Sunday, September 19, 2010

Introducing Miss Birdie Fethalite


Miss Birdie Fethalite is an Australian doll, who was born in the 1940s in Sydney. She has an extensive wardrobe, consisting of two summer frocks:



two winter coats:



a siren suit:



and a party dress:


From the front, Birdie looks nicely rounded. Her back view, however, shows that she is flat, and even slightly hollowed out:


From the back, you can see how her clothes clip on around her waist. Sadly, she has had an accident some time in which she lost most of her right arm.

Birdie is not as fortunate in regards to housing as she is with her wardrobe. I'm sure she would love to live in the Marquis kitchen and other rooms in that set. As I didn't win it, however, I have posed her here in front of Marquis kitchen furnishings set up in front of the photo of the inside of the box on my computer screen. It looks just the right size for her, and the walls even match one of her dresses - but as she can't live in front of the computer all the time, I will have to find another home for her!

Perhaps she could live with the Cacos, and they could all share the curling tongs:


This little doll is marked with the Fethalite brand name and symbol:


The number 204/1 appears to be the product number. All the pieces of clothing are also marked: the frocks are 204/2, the long dress is 204/3, the coats are 204/5, and the siren suit is 204/6. She must have had another outfit too, as 204/4 is missing from this set.

Fethalite plastic products were made by Pierwood Plastics (Piercy & Ashwood) in Chatswood, Sydney. qilich has a Fethalite catalogue from 1949, which shows miniature kitchen and bathroom sets, and a couple of dolls, but not this one. Her hairstyle and the siren suit definitely date her to the 1940s, so she was probably made before 1949. I wonder if she was always alone, or whether a family of dolls was produced?

Update: Ysé6 and Roberta have told me on flickr that the same doll was also made by the Selcol company in England. A Selcol doll is listed on ebay at the moment - here she is with her outfits and her right arm:



The clothes are almost the same as Miss Fethalite's, although the decoration on the long dress is different. The piece missing from my set is probably the little gym tunic, here in yellow next to the yellow frock.

Thanks, Ysé6 and Roberta - though I'm sorry to realise that all Australian-made plastic dolls house miniatures were made using moulds from US or British companies! Seems we did OK on production (at least while tariffs were in place), but didn't produce original designs.

Update 2: Sally also has a Selcol doll set: see her blog stitchywoowoo. It's clear from Sally's pictures that the frock is a pinafore dress - Miss Birdie's frock doesn't have straps, so that's another difference between the English and Australian clothes.

And Marcie Tubbs has very kindly emailed to say that in her book Dollhouse and Miniature Dolls 1840-1990 (which I have!), she pictures both a 'Peggy' doll made in the US by Ideal in the mid 1950s, and a Lido doll dress set, also made in the US. She also received a photo from a reader of a boxed set of 'Peggy's Magic Snap-On Wardrobe', made by Bell Industries (in the UK, I assume).
The dolls and clothing sets made by Selcol, Fethalite, Ideal, Lido and Bell, in the UK, US and Australia, are almost identical. As Marcie says, this doll really travelled! I wonder where she started?
The mid 1950s Ideal catalogue which Marcie has describes her wardrobe as consisting of 2 bathing suits, pajamas, 2 over-coats, hat, 2 school dresses and party dress. The Lido set identifies the bathing suit as a play jumper.
Sally describes the 'school dress' as a pinafore dress (the Australian one isn't, as it doesn't have straps). I was seeing the clothes through the lens of 1940s British novels, so the bathing suit / play jumper looks like a gym slip to me, and the pajamas look like a siren suit. If Peggy was originally made in the UK, the siren suit would make sense (and as I suggested, it goes with her 1940s hairstyle). If she was first made in the US, then they probably were pyjamas originally.

So, more questions: where was she first made? when? and how did she come to be made or sold by 5 companies in 3 continents? We may be able to answer some of them if we're lucky enough to find dated catalogues showing the Selcol and Bell dolls one day.

Thanks, Marcie and Sally, for sharing your dolls!

18 comments:

  1. Birdie is a charming little doll. It is so interesting to see dolls and houses produced in past eras/countries. Posing her in the kitchen set up in front of your computer screen was very clever it looks very good in the photo!

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  2. Hi Barb, Thanks for visiting and commenting! I'm glad you like the set up - I got the idea from Oese of Raum für Raum, who has used this idea in several scenes :-)

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  3. Love those peter pan collars! And that Siren suit Maybe that is what I have been missing?

    Cool find! C

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  4. Thanks, CM! Maybe you could start a new craze for siren suits? Very practical, and can be stylish too :-) I like the matching coats and muffs, as well.

    She was a very lucky find and win - I think she's pretty rare, though I will now be keeping an eye out for others :-)

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  5. Oh she's great, and what a wonderful name too!

