by Jessica Kosinski
There are many traditions and objects associated with the holidays. Some start out regional and then slowly expand. One example is the Annalee doll, which originated in my home region of New England. For decades Annalee dolls have been popular in this area. Their popularity has also extended to other parts of the country and the world over time. Let’s take a peek at these interesting dolls. We’ll delve into their history, evolution, and popularity.
Barbara Annalee Davis Thorndike
Annalee dolls were the brainchild of Annalee Davis, whose first name was actually Barbara. She
preferred to go by her middle name of Annalee, and later became known as Annalee Thorndike after marrying her husband, Chip.
Annalee was born in 1915 in Concord, New Hampshire. That’s where she started making dolls with a friend when she was young. By the 1930s, she was selling them in New Hampshire and later in Boston, where she resided for a short time. Annalee married Chip Thorndike in the early 1940s, and the two decided to make their lives together in Meredith, New Hampshire. There, Annalee eventually began selling her dolls again, initially using her two sons as inspiration for doll designs.
The Annalee Dolls Company is Born
Annalee and Chip started what became a full-fledged company later in Meredith in their own home. The first line produced was a series of skiing dolls modeled after one of their sons’ favorite hobbies. The dolls were so successful that the operation kept expanding and eventually became officially incorporated as a company in 1955. Since then, the company has gone by a few names, including Annalee Dolls Inc. and Annalee Mobilitee Dolls Inc.
During those early years, most dolls were sold in Boston, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire. Certain businesses in those cities offered them. However, one of Annalee’s biggest clients was the State of New Hampshire itself. Annalee was hired by the state to promote its tourism using the dolls, which were rapidly growing in popularity. From there, they were exhibited in major locations like New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the Springfield, Massachusetts Eastern States Exposition. The latter is an annual exposition still held to this day. It is better known locally as the “Big E.”
Rapid Expansion and the “Factory in the Woods”
Thanks in large part to the New Hampshire tourism campaigns, Annalee doll distribution grew by leaps and bounds. By 1960, the dolls could already be found in Puerto Rico, Canada, and 40 of the U.S. states. The expansion proved too much for the Thorndikes to manage from their house and the houses of the workers they had at the time. That’s why they opened what was dubbed “The Factory in the Woods” in Meredith, New Hampshire. Eventually, it became a large compound that included attractions for visitors like the Annalee Doll Museum and an antique car museum.
Annalee Dolls Received Presidential Christmas Recognition
It is believed that Annalee dolls first became associated with winter early on because of the skiing dolls created by Annalee in the early days of Meredith. The association with Christmas itself came soon after, and the company produced several Christmas-themed doll lines, including various Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls. Among the most notable people to use Annalee dolls to decorate for Christmas were President and First Lady Ford in 1975. They received a collection of the dolls as a gift that year from one of New Hampshire’s legislators.
The End of an Era
In the 1990s, the company changed hands. Then Annalee herself passed away in 2002. Since then, the company has remained in Meredith, but it has changed hands and locations a couple more times. Although new Annalee dolls are still produced today, the early dolls are the ones coveted by collectors. Annalee herself created dolls in both human and animal forms. Her mouse dolls were (and still are) among the most popular.
Other Popular Annalee Dolls
Besides some of the mouse dolls, there are other popular Annalee dolls as well. Back in 2016, a vintage six-foot-tall Annalee Santa sold on eBay for $499.99. A little more recently, in 2020, a posable Annalee Mobilitee elf sold for $2,000, according to the popular antiques valuation website WorthPoint.
In addition to some of the most sought-after dolls, Annalee began producing Christmas ornaments in the 1980s. Many collectors still enjoy collecting those today, and new ornaments are still produced annually.
Collecting Annalee Dolls
Collecting Annalee dolls requires some study, but there are books and online reference guides available to help. One of the first things you need to know is how to distinguish the early dolls from those produced more recently. One telltale sign of an early doll is dolls created before the 1960s didn’t have screen-printed faces – they were hand-painted. Tags and materials also changed over the years. Those subtle changes can be good age indicators. Ultimately, as with most other collectibles, the most important part of the Annalee collecting process is choosing dolls that capture your heart and fit your personal budget.
Jessica Kosinski has been a freelance researcher and writer since 2001. She developed a passion for 1980s pre-1980s TV and films as a kid, and she has never grown out of it. Recently, she turned that passion into a retro TV and film blog. Follow along with her at https://medium.com/@jkos_writing, as she dives deep into the characters, actors, quirks, and trivia that brought us some of the greatest films and shows in TV history and also discusses some of the more obscure films and shows most of us may have forgotten.