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A Tall, Elegant, Vanishing Species; 1950s Supermarket Dolls

Exploring Vinyl Dolls by Deluxe Reading and Others

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Deluxe Reading Soft Vinyl Doll

Deluxe Reading Soft Vinyl Doll, all-original for the Supermarket Trade.

Denise Van Patten
You're probably familiar with 1950s Supermarket Dolls even if you don't officially anything about them. The Supermarket Dolls from the 1950s were made by companies such as Deluxe Reading or Arrow specifically for the supermarket and drug store trade. The dolls called out to little girls and their mothers--for a reasonable price, they could take home a tall (usually between "24 and "30) elegantly dressed doll. The dolls were generally made of soft, bendable stuffed vinyl (one piece, nicely molded bodies) and vinyl heads with sleep-eyes and rooted hair. The dolls generally had high-heeled feet and ladies bodies, and were dressed elaborately in evening wear or bridal wear. The dolls variously went by delightful names such as "Loveable Louise," "Sweet Rosemary," "Betty the Beautiful Bride or "Bonnie the Beautiful Bride."

Companies Included Deluxe Reading and Arrow

The information on the companies that produced these dolls is a bit hazy. Confirmed companies that produced the dolls include Deluxe Reading (who later went on to produce the better-known Penny Brite and Dawn dolls, among many others), Allied, Allied Eastern and Arrow. The dolls are often marked only with "AE" and some numbers; some of the Arrow dolls are marked with an arrow mark in a diamond between the dolls shoulder blades. The dolls were produced in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. What we know today about the names of the dolls or the companies that made from them come from the few surviving boxes--most of the boxes have long ago been thrown in the trash because they are so large!

Lavish Costuming

The dolls are prized by collectors today for their lavish costuming. The dolls generally come with well-made dresses of organdy or satin, with layers of ruffles and netting. Accents are often in velvet, metallics or fake fur, and fake furs, jewelry, and purses come with many dolls. The dresses have often survived in good condition.

Why Supermarket Dolls Are An Endangered Series.

The sad truth is that although millions of these dolls were sold, very few of these dolls have survived until today. The largest problem with the dolls is the disintegration of their soft vinyl bodies. The soft vinyl bodies were stuffed with kapok, a light-weight silky down from seed pods of a tropical tree, and they were advertised as "poseable." The constant posing of the soft vinyl led to cracks in many of the bodies which are unrepairable. And, for the dolls that have not cracked, the vinyl has generally softened, badly mishapping the legs and feet or some other part of the dolls. The final injustice to the dolls is that the the heads are too heavy for the soft vinyl bodies to hold up, leading to sagging in the neck and chest area. Out of the three dolls pictured with this article, both 30" dolls have sagging neck areas, one also has misshapen legs. The third doll in pink is a smaller, 26" later-made doll, most likely from the early 1960s, called "Sweet Rosemary." Because she is made of a harder vinyl, she has survived intact without sagging or deterioration problems.

Collectibility and Value of the Supermarket Dolls

The Supermarket Dolls are considered highly collectible by collectors of 1950s and fashion dolls. Dolls in average condition can be had for as little as $30 or $40, but mint dolls, especially the early 30" dolls with soft vinyl bodies that haven't deteriorated and which are in excellent condition are generally $60 to $100, even though these dolls are fairly rare. Prices for these dolls are down somewhat from 5 years ago, when a mint Sweet Rosemary or Betty the Beautiful Bride could cost nearly $200, so now is a good time to add one to your collection, before prices rise again.

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