What I Don’t Want for Christmas, Part 1

The Famlee Doll, A Whole Family of Dolls in One. Ad, Delineator, November 1924.

The Famlee Doll, A Whole Family of Dolls in One. Ad, Delineator, November 1924.

Creepy. Disturbing. Racist. A toy that was obviously thought up by an adult. A nightmare image: Imagine this from the point of view of the dolls in a box — “Here comes the giantess to twist off my head! Again! When I’d almost gotten used to having a body, even if I am a nurse wearing a clown suit. . . . Ouch!”

Text of The Famlee Doll Ad, 1924.

Text of The Famlee Doll Ad, Nov.  1924.

“Heads screw on and off — simply a turn at the neck; a two-year old can do it. Great fun to change from a Girl Doll to a Boy Doll — then to Little-Miss-from Holland  — then to Ching-Ching-Chinaman — and so on through all the lovable and life-like characters in each set. . . .  Each character walks and talks. 16 inches high. Non-breakable. Quality in every detail. In attractively boxed sets — each with one body and three, five, seven or twelve interchangeable heads, with a special dress or costume for each head. Additional heads and costumes to add to the family can be bought at any time. At leading department and toy stores.”

Oh, dear; there’s nothing like a little casual racism to undermine the holiday spirit. These doll sets, still in their boxes, occasionally show up at auctions. Click here.   Or here.

The next month, December 1924, had a slightly different ad:

The Famlee Doll, advertisement in Delineator, December 1924.

The Famlee Doll, advertisement in Delineator, December 1924. (Also good for playing French Revolution, although that’s not mentioned as a selling point….)

Text for the December 1924 Familee Doll Ad. Delineator.

Text for the December 1924 Famlee Doll Ad in Delineator.

“Three to twelve entirely different dolls from one — just by changing faces and costumes. . . . One body — but extra heads and costumes — all interchangeable. . . . Little-Sweet-Face becomes Black-Boy-Sam — then Funny-Face-Clown . . . . An ever changing playmate that makes every play hour an ever-new delight. . . ; a many-in-one gift that is not only a never-the-same doll, but also a game.”

1924 nov doll w 12 500 closeup heads ad

I think I’m reacting to these ads so negatively because my favorite dolls were my friends — I imagined them having an inner life, that went on without me, like the dolls in story books (books about Raggedy Ann, or stories by Hans Christian Andersen.)

A Girl's Best Friend, Raggedy Ann. Late 1940s. Courtesy of r ememberedsummers.com

A Girl’s Best Friend, Raggedy Ann. Late 1940s. Courtesy of  rememberedsummers.com

The Topsy and Eva Doll Dilemma

Also, at my grandmother’s house was a very old rag doll (probably from the 1920s, although they were still made in the 1950s.) It fascinated me, but it was frustrating to play with. My Grandma told me it was a “Topsy & Eva doll.” (The reference is to the two little girls in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) Eva had a pink cloth face, blue painted-on eyes, yellow yarn hair, a simpering smile, and a blue calico dress. If you turned her skirt inside out, she became Topsy. Topsy had a warm brown face, a broad grin, knotted black wool hair, and a red calico dress. Topsy clearly looked like more fun to know than Eva. But it bothered me enormously that I could never play with Topsy and Eva at the same time, and they could never play with each other, either. That’s what I meant by calling The Famlee Doll “a toy that was obviously thought up by an adult.” An adult buys the toy, because it’s a bargain: one expensive (talking, walking?) body and lots of ways to dress it. But, like the old Topsy and Eva Doll, the characters could never play together. How could you have a dolls’ tea party with one complete character and a lot of decapitated heads? Could they even drink tea?

So, in spite of the prices being asked for this toy, please don’t get me one for Christmas.



Filed under 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, vintage photographs

6 responses to “What I Don’t Want for Christmas, Part 1

  1. I also have a vague memory of that Topsy and Eva doll, now that you mention it. And the doll with many heads sounds like a bad idea from the outset. Can you imagine all the lost heads the poor mother would have to deal with?

  2. I’m sure the Berwick Doll Company had plenty more in stock. I wonder what the “talk” was — how could the recording suit all the doll characters? Or maybe the mismatching was part of the fun.

  3. The creator of this toy obviously did not understand the relationship between a little girls and her doll!

    • Come to think of it, I can’t remember ever wanting a talking doll — although my uncles bought them for me. I had long conversations with my dolls — and my cat — it was called “using your imagination.” Talking dolls never said what I wanted them to say — there is an element of Dada/absurdism in a chat with random recorded messages.

  4. I find the idea creepy and morbid too! Stuffed animals and dolls are always real to kids! I don’t think I would have ever switched the heads if I had had a doll like that as a child – I would most likely have picked my favorite face and shoved all the other heads in the bottom of the toy box. Or I might have tried to make bodies for them all. (Even in the Toy Story movies, the decapitated dolls tried to find bodies for themselves!)

    I remember seeing Topsy & Eva type dolls when I was a kid (maybe a friends’ mom had one or something that I’m remembering). They confused me a little too for the same reasons you mentioned.

    All-in-one things should be reserved for things without faces (like tools)!

  5. What a charming, nostaligic post. I had a topsy turvy doll, and I do find these Famlee dolls very interesting. But of course the best toys were the ones that you just loved, and trailed around with you, and made up a whole life for. I agree about wanting them all to sit down to tea.

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