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Treasured Collectibles & Doll Hospital

Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls

by Kristy Neal on 05/05/10

This is a presentation that I gave yesterday to the Northshore Doll Club.

Nancy Ann Abbott was a fascinating lady.  Born Rowena Haskin in 1901 she changed her name when moving to Hollywood.  She became a dancer and actor in silent movies.  She later became a studio designer.  She began her doll career through her passion for costume design.  She purchased small bisque baby dolls from Japan and dressed them in elaborate costumes to give to friends as gifts.   Soon after, she began selling these dolls.  With the assistance of her business partner, Allan Leslie Rowland, a small shop was opened to sell the dolls and the Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls Corporation was incorporated in 1937.  The babies proved to be so popular that the line was expanded to include small bisque dolls dressed as storybook characters, nursery rhyme characters and costumes from different countries.  In 1938 the company opened its own pottery plant in Ca to produce its own bisque dolls. 

                Nancy Ann dolls that are marked Japan are the very first dolls and are highly sought after.  The 5” bisque dolls can be placed into 3 mold eras – Japan, Ca Jointed legs and Ca frozen legs.  There is a very informative dvd study set from UFDC that explains the different mold marks and mold types as well as how these date the dolls that we will watch after this introduction. 

                Nancy Ann had a unique business strategy in that this was the first company to market her dolls in such a way as to encourage collecting and not just playing with the dolls.   The catch phrase “tiny dolls for tiny collectors” was a new idea at the time.  During this early heyday of the company the factory produced as many as 10,000 – 20,000 dolls per day and they were sold worldwide in countries such as Phillipines, England, Egypt, South Africa and Canada.   The dolls were so popular that they were even collected by Princess Margaret Rose and Princess Elizabeth.

                Everyone is familiar with the bisque dolls especially, but in 1947 the company began the switch to plastic dolls.  First these had painted faces like the bisque ones, but after about a year they changed to sleep eyes.  It is sometimes difficult to tell if a doll is plastic or bisque.  The tell tale line where the plastic head is joined to the body is the surest way to tell the difference. 

                To keep up with the ever changing doll market Nancy Ann produced many different types of dolls in the later era.  The Style Show line was produced from 1952-1955.  They feature an unmarked doll body with a slight bust line, the head has blue sleep eyes and a saran wig.  The elaborate costuming of the doll identifies it as a Nancy Ann.  The dolls that were produced vary somewhat and this dates the doll as well as the costume.  In 1952 &53 the dolls are hard plastic non walkers, 1954 were hard plastic walkers, and 1955 & 56 were vinyl head walkers.

                Muffie appeared in 1953 and was produced until around 1961 she was 8” hard plastic.  The Debbie doll was produced from 1955-1957 she was Muffie’s big sister at 10 ½”.  Another doll, Baby Sue Sue was a 10 1/2“ or 8” all vinyl doll, was marked Nancy Ann.  She had molded hair, blue sleep eyes and a a metal cry squeaker.    To compete with Ideal Nancy Ann came out with Miss Nancy Ann and Little Miss Nancy Ann in 1957.  These are high healed dolls and they are comparable to the Revlon dolls.  Some are marked and some are not.  Another later doll is Lori Ann, she seems to be a flattened  version of the vinyl Muffie mold.  She was produced from 1959-1961.  These later dolls become quite confusing because the company changed hands and the same names were used for different dolls.   The later dolls also came with wardrobes as well. 

In 1965 Miss Abbott died of cancer in 1964, the company never recovered from her death.  The company closed in 1965.  Albert Bourla obtained the rights to the company’s name in 1966.  He made several attempts to revive the line by using up old stock, but packaging the dolls in different box designs.  He later designed a vinyl teen doll, named Aline, to compete with Barbie, as well as a smaller companion doll named Missie.  In 1986 Jesco marketed dolls using the name, but they were removed from the market when Bourla sued for trademark infringement. 

In 2003 two sisters who collected vintage NASB dolls found a unique doll auction on ebay for the rights to the company name from Bourla.  In 2005 they began producing a new version of storybook dolls with a sculpt by Dianna Effner.  They hired Londie Phillips to design the clothing. 

 

 

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