Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Look What Santa Could, Should, MUST Bring! (1951 Children's Toys)

Good afternoon!

I didn't forget about you today, but whoooo-eee have things been busy at the library. We've moved on past most of the renovations on the one side of the building, and Metro Archives is in its new home on the third floor, but the reference division is still being carpeted in bits and pieces and wow, there have been a lot of reference questions in the 1-3 shift. However, I'm back at my desk now, and though it is covered in poor, pitiful books in need of repair, I thought I would take a moment to tell you about my finds for the day. Subject? Toys, toys, and MORE toys!

I've been working through House and Garden 1951 volumes and the thing that stopped me in my tracks this morning was the spread they did in November, anticipating their readership's 1951 Christmas season buying habits. TO BE A CHILD OF THE MODERATELY WELL TO-DO TO AFFLUENT IN 1951! The sky seemed to be the limit in this spread of what Santa should bring good little girls and boys as they prepare for life as a child in 1952. Let's look:

The article starts out sedately enough with a number of baby doll and traditional girl toys, such as this Alice in Wonderland doll-- as the Disney movie had just come out in July of this year, there were other Lewis Carroll themed gewgaws throughout the spread of equal cuteness. I'm partial to the Swiss chalet and its tiny little folk furnishings, but that's mainly because I like anything tiny and impractical and folksy. Look at the little hope chest, the wardrobe, the canopied bed, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, those spindly little dining room chairs. [PS chairs call me]

Now take a look at what may be my favorite, the "Ring N Buzz" switchboard:

COULD YOU DIE. There's a whole subgenre of  toys, the "vocational toy", that I feel like aren't as popular or don't exist anymore on the children's toy market-- a Fisher Price vacuum of 2014, for example, can't hold a candle to this 1966 practically the real deal model (though this Dirt Devil does seem to come close). But do you really think a red blooded American child in the 21st century is going to ask for a vacuum for Christmas? Speaking as a confirmed weirdenstein from birth, I can say with confidence that I would have wanted this switchboard set as a child, and STILL want one to this day! My grandmother held a job for about a year in the forties' as a switchboard operator for the phone company in Massachusetts, and I can see a tiny me trying to emulate her/Lily Tomlin with a victory roll and this set to guide me. "Number, please?" Though it's been through some stuff, you can see a version of it below from Ebay...isn't it thrilling that it would work in those pre-battery, pre-everything-singing-at-you toy days?

There's something adorable about a miniature version of anything realistic, right? How about this real aluminum grill? Can you imagine the Ward Cleaver dad showing the overjoyed five year old how to properly light a grill while practicing fire safety, and giving them the responsibility of one little hamburger patty to cook? This blows the Easy Bake Oven right out of the water. "Honey? Junior's making shish kebabs for dinner!" Not putting much of a premium on not getting your kids eyebrows burned off or worse, but act like you would not be the most over the moon seven year old ever to receive this next to the Christmas tree on December 25, 1951 (size alone prevents it from going under said tree). Another thought, though-- you wouldn't be able to use this until like five months after you bought it, unless you live in a sunny climate, in which case you would have been triply blessed as a fifties' child-- grill, indulgent/incautious parents, great weather. I am jealous.

The next toy's caption reads "Auto Road teaches driving fundamentals, works by remote control. $26, Playhouse." This does not feel like near enough information. Also, notice the Disney licensed White Rabbit photo bombing my clipping. "HI!"

Do you spot in the above montage a weirdly realistic horse on wheels, a Dream Pets kangaroo,  and a giraffe I'd like to get for Christmas? I know I do! I was about to applaud how "normal" most of these dolls and stuffed animals look until I came across the following two panels: I think I'm looking at stuffed toy vegetables with a p-r-e-t-t-y good representation of the produce department here in attendance. The two that bother me the most? The pea pod (WHY DO YOU HAVE THREE HEADS WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT) and the asparagus, the latter of which should really be in his own David Lynch production of Asparagushead (giving Jack Nance a run for his money in hair height and creeping horror). I like how the cricket is like "Pleased ta meetcha! Let me introduce you to some of the things I would like to eat! Mr. Eggplant...yep, looking delicious. Better if you were a couple weeks old though. Lady Carrot Face, where have you been all my life? Onion Man, my main man!" etc, etc. Wholly disturbing. Iiiiii love it.

Ok, this next piece comes with a story. I was interested in whether or not the delightfully named "Susie Keane's Puppeteens" was in any way related to the famous Keanes of the "Big Eyes" school of art, and then went, naaaah, that was Walter and Margaret Keane. TURNS OUT, Walter and his first wife, Barbara, WERE the people behind these dolls, long before the second wife and Walter gained fame as waif portraitists. From Wikipedia:
His wife Barbara studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu, and also studied dress design in various Couturier Houses in Paris. When they returned to their home in Berkeley, began an educational toy business called "Susie Keane's Puppeteens", teaching children to speak French through the use of handmade puppets, phonograph records, and a book. The "ballroom" of their large home became an assembly line of hand painted "wide eyed" wooden puppets, with various intricately made costumes. The puppets were sold in high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue.
Wow, right? And for the curious, $13 in 1951 was about $115 in today's money. Not cheap, folks! Not cheap!

