A black doll is a doll of a black person. Representations, both stereotypical and realistic, fashioned into playthings, date back centuries. More accurate, mass-produced depictions are manufactured today as toys and adult collectibles.
Several 19th-century European doll companies preceded American doll companies in manufacturing black dolls. These predecessors include Carl Bergner of Germany, who made a three-faced doll with one face a crying black child and the other two, happier white faces. In 1892, Jumeau of Paris advertised black and mixed race dolls with bisque heads. Gebruder Heubach of Germany made character faces in bisque. Other European doll makers include Bru Jne. & Cie of Paris, Steiner, Danel, Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets (S.F.B.J.), and Kestner of Germany.
American entrepreneur Richard Henry Boyd founded the National Negro Doll Company in 1911 "after he tried to purchase dolls for his children but could find none that were not gross caricatures of African Americans."
American companies began including black dolls in their doll lines in the early 1900s. Between 1910 and 1930, Horsman, Vogue, and Madame Alexander included black dolls in their doll lines. Gradually, other American companies followed suit.
Beatrice Wright Brewington, an African American entrepreneur, founded B. Wright's Toy Company, Inc. and mass-produced black dolls with ethnically-correct features. Also an educator, Wright began instructing girls in the art of making dolls in 1955.
During the 1960s and in the aftermath of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, California, Shindana Toys, a Division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., is credited as the first major doll company to mass-produce ethnically-correct black dolls in the United States.
Other popular collectible black dolls include manufactured play dolls past and current, manufactured dolls designed for collectors by companies such as Madame Alexander and Tonner Doll, artist dolls, one-of-a-kind dolls, portrait dolls and those representing historical figures, reborn dolls, and paper dolls. In addition, American Girl has also released black dolls portraying girls of color from various points in American history such as Addy Walker and civil rights-era Melody Ellison, as well as those from the present day.
In 1947, the first African American woman cartoonist Jackie Ormes created the Patty-Jo doll, which was based on the cartoon she penned for newspapers at the time. The doll was a realistic black doll away from the mammy doll stereotype.
To honor the history of black dolls, in 2012, three sisters named Debra Britt and her sisters, Felicia Walker and Tamara Mattison opened the National Black Doll Museum of History and Culture in Mansfield, Massachusetts. It features over 6,000 black dolls and its mission is to nurture the self-esteem of children and preserve the legacy of black dolls. Roughly 1,000 black dolls are also on view at the Philadelphia Doll Museum, which was founded by Barbara Whiteman.
- Collectible Black Dolls by John Axe, Hobby House Press, 1978
- Collector's Encyclopedia of Black Dolls by Patikii Gibbs, Collector Books, 1987
- Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide 1820-1991 by Myla Perkins, Collector Books, 1991
- Black Dolls an Identification and Value Guide Book II by Myla Perkins, Collector Books, 1995
- The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls by Debbie Behan Garrett, Hobby House Press, 2003
- Black Dolls Proud, Bold & Beautiful by Nayda Rondon, Reverie Press, 2004
- Collectible African American Dolls Identification and Values by Yvonne Ellis, Collector Books, 2008
- Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Collecting and Experiencing the Passion by Debbie Behan Garrett, 2008
- "The Scripts of Black Dolls" in Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Robin Bernstein, 2011
- See also Robin Bernstein, Children's Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, The Possibility of Children's Literature, PMLA 126.1 (2011): 160-169.
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