Black Paper Dolls in Mattel’s Happy Family Brand

The toy manufacturer Mattel joined forces in the mid-1960s with the publisher Whitman to bolster the popular Barbie and Skipper brands with sets of paper dolls, a speciality of Whitman’s since the 1930s.  Some authorities think the sheer number and variety of Mattel/Whitman paper dolls produced from the 1970s onward probably dealt the genre its death’s blow by turn of the new century.  Supposedly little girls no longer play with paper dolls: it’s up to the collectors who find them fascinating to hunt down and preserve them.

While researching the recent post on Skipper, I discovered in the stacks a set of these Mattel/Whitman paper dolls, The Happy Family.   I was surprised to see represented multi-generational Black family dressed in conservative, but mod-ish fashions of the mid-seventies instead of figures that more closely corresponded with my idea of Mattel dolls.  What exactly does Cotsen have?

The minimal publishing information on the covers was enough to trace the paper dolls back to the original product line of fashion dolls.  The Whitman logo appears in the upper right-hand corner and the actual imprint, nearly illegible against the border of coarsely woven fabric, states that this is a Whitman book and that Whitman is a subsidiary of Western, better known as the publisher of Little Golden Books.  But the pamphlet is not Whitman’s intellectual property.  Barely readable In the lower right hand corner below the cross-stitching, is a statement by the copyright holder Mattel that “The Happy Family” ®, “Hal,” “Hattie,” and “Hon” are U.S. registered trademarks used here by permission of Mattel.  One of the pages of costumes has a second, much clearer copyright statement without the information about the trademarks.

Three Black fashion dolls preceded “The Happy Family” paper dolls: “Colored Francie” in 1967, which was quickly withdrawn, Christie, Barbie’s best friend, in 1968, and in 1969, Julia, modeled on performer Diahann Carroll. .  The members, dad Hal, mom Hattie, Baby Hon, and the Happy grandparents (purchased separately from the other three), were introduced in 1974 as the friends of the Sunshine Family, Steve, Steffie, Baby Sweets, and the Sunshine grandparents.  The black and the white dolls were made with the same molds for the bodies and heads. The Happy and Sunshine families had a peripheral connection at best with the 1970s Barbie universe.

If not exactly hippies or flower children, the Sunshine Family was more counterculture than the pack Barbie ran with during the Age of Aquarius.  The Sunshines ran a hobby store for a living, maintained a very well furnished art studio in the back of their truck, rode a bicycle built for three, and probably shopped in bulk at the whole foods co-op.  Wholesome and just a little folksy, the Sunshines probably would have been comfortable spending time with the other Mattel dolls who went back to nature in the 1970s..

Promotional photographs for the two toy families suggested that the Happys hung out at the Sunshines’ house (it doesn’t look as if the Happys’ accessories included their own fold-up cardboard digs).  Like the pioneering Christie and Julia Black dolls,the Happys were designed to play supporting roles to the Sunshines.  Even though the black dolls were not equal to the white ones, the fact that they were shown in a domestic space with no apparent barriers between them perhaps reflected the naive hope that if only Black and white people would spent time together, they’d discover how much they had in common and come to like each other.

Both lines were cancelled by Mattel in 1978, but reintroduced in redesigned versions in the 1980s and the early 2000s.  I wasn’t able to figure out if the new Happys were characters in their own right or if they were still supposed to be played with in the shadow of the Sunshines.

 

 

Make Your Paper Dolls Parisian Easter Bonnets

La recreation des demoiselles. Paris: H. Jannin for H. Rousseau, ca. 1852. Cotsen Toys unprocessed 6186008.

Is there anything as stylish as a French doll?  Cotsen has a very elegant kit from mid-nineteenth-century Paris for making paper dolls and wardrobes of undergarments, dresses, hats, and coats.  Above is the box lid and the designer of the pictorial title label has, of course, shown Maman and her two daughters absorbed in the activity of making paper dolls from this very object.     Here is the inside of the box.

The large center compartment holds different kinds of colored papers.  Finished hats are in the upper right hand corner and bits of tinseled ribbon in the upper left.  Dolls are in the rectangular compartments on the sides.  Because of all the evidence that the kit was used, it is probably missing original materials that the publisher included.  Perhaps new colored papers were supplied as the little girls consumed the nicest ones dressing the dolls.

 

 

 

Simple patterns were printed on this sheet above the lithographed text.  The  only skills required were cutting along the outlines, including the circle for the doll’s neck, and folding in half at the shoulders.

 

 

Not so!   This sheet shows that the little girls were expected to transfer the outline of the pattern onto the fabric with pin pricks, which is much more economical than cutting them out and throwing them away.  This way patterns can be used over and over again.

Three dolls modelling white dresses, perhaps underclothes.The shift for the youngest girl (number 3) is completely without any decoration, while the knee-length one (number 2) has trim on the hem of the sleeves and the neckline.  The garment with the elbow flounces hovering just above the tops of number 3’s boots might be a dress.

Wrong again!  The doll in the lower right hand corner is clearly wearing number 3  with all the lace trim under her blue skirt and white jacket with something that looks like a peplum.  the jacket is number 3 on the sheet of pricked patterns. The doll above her has garments created from textured papers in pink and green.  The doll to the left is dressed in active wear, suitable for rolling her hoop.

Some unfinished finery underneath the paper samples in the central compartment.

Big brother inspects the ladies’ handiwork and seems to find the results attractive. His approval of their good taste selecting silhouettes, combinations of colors, and “fabrics” is probably critical, as they are playing at living, learning how to make themselves attractive to future suitors!

This kit is another example of the fine lithography of the H. Jannin firm, which has been highlighted in a post on Noah’s ark toys and a jigsaw puzzle  of fashionable fruits and vegetables in Cotsen.  Jannin also made fans and panoramas, and, of course, illustrated books of all kinds for children.