Vol 1, Issue 2 Spring 2002
Index ||| Welcome ||| Mailbag ||| About the Editors ||| Collecting News ||| Profile of a Collector ||| Profile of an Artist ||| Doll in the Spotlight! ||| Doll Care Basics ||| Resources ||| FAQ ||| Closing Words
DOLLS IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Part A
by Debbie Garrett
This issue’s “Dolls in the Spotlight” column focuses on dolls manufactured by black owned and operated (BOO) businesses, past and present.
Shindana Toys a Division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc. was one of the first major Black-owned and operated businesses to mass produce Black dolls and toys. The word shindana, means "to compete" in Swahili. This company’s insightful cofounders, Mr. Louis S. Smith, II., who was also president of Shindana Toys, and Mr. Robert Hall were major catalysts in making the company's goal of creating ethnically correct dolls a reality. These gentlemen were quite competitive in accomplishing this goal in a self-help community setting.
Shindana created hundreds of different dolls from 1968-1983 in Watts, California and employed hundreds of African Americans. Although Baby Nancy (below left) was their first doll, their most sought-after baby doll today is the 16-inch vinyl and cloth Talking Tamu, (pictured below right, courtesy of Debra Richardson).
The name Tamu means "sweet" in Swahili. This pull-string talker would say 18 different "sweet" phrases, which included: "Pick me up", "Lay me down", "Hold me tight", Are you hip to the facts (as she giggles?", and, of course, "My Name is Tamu". It is obvious that several children of the 1970s found delight in hearing Tamu’s "sweet" voice by pulling her string as this author has received countless individual e-mail inquiries from those expressing a desire to replace this "sweet" childhood doll.
Other favorites and highly sought after Shindana dolls today include the 9" Career Girl Wanda dolls. Wanda was not only a fashion doll; she also had several careers. Pictured above from left to right are tennis player Wanda, parachuter/race car driver Wanda, and the first Career Girl Wanda, who wore a short, lime green mini tunic.
Also available was the ever-elusive Nurse Wanda, Stewardess Wanda (left), Ballerina Wanda (right) and Singer Wanda (pictured below).
Each of Wanda's boxes included a little pamphlet explaining the doll's particular profession. Photos of real Black women in these professions and their comments about the nature of their jobs gave suggestions on what the child might do to learn more about the job.
Education played a major role in the creation of the Shindana doll line. Shindana refused to make military figures for obvious reasons. The president of the company, Mr. Lou Smith, transformed the slogan, "Burn, Baby Burn" (chanted during the 1965 Watts riot) to "Learn, Baby Learn". Shindana manufactured several male figures and dolls made in the likeness of both male and female African American celebrities, but never a miliary figure. One of their most popular male figures/dolls, Slade, Super Agent, continues to be highly sought after today. This 9-1/2", obviously Shaft-inspired, quite handsome doll was accesorized with crime-solving gadets, but no weapons. Today, Career Girl Wanda and Slade, Super Agent continue to command astronomical final bid amounts on online auction sites.
Mr. Lou S. Smith, II. believed that through his dolls, black children would gain a positive self-image. In a 1970's Los Angeles Associated Press article, Mr. Smith stated, "We believe that only by learning to love oneself can one learn to love others." He added, "Shindana believes that by marketing black dolls and games that both black and white children can learn to relate to at an early age, the company can foster the spirit of what Shindana is all about, love."
Mr. Smith and Mr. Hall are now both deceased, but their legacy lives on through their remarkable, ethnically correct Shindana dolls -- "Dolls made by a Dream".
According to Black Dolls 1820-1991, an Identification and Value Guide, (BDIVG) book 1, The B. Wright Toy Company, Inc., circa late 1960s-?, was “the first 'Negro' toy company to manufacture dolls and stuffed toys”. Beatrice Wright was a female entrepreneur who realized the need for natural-looking dolls for children of color. Her dolls were known as the “Ethnic People Dolls”.While this company also manufactured several different Black dolls, the most highly sought after ones today are Christine and Christopher (pictured left, courtesy of Debra Richardson). Christine and Christopher can still be found today on the secondary market. They are 19” tall, constructed of rigid vinyl, have brown sleep eyes and black rooted hair.
It is uncertain when the B. Wright Company closed its doors, but some of its molds were sold to Totsy. The dolls continued to be manufactured under that company’s name throughout the late 1980s and possibly into the early 1990s.
The Keisha Doll Company, established in 1981,
According to a flyer tucked inside the November 1987 Edith Weems Black Doll Shoppe catalogue, "Foxy Tina (pictured left) will thrill your heart for she is a superstar. Style her long red hair any way you wish. Clad in her mini dress, this Keisha doll is ready to disco or entertain. Approx. 2 feet tall, a fully jointed vinyl beauty, only $29.95."
On the same flyer, (pictured right) “Cleopatra will always be magnificent in her elegant, richly patterned outfit... exquisitely braided and beaded dark brown hair. She is a Keisha doll gracing gold sandals, gold neckband and gold bracelets... fully jointed and ready to rule again. Only $55.00.” The retail price of the Keisha doll varied according to the elaborateness of the outfit.
According to BDIVG, book 1, the Keisha Doll Company also made porcelain and cloth dolls as late as 1991. An Internet search for current information regarding this company, resulted in a Florida mailing address and an outdated telephone number. It is not certain if these dolls are still being manufactured. They can be obtained on the secondary market from other collectors. However, the readiness of their availability is not certain and their secondary market prices will vary.
In 1985 Lomel Enterprises manufactured the Baby Whitney doll, (pictured left, courtesy of Debra Richardson). Baby Whitney was created by Melvin L. Whitfield and his wife, Loretta Whitfield. According to the March/April, 1991 issue of Doll-E-Gram, “Baby Whitney is a 21-inch, [all vinyl] cuddly doll baby with soft, washable arms, legs and body. She has a captivating, oval face... a cute nose, ruby red lips, and sparking eyes. Her polished fingernails, pierced ears, and soft curly hair - which children love to comb and style - made Baby Whitney one of the most sought after dolls nationwide.”
It was the Whitfield’s consensus that Black children needed a doll with which they could identify. Together they launched and completed a mission to create such a doll. Baby Whitney was offered in several different traditional and afrocentric outfits.
Also in 1985, Golden Ribbon Playthings, Inc., manufactured the Huggy Bean doll line. According to BDIVG, book 1, “the company is 100% black owned with Yvonne C. Rubie as president. The company prides itself on being the leader in establishing and promoting correct images of and for the black child.”
In a December, 1985 print ad, Huggy Bean describes herself, stating, “My name is huggy bean. I’m the very first doll like me. That makes me special. I have my very own story too. I live in the Chocolate Forest and travel to distant lands on my magical Kente cloth.”
Huggy Bean was made in both 12” and 17” sizes. The dolls have vinyl heads, hands, and legs with soft, cuddly bodies. Their original clothing included several different traditional and afrocentric outfits. Huggy Bean was created as a multicultural doll family. Hispanic and Asian versions of the doll were also available. For additional information on these delightful dolls and to view another picture of additional dolls, click here. Please click your back button or arrow to return to this page.
There are several other BOO doll manufacturers that we were not able to mention in this article. Some of these companies will be discussed in “Dolls in the Spotlight - Part B“, in the Summer, 2002 issue of Black Doll-E-Zine.