Photos and story by Donald-Brian Johnson
“You’ll find collecting Hallmark Dolls is really lots of fun, and here’s a little album with a place for every one!” – Hallmark, 1948
Over the years, almost every person of note (or notoriety) has been immortalized in colorful paper dolldom. There are Nancy Reagan paper dolls (Ron, too). Carmen Miranda paper dolls. Lovely Lennon Sisters paper dolls. Entire kicklines of Ziegfeld showgirl paper dolls. Even Pope John Paul II paper dolls.
Most show their age, thanks to the chubby young fingers which have tried impatiently to dress them. There are frayed edges. Creased midsections. Missing or bent clothing tabs. From stubborn Scotch tape to indelible crayon markings, the pitiful paper stories are never-ending.
Exceptions to the well-loved-well-worn rule are three series of paper dolls released by Hallmark in the late 1940s: “Dolls From The Land of Make Believe,” “Dolls of the Nations,” and the “Little Women Dolls.” Many can still be found in the colorful and pristine condition that delighted young collectors when the dolls made their debut.
Also, unlike other paper dolls, each Hallmark doll arrived fully dressed, on sturdy card stock, “resplendent with real plumes and sparkling sequins.” While this may have limited the playtime possibilities—take them out, stand them up, look at them, put them away—it did cut down significantly on wear and tear, for which present-day collectors are grateful.
Oh, You Beautiful Doll!
The three Hallmark sets were the work of artist Vivian Trillow Smith, and her attention to imaginative detail is the primary reason they remain so collectible. Quite simply put, Smith’s illustrations succeed because they are so much more colorful, intricate, and fully realized than a paper doll really needs to be.
For “Viv” (her identifying signature), accuracy, laced with a dash of whimsy, was all-important. Check out Katrinka of Holland: the ethnic garb has been lovingly recreated –but from the yoke she’s carrying dangle two gigantic wooden shoes packed to overflowing with tulips. Then there’s John, A Royal Canadian Mountie, who carries a rifle and a pair of snowshoes nearly as tall as he is, and Tautuk of Alaska, with a winsome seal and a grinning fish as his cheery companions. The inherent playfulness of Viv’s designs must have delighted children of the 1940s and 50s as much as they delight the collectors of today.
Hallmark dolls were intended to be free-standing. Since that meant illustrations were needed on both front and back, Viv made sure her characters were eye-catching from any angle. The reverse of Rita from Brazil, for example, boasts elaborate jewelry and floral head décor entirely different from that on the front, while Bobby Shaftoe’s flowing cape is emblazoned with a series of regal S’s. Such attentive care is indicative of a truly accomplished artist, for whom “good enough” only served as a starting point.
Dolls From The Land of Make Believe came first, in 1947, their album featuring a cover photo of Disney child star Luana Patten. The lineup of sixteen 5-1/2” x 7” figures, “looking as though they stepped right out of fairyland in all their glory,” included these storybook favorites: Little Bo-Peep; Cinderella; Mary Mary, Quite Contrary; Mary Had a Little Lamb; Red Riding Hood; Little Miss Muffet; Little Tommy Tucker; Little Boy Blue; My Pretty Maid; Little Girl with a Little Curl; The Queen of Hearts; Bobby Shaftoe; Little Polly Flinders; Curlylocks; Polly Put The Kettle On!, and Peter Piper.
Each card interior featured a condensed, rhyming version of the beloved character’s back story. Here’s the lowdown on Little Red Riding Hood, Hallmark-style:
Little Red Riding Hood, all dressed in red –
From the tip of her toes to the top of her head –
Went through the woods to her Grandma’s one day,
And met a Bad Wolf as she stopped there to play.
The Wolf was polite, and said, “It would be fun –
To race you to Grandma’s!” (Of course, the Wolf won.)
He ran in the house, and let out a shout,
For Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma was out.
He put on a nightgown, and put on a cap –
And acted like Grandma just taking a nap.
When Little Red Riding Hood said, “Grandma dear –
I have a nice basket of food for you here,”
The Wolf growled and said, “I would rather eat you!”
He jumped out of bed – and he probably would, too –
If the Woodcutter hadn’t come in with a whoop,
And knocked that old Wolf for a loopety-loop.
And Little Red Riding Hood promised right then –
She never would speak to a Bad Wolf again!
For parents seeking to speed up those requests for yet another bedtime story, these cut-to-the-chase Hallmark capsulizations proved a time-saver. Better yet, tucked inside each and every poem was an easy-to-digest moral for little ones to learn from: Some were fairly obvious: Red Riding Hood? Don’t talk to strangers. Little Boy Blue? No sleeping on the job. Other sermonettes took a bit more leeway with their original source material, like Little Polly Flinders who “sat among the cinders.” The reason, according to Hallmark: Polly’s feet were cold and wet because she didn’t wear her overshoes when she went outside to play in the snow. (“Polly learned her lesson, and told her mother then, ‘I’ll always mind you after this and not be bad again.’”)
