Annie and Sandy Reunited

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Joyously I finally return to the world of toys as the chaos of our abode recedes at long last. Pictorama readers may remember that as part of a delightful birthday toy haul back in February of 2018 I purchased a hotsy totsy little Sandy doll. (Shown below and that post can be found here.) I concluded that post opining that there was a very nice Little Orphan Annie doll as well and I vowed to look into that. I had a weather eye out and at last this one found a home here at Pictorama earlier this week. It had been quite awhile since we made a toy acquisition and it was delightful when this box, slightly larger than expected showed up yesterday.

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Interestingly the history of oilcloth toys is not so easily found online, nor is the origin of these particular toys. For the information I did find I can thank Jeet Heer, Canadian author and comics scholar. His introduction to the Gasoline Alley volume covering the years 1925 and ’26 had the only information that satisfied my yen to know more this morning.

My collection of Little Orphan Annie toys is a very limited one. When I purchased the toy below I had no idea it was Annie and Sandy – although I was crazy about it! I found that out later when I saw one that was in better condition and had the box identifying it. I wrote about it last year in a post that you can read here.

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The discussion around dating this Annie doll dominated Deitch Studio in a heated debate over breakfast this morning. Kim taking the position that this Annie design had to be later than the other one shown below in two similar variations. It was he who dug out the Gasoline Alley volume, after a quick tour of Little Orphan Annie volumes up to about 1935, and found the scant information I share with you.

 

Meanwhile, my thought had been that the nicer doll with the dress (mine) was earlier and that they discovered they could do it more cheaply without. Instead it seems it is a case of starting with a more primitive toy and getting grander. I am not a fan of the design on the left, but there is something charming about the one with the hat.

It would seem that this series of comic character toys are the brainchild of Eileen Benoliel, creator of a company called Live Long Toys. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available about the company or Ms. Benoliel (or Mrs. William A. Benoliel as she is also identified) except that the Chicago company was founded in 1923 and folds in the 1940’s. I am making the assumption she made these Little Orphan Annie toys as well although I guess the concept could have been stolen from her and marketed by someone else. These toys are unmarked, with the exception of Annie’s sash which reads Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray and under Patent Applied For.

There is not a lot of information about this company. I did find a reference to the company, via Google, in a book called Made to Play House: the Commercialization of American Girlhood 1830-1930. In essence this passage makes reference to how when companies started by women became successful that it was typical for their husbands to take control of them, rather than the women keeping control and growing it themselves. It is noted that Mr. Benoliel left his job in insurance, working for companies like Marshall Field and Sears, Roebuck, to manage the burgeoning company.

According to a snippet Jeet Heer includes in the introduction to this volume Ms. Benoliel began the craze with a Skeezix doll and then the other Gasoline Alley figures. The reprinted article from the 1924 Playthings magazine is shown from the book below as is the two-page spread from the book.

 

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Jeet also notes that the Skeezix doll (which I gathered aged over time but to what extent I cannot say) eventually had removable clothing, which means Mr. Deitch wins and clearly the dolls with the removable clothes were a later variation. The Sandy doll seems to have remained consistent with the original design going forward, although later ones seem have used the same template but is a tad more three-dimensional later.

I assume that these oilcloth toys came out of earlier, more homely, variations and that from them eventually come the premiums that you were required to sew yourself. I recently examined those via an acquisition of a Kellogg’s Crinkle Cat. (You can read that post here.) Oilcloth is sturdy and Annie is solidly made. There is evidence that she was much played with and beloved. As much as I like my toys in good condition, it is good to know they have been well used and loved too.

 

 

 

Sandy Finds a Home

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: The birthday tale continues. I left off with our very superior visit to the newly discovered Antique Toy Shop New York behind us. Pig toy safely tucked in my bag, we armed ourselves with our soaking umbrellas and went back out into the downpour. Somehow it had actually gotten worse and the effect, even with boots and umbrella, was a bit like being blasted with a fire hose, and us blocks from the subway we needed. Somehow, splashing into the street, we hailed a cab and took it east to my next birthday destination in the East Village, to a shop I discovered on my birthday last year which was recommended to me by someone who knew of my predilections who I met at a con or exhibit opening, Oddities and Obscura. (Can be found at obscuraantiques.com)

At this emporium last year I purchased, among other things, a lovely pile of photographs. Some of those were featured in the posts The Crimson and A Page of Life. I was disappointed that the photos hadn’t been much restocked, but almost immediately upon walking in I noticed this very nice oil cloth Sandy doll. I knew he was coming home with us, but didn’t say anything while I looked around further. (Kim said later he wondered why I didn’t pounce immediately.) It was an enjoyable hunting spot to while away the time, the rain continuing it’s monsoon pounding outside.

I started reading the Little Orphan Annie strips from the beginning awhile back. I got off track at some point and did not finish the volume I have, but do plan to get back to it as I did enjoy it immensely. As some readers may know, when reading comics, I decidedly prefer the daily strips and I have read all the Popeye’s and Krazy Kats, but only the dailies. (I started Dick Tracy but there was a long pause on the second volume and I wandered off before I could purchase it.) I also vastly prefer to start at the very beginning. This last bit mystifies Kim, he will often tell me I should pick something up further in, but I am stubborn on this point.

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As it happens, Kim recently pulled out the Little Orphan Annie volume and added it to his reading pile. (He’s deep into Gasoline Alley at the moment and sounds like it would be worth my while as well.) I am partial dailies because they have a different pacing and a wonderful evocative sense of time. Holidays are given a passing nod, as are the seasons and the flow of some long lost year has a brief breathe of life pumped back into it. Days and months pile up and slip by. I just love it. Somehow the splashiness of the big Sunday pages just never appealed the same way, the story lines interrupted and robbed of their workaday charm. Dailies are a little slice of time travel to me and I tend to turn to volumes of them during times of extreme stress in my life. (For that matter, many years ago, I retired to my bed with all the Kim Deitch comic books that would some day make up Boulevard of Broken Dreams after the tragic death of a friend. This was several years before Mr. Deitch and I began dating, although we had met.)

I own virtually no Little Orphan Annie merchandise, although an almost dizzying amount exists. Kim purchased this interesting partial item below on a trip to the west coast several years ago and before Sandy it was the sole item in my collection. I like her even in this broken and incomplete state and she sits happily on a shelf in the living room. If you look closely at the shot of her back you can see a tiny Harold Gray printed at the bottom for copyright. I have pulled an image of the complete toy and added it below as well. How it actually worked is a bit confusing to me, but somehow I gather she got over the jumprope.

 

 

Given the wide prevalence of old and worn oil cloth toys I do nonetheless wonder at their appeal for small children. Yes, they wiped off clean easily which made mom happy, but they do not strike me as especially cuddly. Can I see taking Sandy off to bed with me? Not sure. I have frequently seen early photos of children holding them, and he is much loved and handled, showing his ninety plus years of age this way. His seams are a bit split in places and he sports worn patches. He is a sweet fellow and I can easily imagine him being a favorite really. A quick search has turned up a rather nice Annie which must have gone with it. We will have to see about that. Meanwhile, I believe this brings this year’s birthday adventures to a close.