Here's a wild west town with all the trimmings...I love the cabin to the right:

And a book about animals in cages that is actually shaped like a cage! I appreciate that they chose these cutie white mice to use as the main example. I am secretly hoping there's a lizard in the back of this book.

At the back of the book, there were a rash of paid advertisements, in classified type listings, for other toys directly from the manufacturer. The most disturbing of which, naturally, I've reproduced for you here. Including, but not limited to:

This eerie "put your face on a paper doll!" set sounds a little like the My Twinn and American Girl doubles you can make today, but in paper doll format, which makes it the weirder for thinking of a photograph of my head on an illustrated child's body. I'm not going to knock it til I try it (and believe me, I do want to have like my head on Lana Turner's body in my Christmas stocking, because come ON)...but I will say the rhetoric of the second ad, in particular, is slasher-film-esque:

"My Twin Doll Looks Just Like Me: The living image of your own child" might be the title and subtitle of an episode of the Twilight Zone, OR it might be the ad copy that this My Twin Doll Company ad man came up with as the best representation of his product to the public at large. "Haunts my dreams while I sleep!" or "Comes alive at night!" were rejected for obvious reasons.

Another, far too large doll (and with that creepy, Dutch milkmaid face no less):

But the kicker of all the doll ads is Sandy. And if you read the ad, you will know why:

And I reiterate, the ad portrays this Rapunzel like infant as saying "Hello! I'm Sandy! I drink I wet I sleep and you can WAVE MY HAIR! I have RUBBER WONDERSKIN!" Rubber wonderskin, right from the rough draft journals of Stephen King. I understand that all these things are important selling points in the mind of a 1950's consumer, as you do want a baby doll to do as many things as possible, but good Lord. "You can...make her stand, walk, and sleep." No comment, just horrifying.

And last but not least, the Benedict Arnold of 1950's toy dolls, and a commentary on the futility of the Indian Wars, no doubt:

Steve Adams turns into Straight Arrow...or does Straight Arrow turn into Steve Adams? The mystery was solved with this entry in an Old Time Radio website and the truth of the matter has apparently been misconstrued over the years! In 1948, Shredded Wheat sponsored a kids' Western called "Straight Arrow", starring:
a Comanche Indian named Straight Arrow, who disguised himself as Steve Adams (note the same initials), the owner of the Broken Bow cattle spread. His secret identity was known only to his grizzled side-kick, Packy McCloud...When this adventure program debuted, Straight Arrow, like Superman before him, began his series as an adult, with the "origin story" of his childhood to follow. (However, unlike the Man of Steel, the origin story of the Comanche warrior never aired.)
So this tie-in toy would make no sense to anyone who actually listened to the series, which ended in June of 1951. Still, please buy these dolls! We have a whole warehouse full of them! If only the series had been more popular!

ANYWAY, I gotta go finish up some stuff before I get out of here in this last hour of work, but do tell me what you think! Which toy would you actually no-lie like to have as an adult? Which would have thrilled you the most as a kid? Seen any vintage toys that left you scratching your head either for safety or sheer surrealism reasons? What's the last kid's collectible you added to your collection? I'd love to know!

That's all for today, but I'll see you tomorrow (and hopefully earlier!) for more vintage tips and tangents. Have a great Wednesday night! Til then.


  1. Wow! It ain't about nothin' but those vegetable people to me right now. Must find. Must own. Must commit to finding and owning.

    1. Haha, do you know I thought of you when they came up! If I ever see one in the wild, you'll be the first to know! :)

  2. I like the creepy veggie people. ha ha.
    But I bought a Karen Dolly Darling ...since in 1965 I had one when I was 6 yrs old. Small, cute and originally cost 77 cents! Miniature toys are best to collect for space reasons. Can have a doll house room inside a drawer and no one will know.

    1. That's one of the things I always think about with vintage toys-- some of them are so LARGE it's not worth collecting them! I have always wanted one of those big tin doll houses and have somehow managed to resist all these years because seriously, where would I put it? [file that under things I rarely think while making buying decisions, haha] A miniature in-a-drawer doll house would solve the space problem!!

  3. Replies
    1. "Hello, operator?" I wish I could find a video of how it works, the diagram alone is intriguing.

  4. I love the vegetable people. There's a dealer and artist named Jason Parker Counce who has a booth in Gas Lamp Too (it's called "Dirt"), and he makes vegetable-headed dolls that are similarly creepy/awesome. I have one of his tomato head ladies.

    1. HA, I will have to check that out! AND tell Eartha about a possible veg people sighting in real life!

  5. gimme that swiss chalet doll house! stat! oh man i would kill to find one of those at the flea market! also, i wouldn't say know to that pea pod lady doll. i LOVE freaky/cute.

  6. Will be listing a pepper head guy and a grape head ( I think..) girl on Ebay this weekend!



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