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Mama Dolls
America's First Doll Craze

What is a Mama Doll?

A mama doll is a young toddler doll made out of composition and cloth with a voice mechanism that produces something sounding like "mama," usually when tipped, rocked or shaken.  The doll's head, arms and lower legs are made out of composition, and the body is made out of cloth. The legs usually "swing" freely thanks to sewn, jointed cloth hips.  These joints allowed the dolls to "walk."  The dolls were chubby in appearance, and, thanks to their composition head and limbs, they were advertised as "unbreakable."  The dolls were also advertised as "life like" by many companies.  

When and Where Mama Dolls Produced?

Some dolls that are considered mama dolls commenced production as early as 1915; however, the dolls  didn't become wildly popular until the early 1920s.  The Georgene Averill company played a major part in the development of the doll, and even was granted a patent for a mama doll in 1918.   By 1922, American companies such as Effanbee, Horsman, Ideal and others were producing mama dolls. By the mid 1920s, many, many American companies were producing the dolls. By the late 1920s, demands for the dolls slowed down somewhat and slightly slimmer mama dolls started to come into vogue. Mama dolls continued to be produced, in their classic form, into the early 1940s.

Why are Mama Dolls So Important To American Doll History?

Mama dolls helped end the lock on the doll market that German Bisque dolls enjoyed in the beginning of the 20th century.  Mama dolls were primarily manufactured in America and they literally swept the nation in 1922-23; they can be considered the first "doll craze!"  The dolls were in huge demand at this time.  Their popularity was due to the fact that they were "unbreakable" (well, at least they were far less breakable than their bisque forerunners) and the doll seemed very "life like" in feel, especially compared to bisque dolls.  Children also loved the fact that the dolls could "talk" and "walk."  And, all the features of this doll allowed for inventive advertising by the doll companies that produced them. The dolls seemed very new and exciting compared to the bisque dolls that had been on the market for so many years.

What Modern Dolls Do Mama Dolls Resemble?

The mama dolls are the forerunners of most popular baby dolls with cloth bodies that are produced today!  Although most of our current crop of mama-type dolls don't talk or walk, the toddler-type dolls of companies such as the Lee Middleton Company and Adora Babies, among others, are the descendants of the composition mama dolls from the 1920s and 30s.  These dolls often "feel"  like a real baby or young toddler, and are made for play.

What Are Some of the Most Popular Mama Dolls for Collectors Today?

  • Madame Hendren Dolls

  • Flossy Flirt

  • Bubbles (and many other Effanbee mama dolls)

  • Horsman babies

Why Do People Collect Mama Dolls? 

Few collectors seem to solely collect mama dolls.  However, mama dolls are an essential part of any collection of composition dolls, or any collection of baby dolls.  Collectors that focus on one manufacturer of dolls, such as Effanbee, Ideal or Horsman, also seek these dolls out.  Collectors of American-made antique dolls include mama dolls in their collections. 

What Are Mama Dolls Worth Today?

The dolls can be reasonable in price, and a mama doll that doesn't have original clothing but which is in excellent condition can often be found for between $100 to $150, sometimes even for less. Dolls in excellent condition with original clothing can often be found for approximately $200 to $300.  However, mint, marked dolls with their original clothing, labels and box can cost several hundred dollars.  

Books That Include Information On Mama Dolls:

Compo Dolls 1928-1955 Identification & Price Guide
by Polly Judd, Pam Judd (Hardcover - May 2000)

Collectors Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls : 1900-1950: Identification and Values
by Ursula R. Mertz

Composition & Wood Dolls and Toys : A Collector's Reference Guide
by Michele Karl (Paperback - May 1998)

Compo Dolls II : 1909-1928
by Polly Judd, Pam Judd.  Out of Print

Web Sites That Include Information On Mama Dolls:

Exclusively Composition Dolls:  The Bulletin Board For Composition Dolls ONLY

Dorilin Dolls (has many photos of composition dolls for sale including mama dolls).

What is Composition?

The Heyday Of The Composition Doll

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Denise Van Patten--your Guide to Dolls
Article, Graphics Copyright © 2001 Denise Van Patten

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