In the 1950s, the Christmas season didn't start to arrive in mid-July, like it does today. It started after Thanksgiving, heralded by the postman delivering Christmas catalogs to the family's home address.
Certainly there were ads on television, and ads on the radio, and ads in the newspaper and magazines at Christmastime. But nothing quite compared with the arrival of the Christmas catalog. Catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Wards, Western Auto, W.T. Grant, and regional stores like the May Company and Rex's in Southern California were passed from child to child to parent, to be pored over for hours on end. (And no doubt Santa was watching the child's every move.)
No matter what its source, the Christmas catalog was filled with the stuff that a child's dreams were made of, in mid-century America. As I leafed carefully through the pages of the May Co. catalog (the paper was, after all, nearly 60 years old!), one page in particular caught my attention:
I never had a Ginny doll, when I was a kid. Her first heyday was a little before my time. My friend Linda, who's a bit older than I am, remembers having a Ginny when she was a girl. Ginny -- who predates Barbie by several years -- was made by an American toy manufacturer called Vogue.
The Vogue Dolls website gives the official history of Ginny. She was the creation of Jennie Adler Graves, who had begun making and selling doll clothing in the 1920s. By the late 1940s, Graves had moved from dressing other makers' dolls to creating her own line:
Success followed success until 1948, when a sales dip in her line of existing dolls inspired Mrs. Graves to introduce an 8" plastic doll, the forerunner to Ginny. Store owners and consumers alike loved the new doll, and in 1951, Ginny was officially born, named after Jennie's daughter Virginia. From a point in 1949 where a 15,000 square foot warehouse was needed and Vogue employed 50 regular workers plus from 100 to 200 home sewers and did a sales volume of $239,000 a year, Vogue grew to a point in 1953 where annual volume reached $2,113,904. Ginny's success was assured.
Ginny was so popular that many tried to emulate her, and an entire group of 8" dolls appeared on the market in anticipation of securing some of the Vogue business and Ginny fans. By 1957, Ginny had reached over five million dollars per year in sales, and was a beloved fixture in most American households.
One of the hardest lessons to learn as a kid, is that you don't always get what you asked for at Christmas. Sometimes your heart's desire is outside your parents' budget. Sometimes your parents don't understand why you "have to have" that one special toy. And so you wait.
But take heart, young gift-seeker: it's never too late to find a nice old toy. Just be patient. When you're older, and no one else can tell you how to spend your disposable income, you can decide whether you still have to have that one special toy you wanted as a kid.
I know this because I found a whole grocery bag full of Ginnys and their clothes and shoes and accessories at another estate sale a few weeks ago. The lady who bought one of them from me on eBay told me she's 60 years old and she's finally getting her Ginny doll.
Just in time for Christmas.
(Yes, we'll look more closely at the insides of those old Christmas catalogs in future blog posts. Stay tuned.)
The website GinnyDoll.com has lots of information on collectible Ginny: her history, face and body types and more:
Vogue Dolls is still in business; their website gives more on the history of Ginny, her family and friends: