Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wendy Through The Years

Wendy-Kins and Alexander-Kins dolls from the 1950s-today

I've never really been as enamored of small dolls as of the large glamour girl dolls, such as Cissy or Wendy Ann, but recently the doll lots I've been able to find and purchase have largely contained the little 1950s dolls, like Wendy-Kins, Muffie, Ginger, and more. Even a Cissy lot I recently purchased contained a Wendy-Kins when it arrived. I always try to identify as well as restore my dolls so my buyer has the most information possible about a new addition to their collection. I also just enjoy research. I've always liked reading and history, and learning about new things.

I've found researching the Madame Alexander Wendy-Kins and Alexander-Kins quite frustrating, however. There seems to be a nearly complete dearth of accurate information. The one recommended book on the subject, by Patricia Smith, is scarce and out of print, so it's extremely expensive. Besides, I have another Smith book on Alexander dolls and I find the quality of the photos mostly disappointing. That book focuses much more on the dolls' clothing than the dolls themselves, and that won't help me here. In fact, I keep coming across "tips" for identifying dolls that suggest things such as looking at the box and studying the outfit. Well, if I had the original outfit and box I think it'd be pretty easy to tell which doll I had! In my experience, it's a rare doll from the 1930s or 40s or 50s that still has all its clothing and box. These were play toys and they're very old now. I'm lucky if the dolls I come across have all their limbs and wigs, much less their clothes! Fortunately, I recently came across a huge Alexander-Kins lot that spans a couple decades. I hope it will help me share my newfound Wendy-Kins knowledge with you. I think I've arranged the dolls shown above in chronological order and I'll explain why.

Wendy-Kins from the 1950s

The triple-stitch wig
A couple months ago I got a lot of dolls that contained a Cissy, a Ginger, a little Duchess-type doll, and a Wendy-Kins. Wendy-Kins and the Alexander-Kins 8-inch dolls were introduced in 1953. Many people say Madame debuted her new "miniature" hard plastic dolls line in order to compete with Vogue's Ginny doll. Madame Alexander was already making Tiny Betty 8 and 9-inch composition dolls prior to Ginny, so I'm not sure that's true. The Wendy-Kins doll, which I've read was named for Beatrice Alexander's grand-daughter, is more of a life-like toddler sculpt than Tiny Betty, however.

It was obvious my whole lot was from the same age, the early to mid-1950s. The Wendy-Kins had the triple stitch wig, darker tan skin tone, very red lips and almond shaped eyes I've read are signs of early Wendy-Kins. She's a bent-knee walker, so according to Carol Stover's research she would have been made in 1956 or later. The earlier Wendy-Kins were straight leg non-walkers and then walkers. This Wendy-Kins has molded hair under her wig, so the body could have been used as a boy or baby doll if the company desired.

Wendy-Kins with dark, pupil-less eyes

The next Wendy-Kins arrived in a lot of dolls from the late 1960s-1970s. I was surprised to find her. I ordered the lot of dolls mainly for the clothing. The later Alexander-Kins aren't worth as much, especially if they've been play toys as these were. Nearly all the dolls had been re-dressed and their hair was brushed. Some had been colored on. Their little owner must have come from a more affluent family than mine. I had exactly four Alexander-Kins and I was never allowed to play with them. Mine still have their tags and shoes and everything. So, I thought I would poach the lot for the clothes and fix up the little dolls to sell. I initially planned to dress them myself as literary characters and such, but I got behind on my work this week and ended up listing most of them as "dress-me" dolls.

Unusual eyes

Anyway, as I started going through the box of dolls I found a very unusual little lady. She has black pupil-less eyes and is a bent-knee walker. The bent-knee walkers were discontinued in the 8 inch size in 1964, according to Carol Stover, so this is definitely an earlier doll than the others. I can't find out much about her eyes, but I think they're extremely rare in a doll not meant to portray and Asian or African child. I know I read something about the black eyes somewhere in the past, but I can't remember what is was or where I read it. I will say the Lia Sargent catalogue lists only a couple Alexander-Kins with the black eyes, dated from 1954-1957, and their eyes are described as very unusual.

Unique wig

This Wendy was dressed in the 1960s and 70s "French" international costume, but I don't think it's original. For one thing, this doll is nearly mint and the dress and hat are certainly not. For another, I've never found that costume on a bent knee walker doll or a doll with black eyes.

The Stover book shows the wig as a pigtail wig.

Wendy's wig is unusual as well. I think she's probably a 1950s doll, 1957 is my best guess, but she has the tight zigzag stitch over center stitch part which, according to Stover, was used on pigtail wigs around 1956. This doll's wig is obviously in its original flipped set, but still has the stitching described by Stover as "unique". So, from everything I can find, this is a quite rare doll. I believe she is a later doll than the first, but maybe only by a year or two. The box of dolls and clothes contained a pair of lace-trimmed taffeta panties that seem much older than the other clothes, leading me to guess this doll was probably a "Basic" Alexander-Kins, sold in 1956 and '58 wearing only panties, socks, and shoes and with this rolled flip hair style.

