Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Secret of Madame



My last post touched on a project I decided not to sell at the last minute; The Secret of Madame Doll, based on the book by the same name by Frances Cavanah. The book, a story set in colonial America, is pretty rare nowadays, as is the doll, and there's a lot of misinformation as a result. I read on the Internet the doll was made 10 years after the 1965 book, but that's clearly not true. In fact, the doll was first produced in 1967 and was re-issued each year through 1974 (at least according to my Patricia Smith books), so I don't know why it's so rare. I guess they just didn't make many each year. The dolls were made with the re-sculpted Mary Ann face in the later years.

The doll looked great...

Until I turned her over.
I've sold through a large amount of my Etsy store inventory (which I'm quite happy to announce) recently, so a couple weeks ago I ordered a lot of dolls that looked like easy flips. None were complete so I wouldn't have too feel bad about selling them and their clothes separately. I've been having a lot of success with restored "Dress Me" dolls (really Madame Alexander and other brand dolls all fixed up and sold nude, so ready to dress) and doll clothes lately. I think a lot of people want to get into making custom dolls, and this is a way to make a doll on your own without having to know how to sculpt one. Anyway, I was pleased when I got the lot to find a super-rare Secret of Madame doll among the others. She looked fantastic until I undressed her and turned her over. Then I saw the plastic on her bottom was crumbling.

In the 1960s Madame Alexander started making doll bodies out of a thin, light hard plastic. The arms and heads were still a thick, heavy vinyl. This results in dolls that today are often two-toned, with yellowed arms and faces but pink torsos and legs. The torso of the Secret doll is almost flexible, the plastic is so thin. Later on the Madame dolls were made entirely out of the lighter materials and the seams weren't even sanded down. It's sad how much the doll quality suffered for a while in the 70s and 80s. The clothes are still every bit as nice, however. Anyway, a repair was in order to this doll and another in the same lot.


The epoxy repair in progress

The finished repair
The epoxy repair is still visible now that it's finished, but I covered over a large area around the damaged plastic to stabilize the torso. The repair will be covered by clothing, at any rate, and now it's sturdy enough to stand up to some handling. That's a good thing because my daughter got really into this doll and the book while I was restoring it, so I got her a copy of the book and gave her the doll.


The restored doll


 Her neck is marked 1965

The thing that so intrigued my daughter is Madame Doll's secret: her petticoat's pocket that holds either a pearl necklace or a string of pearls. I've seen the doll with both a necklace with a clasp or just pearls on a string she can't really wear. My daughter's doll's pearls were missing, so I gave her a pearl necklace from a different Madame Alexander doll. She can keep them in her pocket or wear them. The Secret doll's outfit is incredible, as befits a fashion doll sent to America to show the colonists how to dress. Her dress is silk brocade festooned with ruched organdy accents and lace. Her cap is lace-trimmed pink organdy with a black velvet ribbon. Her undergarments are trimmed with crocheted lace. I washed and ironed the set and refreshed the stretched elastic in all the pieces by gathering them with elastic thread.


I restored her outfit as well.

The secret pocket

The pocket hides the jewels.
I can tell the doll I gave my daughter is one of the earliest ones because she has the first Mary Ann face sculpt. The earlier face, which I personally prefer, is larger and more rounded, has smaller, more almond-shaped eyes, a more pronounced chin, a nose slightly more tilted upward, and a larger mouth. The differences are subtle but definitely recognizable. The earlier Alexander dolls tend to have a great deal more painted blush as well. This doll is even blushed on the tips of her earlobes.

The earlier Mary Ann face

I know I write about this a lot, but it never ceases to amaze me how much dolls seem to come up for sale in trends. I'll buy or hear of a really rare doll and won't see another one. I'll have trouble finding out any information at all. Then all of  sudden I'll see them everywhere. Well, maybe not EVERYWHERE in this case, but the fact remains when I was trying to research the Secret of Madame doll I only saw one complete one listed at an astronomical price and then a couple of other incomplete dolls here and there; I maybe saw five total. Then a week or so later a complete Secret doll came up in my eBay feed when I was trying to find the book for my daughter. The price was reasonable, so I jumped on it!


The later and earlier versions
The complete doll I found has the later Mary Ann face but still has the tag with a photo of the original Mary Ann faced doll and the date 1967 printed on it. Her other arm is tagged with an auction or store tag giving her particulars and listing a price of $200 with a notation that the "Blue Book" value is $400 (bet you didn't know dolls had Blue Book values! I didn't). She is complete, but her pearls are the type without a clasp, just a looped string of pearls. The pearls look old and their pearl coating has begun to flake away. My guess is the complete doll is the 1970's version. I wish I could find some information about when the Mary Ann sculpt was changed. I think it was pretty soon after her release, because I rarely see the older sculpt. I guess this could be a later 60s doll, but the photos in my Alexander doll books seem to indicate the change happened around 1972. The trouble with the Smith books is Mrs. Smith had her husband take all the photos and most of them are terrible, so it's really hard to distinguish the subtleties of the different faces. The same date, 1965, is used on all the Mary Ann faces, new sculpt and old, so it's no help.


The newer face on the left and older face on the right

An old store tag

The original tag


The doll is numbered 1561.

I'm trying to decide whether to leave the string of pearls in their original state or put a clasp on them so a child could take them on and off. I think they may not be in good enough shape to handle much, so I'm thinking of making a new necklace and including both.

The pearls in their secret pocket


Besides the difference in faces, the dolls have slightly different hair. The earlier doll (on the left) has darker honey blond hair that's stiffer and holds its sausage-curled style better. The newer doll has been boxed for many years, however, and the older one was displayed on a stand so hers is less smashed anyway.

The newer doll has lighter hair.

Now that our book arrived we are eager to find out what happens. The plot summary inside the dust jacket says the doll was sent over as a fashion guide for colonial women, but its owners hid their family jewels in her clothes. Then the doll was stolen! We can't wait to find out how the story ends! The newer doll needs a little freshening up after her years in storage, but as soon as I get that done you will be able to find her and many other rare and lovely dolls in my Atelier Mandaline shops on eBay and Etsy.


The new (left) and old faces

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