The success of Dolls From The Land of Make Believe led to 1948’s Dolls of the Nations. This brand-new set of sixteen, again with Luana on the album cover, welcomed the following visitors from other lands: Sing Toy of China; Maria of Mexico; Antoinette of France; Rita of Brazil; Katrinka of Holland; John, A Royal Canadian Mountie; Ann of England; Kathleen of Ireland; Christina of Sweden; Monty of Australia; Barbel of Switzerland; Sandy of Scotland, and Kusum of India. The United States was represented by Cowboy Joe. Also present, in their pre-U.S. incarnations, were Tautuk of Alaska and Leilani of Hawaii.
As with the Make Believe series, the Dolls of the Nations cards featured interior rhymes, with title lettering suggesting the country of origin. This time around, however, there were no familiar nursery tales to rely on. Instead, each poem took the form of a whirlwind tour through the character’s homeland, circa the mid-1940s. A sampling:
Sandy lives in Scotland, so he’s called a little Scot –
And if you saw his country you would like it such a lot,
For you could hike through mountains, and climb over cliffs and rocks,
And see a lot of pretty lakes (the Scotch folks call them ‘lochs’).
Leilani’s from Hawaii,
land of lazy, sunny days –
Of pretty girls and hula skirts, and
lovely flower leis.
A lei is like a necklace that is made
of flowers, you see,
And everybody wears them ‘cause
they’re pretty as can be!
Dolls of the Nations provided a painless and palatable dose of social studies laced with geography lessons. The end product was guaranteed to appeal to young minds just beginning to explore the world around them.
1949’s Little Women Dolls which proved the most popular of the Hallmark series, are also the most difficult to find today. That’s because, unlike the other Hallmark sets, the four Little Women dolls have significant appeal as cross-collectibles. Interest in them extends beyond paper doll collectors to those whose passion is movie memorabilia. Released to coincide with the 1949 MGM movie based on Louisa May Alcott’s enduring novel, each 6” x 5” Little Women doll is costumed to resemble a specific character in the film: Jo (June Allyson); Meg (Janet Leigh); Amy (Elizabeth Taylor); and Beth (Margaret O’Brien).
On-the-set sketches of the performers by artist Smith added to the authenticity of the dolls’ “look” (and proved a good publicity ploy for both MGM and Hallmark.) While the facial features of the finished products look more or less like every other Viv Hallmark doll—twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, and perky rosebud lips—the carefully-realized costumes accurately reflect their movie counterparts.
Adding to the appeal: interior descriptions of the characters, and their place in the story—rhymed, as always, in the Hallmark tradition. Here’s how Hallmark introduced Little Women’s leading lady, Jo.
The “Little Women” story is a tale of long ago,
About four lovely sisters – and one of them was Jo.
She wanted so to be a boy, it really was a shame –
And maybe that’s the reason why she had a boyish name!
Increasing each card’s collectability: a reproduced autograph courtesy of the featured star. A Jo doll, a Jo poem, and June Allyson’s autograph to boot? Now that’s entertainment!
In the wake of Hallmark’s success, competitors quickly joined the doll parade, including Greetings, Inc., Fairfield, and A-Meri-Card. One of the most blatant imitators: American Greetings’ 1949 Storyland series of Forget-Me-Not Dolls, which borrowed liberally from the Hallmark concept. Forget-Me-Not dolls were available as a boxed set, as well as individually, but only the boxed dolls boasted Hallmark-style hat feathers. Although Viv-like, the American Greetings illustrations were far less detailed. One Forget-Me-Not innovation that did prove useful was the detachable greeting tab. Careful removal along the perforated lines would transform a Happy Birthday card into a paper doll suitable for year-round enjoyment.
After their late-1940s flurry, the Hallmark dolls disappeared until 1954. On re-release, the album covers had changed. Gone was cover girl Luana Patten. Her pigtailed career had long since peaked, and generic storybook illustrations now replaced her.
Hallmark dolls originally sold for just 25 cents each (50 cents with the album). Today, individual dolls in mint condition can fetch from $40-45, with each Little Women doll averaging $50-75. Just right for any young (or young-at-heart) doll collector you may know—especially if you “care enough to send the very best.”
“So get yourself the first and last, and all those in between, And see how nice your album looks, when you have all sixteen!” – Hallmark, 1948
Donald-Brian Johnson is the co-author of numerous Schiffer books on design and collectibles, including “Postwar Pop”, a collection of his columns. Please address inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org Photo Associate: Hank Kuhlmann.