached to a piece of chalkware that wasn’t of the erotic varieties. (I’ve seen a few female nudes in chalkware or plaster which have little fabric or fringed skirts of sorts.) Have any of you seen old chalkware items with which have anything removable like that?