The original mark, used until 1977

After this my line-up gets a little hazy in terms of exact years and chronology. The information passed around varies, and I get all sorts of messages from people purporting themselves "experts" on Alexander dolls. I appreciate any information, but quite often these experts contradict each other or provide information I know to be false. The concrete facts, as far as I can find, are that the ALEX mark was used on Alexander-Kins through 1976, and the bent-knee dolls disappeared sometime in the mid-1960s.

Bent-knee and straight-leg strung dolls
1960s wig stitching

The next doll in my line-up is certainly the next in line, time-wise, but I'm not sure exactly which year she was made. This is Meg from the Little Women series made sometime in the 1960s. You can read more about her in my Literary Ladies post: Incidentally, did you know Madame Alexander loved Little Women so much her company has released a new and unique set of the dolls each and every year they've been in business? The first were a set of cloth dolls. Just a fun fact!

 Meg is a bent-knee strung doll, or non-walker. You see these listed as BKNW sometimes. Meg came in what appears to be her original Meg dress. The issue is, her dress tag reads "Alexander-Kins, Meg". This is a problem, because supposedly the Alexander-Kins tag was discontinued in 1963 and the Wendy-Kins tag in 1965. I have two Alexander-Kins tagged Little Women, Meg and Amy, and both are bent-knee strung dolls. Therefore, I assume both were made prior to 1963. However, one of my ever-vigilant "experts" emailed to tell me Amy can't be from before 1963 because she is a bent-knee strung doll and the expert knows from giving Alexander lectures in the past, that the bent-knee dolls were walkers until 1965. Personally, I find it hard to believe I would get two dolls in their apparently original clothes at different times from different places, both bent-knee non-walkers, both with the Alexander-Kins tag, who were both re-dressed. I think maybe that "expert" is incorrect or perhaps the tag was used a bit longer than commonly thought. I would say the Meg doll shown probably dates between 1962 to '65.

The blond doll is a straight-leg non-walker.

After Meg, my timeline gets really fuzzy, because even the Stover book lists information I know is not entirely accurate. According to Stover, the bent-knee non-walkers were made until 1972 with the older face. The face was then re-sculpted in 1973 to the very wide-eyed face (the cutest mold in my opinion) with the whites of the eyes showing under the iris and the long, heavily-painted lashes I always think of as "star-shaped". On these dolls the body was still a bent-knee non-walker. Then the face and body was supposedly re-designed in 1977 with paler paint, centered eyes, and the mark changed to "Alexander", and the body changed to a straight-leg non-walker.

The trouble with that information is, here I have a whole box of dolls, almost all with either the pale face paint and centered eyes or the heavy paint and wide up-turned eyes, and marked ALEX, but not one is a bent-knee non-walker. They all have straight legs. So what is one to make of this? Obviously the Alexander-Kins were made with straight legs prior to the re-sculpt and new logo of 1977. I put the pale blond straight-leg doll next in line after Meg because she has a very similar peaches and cream complexion and the same stitching on her wig.

Heavy face paint and "star" lashes.

Wide 1960s stitching

It's possible I'm wrong, however, and the next doll I have in line came before little Blondie. This one has strawberry blond curls and fantastic emerald-green eyes. She has the heavy face paint, "star" lashes, and dark brows of the 1973 dolls, but her eyes are centered and the whites don't show. Her heavy make-up is very reminiscent of the late '60s larger dolls, like the Margot Cissette. She reminds me of Maureen O'Hara! So, even though she is a straight-leg doll I'm dating her to between 1965 and 1972.

The 1973 wide-eyed face

Tighter wig stitching

The next doll is very clearly a 1973 re-sculpt, with the "star" lashes and the upturned eyes with the whites showing. Once again, however, this is a straight-leg doll when, according to Stover it should have bent knees.

I just love this sweet face! All the Alexander-Kins who are non-walkers have little plastic tabs on their necks that hold the head in a down-turned, up-glancing position, kind of like Lauren Bacall's famous stance. It's very realistic and toddler-ish, and this eye sculpt works well with it. You have to lift the head and re-position it to straighten it.

Through personal experience restoring dolls I've found a common problem with the wigs from the late 1960s through the 1980s. This is that they are so thin the glue from the wig cap permeates the hair, and also the hair was coated with some kind of conditioner and style product. You can feel the slick product in the hair of mint dolls from this era. Unfortunately, the glue and style aid mix together and dry up so the hair is all full of flaky white junk. It's nearly impossible to wash out and shows more on brunette dolls. I don't have much advice on how to fix this except to say you have to be very patient. Wash and brush the hair many times and try to pick the flakes out with a straight pin. You can see the flakes in the hair of the next doll.