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  6. Thanks, Rick! There's a Birdie in Rumer Godden's book The Doll's House (though she's made of celluloid).

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  7. Even with one arm Birdie is wonderful. I have not seen these dolls before. What a great idea to be able to change her outfit.

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  8. I have never seen these dolls before Rebecca and what an interesting design- Birdie looks very swish! Such a simple concept of costuming, refreshing change from just fabric. Celia

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  9. Hi Rebecca!
    This little doll is wonderful! I have never seen such before.

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  10. Love miss Birdie!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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  11. Hi Lisa and Celia and DollZandThingZ,
    thank you! I think her clothes are gorgeous :-) She's rather like a paper doll, isn't she, but a bit sturdier. I'm so glad I found her :-)

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  12. Hello Rebecca, look what I found today whilst out hunting for goodies.
    Take a look at my blog. It must be her British cousin !
    http://stitchywoowoo.blogspot.com/

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  13. Hello Sally, thank you for following my blog! How wonderful to find your Selcol dolls - one is almost a twin for Miss Birdie, as her right arm is broken off at the same point. It's fascinating to see the different colours the clothes came in - and in your set it's much clearer that the pinafore dress has straps, so that's two differences from the Australian set of clothes - my frock has a collar and no straps.

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  14. Thank you for your blog comment. I think I might be keeping the tiny set of garden furniture as it is the right scale for the tiny houses that I have featured on the other blog. I will let you know if I change my mind! Lizzie x

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  15. Hi Rebecca,

    I read with interest your September post about the “Fethalite” small plastic doll. I have a few facts that I can add to your story. I pictured similar dolls in my “Dollhouse & Miniature Dolls, 1840-1980” book on page 91. In the US, “Peggy”, a 5 ¼” plastic doll, was manufactured by the Ideal Toy Corporation. She is pictured in a mid-1950’s Ideal toy catalog and is identified as “Peggy’s Magic Wardrobe.” Her wardrobe in that catalog consisted of 2 bathing suits, pajamas, 2 over-coats, a hat, 2 school dresses and a party dress. In the book I picture a lone Peggy dressed in a red over-coat standing next to a similar set sold by the US company, Lido. She only has a #4 on her back and her coat has a #5. She differs slightly from the “Lido Doll Dress Set” #212 in that she has white painted underwear, her shoes and hair are painted brown, and she is mounted on a rectangular stand. The Lido doll is painted slightly differently and is mounted on an oval stand. As I mentioned in my book, I don’t know if this doll was made by Ideal for Lido or if Lido purchased the molds. I am assuming from the “blister pack” packaging that the Lido doll came later. Lido, a New York based company, made plastic figures & toys, in the late 1940s-1960s, often copying the designs of other companies. Back in 2008, I saw an ebay auction for a similar doll called “Dolly Daydream Fashion Book.” Dolly Daydream was packaged with a book of paper cut out clothing & short rhymes about each item of clothing. The ebay ad says it came with 6 cut-out dresses, 2 hats, and 4 belts, which were missing from this set. It was made in England by Selcol. Back in July of this year, I received a note from a delightful collector on Scotland’s Isle of Sell, June Stowe, who was commenting on how pleased she was to see the Peggy doll catalogued in the book, as she had a similar doll MIP called “Peggy’s Magic Snap-On Wardrobe,” made by Bell Industries. She was kind enough to send me a photo of the packaged doll. I am sending her photo together with the Ideal Toy catalog listing by email if you want to post them.

    This doll really traveled!

    Marcie Tubbs

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  16. Hi Marcie,
    Thank you very much for sharing that information, and for emailing the photos. I have added some of the info to my post, as not everyone reads the comments.
    I am somewhat ashamed to realise that I didn't spot Peggy in your book. I did look in the index, but a better plan would have been to look through the chapter on plastic dolls! It is indeed fascinating that this little doll was made on 3 continents. It seems like she probably didn't have any family - I feel a bit sorry for her, and I have bought my Miss Fethalite a friend - a 1950s Marx Twinkie doll!

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  17. Well, the only perk of reading a post almost 3 months after it was originally written is that I get to read all the updates at the same time! I collect paper dolls from this period, but have never had the opportunity to add either Miss Birdie or Peggy to my collection. What a great post...I am glad you acquired Miss Twinkie for her companion!

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  18. Steven Baker - QilichJanuary 25, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Hi,

    Further to the Miss Birdie/Miss Peggy situation. I was fixing up the text for a space toy advert for Fethalite and Moldex on the NLA newspaper site and noticed that the advert also advertised another Fethalite product. The one it advertised was "Peggy’s Magic Wardrobe". You can find the ad at this location - http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/23307881?searchTerm=%22space%20ranger%22&searchLimits=sortby=dateDesc#pstart1762854 - and the magic wardrobe is at the centre bottom of the page.

    Also interestingly it has an ad for another toy, the Fethalite Laundry Set.

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