In two previous blogs I've written about my fond memories of playing with paper dolls when I was a little boy and I've posted some examples of some of the dolls that are still in my possession. Readers of this blog will probably know by now that I still have many of my childhood toys and playthings. Today I came across more of my paper dolls. This time I stumbled upon my collection of my old Betsy McCall paper dolls. In preparing to write this blog, I did a little research on the internet and found out that Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall's magazine in 1951. I happily discovered a site that has documented her history and even has scans of many of the complete pages (http://www.thebleudoor.com/betsymccallhome.htm). I was very excited to see that many of the dolls in my collection were listed on the site. Now I can put a date to them. My three oldest dolls (two from 1958 and one from 1959) are in the worst shape due to an unfortunate mending job done years ago using Scotch tape that has yellowed and darkened. You can see in the above image the way that the dolls look today. On the right, I've posted my attempts at restoring the same dolls (click on the images to enlarge them). The doll on the far left is from the Valentine's Day issue of 1958. Each doll was always accompanied by a couple of outfits and a short story with a cute illustration. The image of the page on the right shows the doll the way that it appeared with its clothes and accompanying story in McCall's magazine.
Most of you probably know that there was also a Betsy McCall doll that had her own line of doll clothing. My sister had the doll and several of her outfits (my sister also had the plush toy version of Betsy's dachshund, Nosy). I loved playing dolls with my sister and I was a bit jealous when she received her Betsy McCall doll. Even though I had a few dolls of my own, my mom resisted getting me my own Betsy. It looked like I was going to have to settle for playing with the paper dolls version until one day my sister's Betsy McCall doll had a medical emergency - her jointed leg popped out of its socket. Somehow the doll's hip joint had separated a wee bit which meant that the leg would not stay in the socket. I think my mother tried tightening the joint with a cloth bandaid, but it didn't help. It looked like poor Betsy was going to live out her life with just one leg. Finally, I suppose after witnessing how sad this must have made my sister, my mother told my sister that she would take the doll to the doll hospital. The next day, Betsy was back and as good as new, her leg snug in its place. But, and here's how I came to have my own Betsy McCall doll, one day when my sister and I were both home sick from school and my mom had gone out on an errand, my sister and I decided to snoop through my mom's dresser. We were shocked and surprised when we found a Betsy McCall doll hidden under my mom's slips. It only took us a moment to realize that this was my sister's original doll, the one with the broken leg, the one my mom had told us she had taken to the doll hospital. The "good as new" Betsy that my mom said had been repaired at the doll hospital was actually a brand new doll. I don't remember exactly what happened next, but since I wanted my sister's original, broken doll for myself, I know what happened next must have involved admitting to my mom that we had been snooping and found the doll. I did end up getting to keep the broken doll and somehow I managed to put some tape around the leg to hold it in. Yes, she now had one leg that appeared to be slightly longer than the other, but I didn't care, I had my very own Betsy McCall.
Well, back to the paper dolls. The second doll from the left in the above group, is also from 1958. In the image on the right, you can see how she looked in the original magazine page from October of that year. The accompanying story is about her family going out to dinner. Betsy McCall's purpose in the magazine seems to have been to help sell clothes for little girls. Each story and paper doll was accompanied by a footnote telling the reader what stores carried the clothing shown in the illustrations.
The clothing of this period looks like something that you would see Don Draper's daughter wearing in "Mad Men," which shows what a good job the costumer designer for that show has done in capturing the era of the early 1960s.
In the group on the left, you'll notice a tiny Betsy McCall paper doll. This was from an issue in 1965 where Betsy's mother makes some new clothes for Betsy's new doll, which in Betsy's fictional world, I believe is supposed to be a doll patterned after her. So, this is a paper doll version of another paper doll's doll. Got that? It's metafiction in the world of paper dolls. And of course, in the story, Betsy just happens to mention which McCall's pattern number her mother used to make the clothes (just in case you want to try making them yourself).
Below, you can see the technique I used to strengthen my magazine cut-out dolls. This backside view shows how I use to glue them on to scraps of cardboard to give them added durability. And boy oh boy, I remember how difficult it was to cut out the doll shapes from the cardboard using only a pair of children's scissors.
The Betsy on the left of the above group is not out of McCall's magazine. It is one that I sent away for from McCall's. In each issue, at the bottom of the Betsy page, was information on where, for ten cents, you could send for a paper doll that was printed on card stock that came with a set of clothes. So of all of the dolls shown, this is the only one that I didn't have to paste on to a piece of card board. Because of this, she's the one that's in the best condition.
Below, you can see more of Betsy's clothes, including an outfit that was never cut out of the magazine (I think I must have been confounded on how I would cut out the Lily that she's holding).
Betsy McCall paper dolls appeared in the magazine on and off through the 1980s and 90s, though the art that I've seen of these dolls has none of the charm of these dolls from the late fifties and early sixties.