The "moustache" face of 1977

Tight wig stitching and flaky glue

Now we get to the Alexander-Kins of my youth. In 1977 the dolls were re-designed with a very pursed, protruding mouth called the "moustache" face by collectors. I had only one of the older dolls, Miss Muffett, and my other three were this sculpt. Part of the reason I had only three, besides the cost and the fact that we lived out in the middle of nowhere and couldn't buy Alexander dolls locally, is that I never liked this face. I thought it looked mean. The clothing was still beautiful, although the dolls no longer had detachable jewelry at this point since that had begun to be considered a choking hazard. Many people still collected these and even I feel a certain nostalgia for them. I was really glad though, when I had a daughter of my own, to find the moustache face replaced with a cuter sculpt.

The new Alexander mark

The 1977 legs

The 1977 re-design included the switch to the new "Alexander" mark, which is still used today. The entire body was re-designed, including the straight legs, and the doll is slightly taller than the old ones. As you can see, the new legs have an older, straighter look, with dimpled knees, fewer thigh rolls, and highly defined toes, and the doll's stance changed from in-turned "pigeon-toed" feet to out-turned feet. I think this accounts for the confusion about the legs. They were re-designed in 1977, but the change was in the sculpt, not a switch from bent knees to straight legs. This re-design also supposedly saw the introduction of dolls with a chalky or powdery and very white skin tone, but I think that is also somewhat false. I've seen many of these dolls with a chalky skin tone, especially the Asian and black dolls, with the earlier ALEX mark.

The arm hooks prior to 1977.

The arm hooks of 1977 and later.

The arm hooks were changed in 1977 as well, to their detriment in my opinion. Prior to 1977 the dolls use a steel arm hook threaded through a plastic loop in the arm. Although the hook could be lost, this arrangement is much sturdier. The 1977 and later dolls use a plastic arm hook that tends to bend and break with too much play.

Today's Alexander-Kins, the Chinese face

Sometime in the late 1990s someone at the Alexander company decided to re-issue many classic 1950s dolls. They made new dolls in vinyl and porcelain using the old 1950s molds, like the Kelly and Margaret faces. They also re-designed old dolls, such as Cissy, Cissette, Jackie, and Coco, and re-issued them using the new molds. Around this time, I think, though I can't give you the exact year, a designer was "forward" thinking enough to look back at the Alexander-Kins and put an end to the moustache face. The modern Wendy-Kins is a total re-design with a face that hearkens back to the 1950s and 60s dolls. More 8-inch modern dolls were also produced using the vintage elfish 1960s Maggie Mix-Up face as well.

The modern wig has hidden stitching.

My daughter is Chinese, so her modern Alexander-Kins all use the Asian Wendy face. I don't have a white one to show you. The doll I'm using here is "Helping Hands For China Wendy" from the late 90s or early 2000s. The main difference to the white Wendy sculpt is the Asian version has heavy black eyeliner drawn out past her eyes and a slightly flatter nose. I do want to express here how much I appreciate Madame Alexander producing a racially-sensitive Asian sculpt and making it attractive. So many doll companies simply put a dark wig and Asian clothes on a white doll or sculpt a really ugly Asian face. It's very hard to find cute Asian dolls and Madame Alexander has consistently produced them. I am selling a 1960s or 70s Indonesia doll right now in my store and she's adorable and looks more like my Chinese daughter than many so-called Chinese dolls.

The new mark

The modern Wendy-Kins is a bit taller than the old ones, including the 1977 doll. All my daughter's have very pale matte skin with a powdery feeling finish. I'm not sure if the white ones are as pale but I think they are. The new Wendy wigs do not have visible stitching.

The basic Wendy is a straight-leg strung non-walker. In 2004 the Alexander company gave a nod to the BJD craze and released "Total Moves" Wendy, who has jointed knees and elbows in addition to the head, shoulders, and hips. They also started producing Wendy in alternative materials, like wood and felt. Those are rare and too pricey for me, though, so I can't tell you anything more about them.

Alexander-Kins needing repair

I really hope I've saved you some time and frustration in your Wendy-Kins research. Most of the books and web sites I've found focus mostly on the earliest Wendy-Kins and her outfits and don't have much to say about the dolls themselves after about 1954. I know lots of people prefer to collect the lovely clothes and view the doll mainly as a model, but some of us care about the dolls as much or more than her outfits! If you're a doll restorer it's also quite likely your doll has arrived sans clothing, so it's nice to be able to to determine what age clothing and style in which she should be dressed. I have many restored and dressed or ready-to-dress Alexander dolls in my store right now, as well as some for you to restore, so please check:

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