By Karen Parr-Moody
Since retiring, GasLamp dealers Jean Wardlaw began going to antique and collectible auctions with her husband Jack as a hobby. "Then we wound up with a whole basement frull of stuff and we deicded we'd better figure out what to do with it," she says. "We've really enjoyed it."
One of their recent finds at a Nashville auction was a substantial collection of collectible Barbie and Madame Alexander dolls, which are currently on display at the couple's GasLamp showcase booths S-543 and S-524.
"The Barbies are perfect, just absolutely perfect," she says. "And the Madame Alexanders are in great shape; they are so pretty."
Wardlaw collects a hodgepodge of various items, mostly glassware, in her personal collection. But at home, she has even more Madame Alexander dolls ready to sell, because they won't all fit in the case. She has the first 24 dolls from the Madame Alexander "The First Ladies of the United States" series, which depicts each in her inaugural gown. Wardlaw's collection starts with Martha Washington, the only first lady doll she has on display at GasLamp.
The Alexander Doll Company was founded in 1923, when Madame Beatrice Alexander Behrman set out to continue her father's business -- that of the first "doll hospital" repair shop in America, located in Brooklyn, New York. She was only 28 years old, but soon initiated many "firsts" in the toy industry. During the 1930s, she was the first to introduce dolls based on licensed characters from literature and the movies, such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and Gone with the Wind.
In the photo, above right, is the Madame Alexander doll called "Poor Cinderella," who is beautiful, even in her rags. This doll, numbered 1540, was made in the late '70s and early '80s. She wears a green cotton dress and matching kerchief. Her orange apron has a brown patch, and she holds a broom and wears brown shoes. She is in mint condition and comes in her original box with her hang tag, back label and tissue.
This Snow White doll, in the photo, left, looks like a princess, even though she's been keeping house for seven little men ($60). This doll, numbered 1555, was produced from 1970 to 1985. She is part of Madame Alexander's enchanting "Storybook Collection." Standing 14 inches tall, she wears her original ball gown, which is made of creamy white tulle, is trimmed in satin ribbon, and floats over an organdy and taffeta slip. She also wears a wide-collared cape made of silver-embroidered tulle over taffeta. To top off the look, she wears sheer nylons and silver ball shoes. Like the "Poor Cinderella" doll, "Snow White" is in virtually untouched condition and comes in her original packaging.
Yet another Madame Alexander doll, in the photo at right, is the well-known and much-loved 'Pussycat,' a large baby doll dressed in fine clothes, which began production in 1965 and came in a variety of hair and eye colors. This doll comes in an African American skin tone ($50). She has black, rooted hair, black glass "sleep eyes" (another Madame Alexander first), and cries when she is tilted forward.
What girl, big or small, doesn't know Barbie? Launched in March 1959 by Mattel, she was the creation of American businesswoman Ruth Handler, who named her after her daughter Barbara (Barbie's full name? Barbra Millicent Roberts). The look of the first dolls was inspired by a German doll named Bild Lilli, with severely arched eyebrows and an unnaturally upturned nose.
Since her creation, Barbie has driven a range of vehicles, from Corvette convertible to luxury RV to sporty Jeep. She has had more than 40 pets, including cats, dogs, horses, a panda, a lion cub, and a zebra. She holds a pilot's license, and has been known to operate a commercial airline in addition to performing as a flight attendant. And, of course, she has had an on-and-off romantic relationship with one Ken Carson.
In Jean Wardlaw's showcase, she features these Coca-Cola Barbies, which would be of interest to Coca-Cola collectors and Barbie collectors alike. This series of dolls debuted in 1999. In the photo, left, is the "1999 Coke Car Hop Barbie" ($38). This collectible Barbie is modeled after the car hops that served drive-in restaurants during the 1950s. She wears an authentic uniform and carries a serving tray with two Coke bottles and hamburgers. She comes in a mint collector's box, never opened. Barbie's red and white uniform has a matching gingham print trim; the Coca-Cola trademarks adorning her apron, waitress cap and serving tray. The front of her uniform has Barbie monogram. Reminiscent of the 1950s, Barbie wears black and white saddle shoes and a playful ponytail.
In the photo, right, is the "2000 Coke Soda Fountain Barbie" ($38). This lovely brunette Barbie wears a fun 1950s outfit -- a fitted red sweater over a black circle skirt with nostalgic Coca-Cola graphics. To make her skirt fuller, a red petticoat peeks out from beneath. White bobby socks and saddle shoes complete the look, as do gold earrings and a necklace with a heart charm. This doll, an all-American girl from such a fun era, is authentic in every detail; she even comes with her own ice cream float, complete with a straw and a cherry on top.
Any of these dolls would be a boon to a doll lover's collection. GasLamp's showcases provide the perfect way to get a better look at their fine details.