Speaking of Dolls: Collecting Shirley Temple dolls

On April 23, Shirley Temple will turn 80.

15F AT 5-7.jpgIt is hard to believe that so many years have passed since many of us enjoyed seeing this talented child with the head full of curls dance across the silver screen. Born in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1928 and appearing in her first film in 1934, it was Shirley who single-handedly helped make those desperate Depression years a little more tolerable.16F AT 5-7.jpg

(Right) 15-inch Shirley Temple, composition, 1930s, all original with tagged dress and original Shirley Temple button.

(Left) Close-up of face of composition Shirley Temple in near mint condition.

The movies starring Shirley Temple brought in more money than any other star of the time. Her face was everywhere. Wheaties and Bisquik used her image on cereal bowls, mugs and pitchers. Sheet music with songs from Shirley movies displayed her smiling face on the front. Soap shaped like a tiny Shirley figure and paper dolls were inexpensive novelties that could be purchased for pennies during the Depression years.

Department stores carried Shirley Temple-style dresses and shoes and creative mothers could purchase patterns based on Shirley’s wardrobe. Soon even the doll companies jumped on the bandwagon.

20F AT 5-7.jpgTwo 1930s Ideal Shirley Temple composition dolls in original tagged dresses.

Ideal was the only company licensed to produce a Shirley Temple doll. The first doll was presented to the public in 1934 and was an instant hit. The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company was known for quality products and the Shirley Temple doll was no exception. She was made of composition, had open and close eyes, an open smiling mouth with teeth and a head full of curls. The resemblance to the popular child star was remarkable and her fans, both young and old, stood in long lines to make a purchase.

Produced from 1934 through the ’30s, the dolls came in sizes from 11 inches to 27 inches. The outfits varied and extra clothes could be purchased separately. Many of the original outfits on the dolls were fashioned from clothing worn by Shirley in her movies.

While very popular with the public, this was a period of history when many people were struggling financially. The Ideal Shirley dolls were beautiful, but they were also expensive compared to “dime store” dolls. To meet this need, many copycat Shirley dolls were produced by other companies. With few exceptions, most of these dolls were not as well made as the Ideal Shirley, but they looked enough like Shirley to satisfy a little girl.
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America’s sweetheart in her day, Shirley Temple was also a marketing force to be reckoned with during the 1930s.

Today, we see many Shirley Temple look-alike dolls on the market but they are never marked “Shirley Temple.” Only Ideal could mark their dolls Shirley Temple on the base of the head and/or the body.

The later Ideal Shirley dolls produced in the 1950s, the 1970s and again in the 1980s were made of vinyl, but still were marked Shirley Temple or S. T. plus the Ideal mark.

If you are one of the many who loved Shirley Temple, but never had a doll or if you are one of the new generation who has just become acquainted with Shirley through her videos and DVDs, now is the time to find that special doll. Unfortunately, the original owners of the 1930s Shirley dolls are aging and many are parting with their childhood treasures. Shirley Temple dolls are fairly plentiful in the doll market at this time and prices are very competitive.

Shop for the best value. Condition is very important. A Shirley Temple doll with a replaced wig and repainted composition is not a good investment. Hold out for a good example that will make you smile when you look at her and will help you get through those tough times just like she did those many years ago.

Extreme examples of size

Modern dolls can be found in many sizes from tiny Kiddles to large Patti Playpals, but this is also true of antique dolls. Antique doll collectors are used to seeing small all-bisque dolls that were often used in dollhouses, 17F AT 5-7.jpgbut very small antique dolls on fully jointed ball joint composition and wood bodies can also be found. Large antique dolls are also fairly common, but 34 inches to 36 inches is usually what most collectors consider large.

Picture of 8-inch Simon and Halbig 1078 on fully jointed ball joint body.

I recently had the opportunity to see two size extremes produced by the German Simon Halbig doll firm. Simon Halbig produced doll heads and parts over a long period of time. They were known for high quality and great variation from dolls with molded hairstyles in the late 1800s to babies in the 1920s. One of its most popular mold numbers was the 1078, a beautiful open mouth child with open and close eyes.

 The two Simon Halbig 1078 dolls that I was able to see included an 8-inch model with a fully jointed ball joint body and a 45-inch model with a fully jointed ball joint body. Five-piece paiper mache bodies were cheaper to produce and are not uncommon on small Simon Halbigs, but a fully jointed body required much more labor and is not as common.

Like the small example, the dolls that are 43 inches and 45 inches are also very rare. Because they are quite heavy, a large doll like this would have been difficult for a child to handle. Perhaps these dolls were produced as shop mannequins. Whatever their purpose, it is exciting to see these two extreme and rarely found examples of size from one mold and from one maker.