Lovums by Effanbee (1928 through the 1940s) is a 25-inch doll with a composition swivel head and cloth body. Marked: Effanbee/Lovums Pat. No. 1,283,558. Courtesy of McMasters Harris Apple Tree Doll Auctions
Patsy Joan (1946) is a 16-inch, all-composition doll that is part of the Patsy family. Marked: Effanbee. Courtesy of McMasters Harris Apple Tree Doll Auctions

By Judith Izen
Photos by Judith Izen, except where indicated.

The 1940s was the height of artistry for com­position dolls. Composition, made of sawdust and glue, had been the primary material used for American dollmaking since its 1919 develop­ment. Composition was an improvement over the bisque and china dolls previously available to chil­dren. Doll manufacturers, such as American Charac­ter, Effanbee, Ideal, and Madame Alexander, produced beautiful baby and girl dolls by the score during the 1940s. The doll companies also created dolls portray­ing storybook and fairy tale characters and personality dolls portraying movie stars and real-life “celebrities.”

In general, girl dolls were made entirely of compo­sition while baby dolls each had a stuffed cloth body with composition head and limbs to make them soft to hold, like a baby. An added bonus to many baby dolls was the “mama” sound that came from the middle of the cloth bodies — when a doll was laid down, it would cry “mama.” Another special feature was the sleep eyes — the doll’s eyes would close when she was laid down, and when picked up, her eyes would open.

Popular girl dolls included Wendy Ann by Madame Alexander, Nancy Lee by Arranbee, and Effanbee’s Patsy family. Most of the dolls were produced in the 1930s and continued to be made into the 1940s. Effanbee produced an entire family for Patsy, including dolls ranging in size from 5.5 inches to 30 inches. Boy dolls such as Effanbee’s Skippy weren’t as common.

Buddy Lee (1920-49), a 12-inch composition doll, wears an engineer outfit that comes with a red scarf. Courtesy of Richard Withington Auctions
These 14-inch and 20-inch American Character composition dolls have floss wigs braided into buns, original dresses, shoes, and socks. They are unmarked. Courtesy of Jennifer Burks
Arranbee Debu’teen (1938-40s) is 11 inches tall and wearing a skier outfit. She has a jointed all-composition body, sleep eyes, wig, and closed mouth. Courtesy of Marian Schmuhl

Girl dolls generally had mohair or floss wigs and wore dresses or gowns. They were also available in sports outfits, such as those seen on ice skaters, skiers, eques­trians, tennis players, or ballerinas. Some even came with accessories like umbrellas or makeup kits. An example of this is the Sports Se­ries dolls sold by Vogue Doll Company. The dolls were manufactured by the Arranbee Doll Com­pany, but Vogue dressed and sold them under the Vogue name. It was a common occurrence for doll companies to buy their dolls from other com­panies and then dress and sell them under their own name. As a result, collectors see many un­marked dolls that are hard to identify because they look like one company’s dolls but were sold by another company.

Character Dolls

Companies including Amberg, American Character, Cameo, Freundlich, Horsman, Ideal, Madame Alexander, and Vogue pro­duced character dolls based on children’s lit­erature, comics, and advertising.

McGuffey Ana from Madame Alexander is an example of a storybook doll. She was a character included in children’s readers from the 1830s onward. Madame Alex­ander also made Little Women dolls, as well as Scarlett and Melanie from Gone with the Wind.

Advertising dolls, such as Buddy Lee advertising Lee dun­garees, are of interest to collectors today. Buddy Lee dolls were made by the H.D. Lee Company, Inc., makers of Lee Jeans. Buddy Lee is a boy doll, which is harder to find and may have more value to collectors today than the general 1940s girl dolls. Of course, like all collectibles, rarity and condition are key to pricing.

During the 1940s, many doll companies also made dolls depicting characters from World War II. Ideal, Arranbee, American Character, and Vogue created dolls dressed as mem­bers of the women’s armed forces, WACs and WAVES.

This American Character WAVES composition doll is 16.5 inches and has an open mouth, full set of upper teeth, and a felt tongue. Marked: Petite (on back). Courtesy of Janine Goldsmith
McGuffey Ana from Madame Alexander (1937-44) is a 13-inch composition doll. Marked: Princess Elizabeth/Alexander Doll Co. (on neck). Courtesy of Ann Tardie
Princess Beatrix (1938- 43), 16 inches, has a composition head and limbs and cloth body. She represents Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands. Courtesy of Kerry Israel

Price Guide

For dolls in excellent to mint condition (to be used as a reference only)

Lovums by Effanbee$250
Patsy Joan$250
American Character composition girl dolls$200
Arranbee Debu’teen$250
American Character ballerina doll$150
McGuffey Ana$150
Buddy Lee$500
American Character WAVES$275
Judy Garland teen doll$900
Princess Beatrix$400

Celebrity Dolls

One of the most desirable dolls of the 1940s is the Judy Garland teen doll. Gar­land was the young star of The Wizard of Oz and the Andy Hardy movies. The teen doll is all com­position and came in 15-inch and 21-inch sizes. She has an auburn human-hair wig, brown sleep eyes, upper eyelashes, painted lower eyelashes, and an open mouth with six teeth and a felt tongue. On the back of her head, she is marked “Ideal Doll/Made in USA,” and she has a back­wards “21” and “IDEAL” on her back.

Other celebrity dolls produced in the 1940s were Rita Hayworth by Uneeda Doll Company, Margaret O’Brien by Madame Alexander, and Deanna Durbin by Ideal. There were also dolls of real-life baby ce­lebrities, including Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands by Ideal.

The end of the 1940s saw the phasing out of composition dolls — plastic, a new technology, was becoming widely adopted because it was more durable and easier to mass-produce. Composition dolls are now a lovely chapter of dollmaking history and an example of American innovation.

The Judy Garland teen doll (1940-42) was produced in 15-inch and 21-inch (shown) sizes. She is all composition and wears the original outfit from Strike Up the Band. Courtesy of Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art. Photo by Charles Backus
Tennis Player and Golfer (1940s) are 14-inch composition dolls from Vogue Doll Company’s Sports Series. They are unmarked. Courtesy of Wenham Museum in Wenham, Massachusetts
This 14-inch composition ballerina doll is unmarked. Courtesy of Millie Caliri