Summer Adventure: Madame Alexander Doll Factory

My mother has been collecting Madame Alexander Dolls for her entire life.  She still has her collection on display in a cabinet in her dining room. She decorates her mantel each month with a holiday theme and usually there is a Madame A doll involved in the decor.

The big item I bought my Mom after I got my first job in the biz, was a Madame A tree-topper angel for her Christmas tree. And the bride and groom on the pie at my wedding (we did not have cake) was a Madame A bride and groom.

She passed her love of the dolls onto her daughters.  All of us collected them at some point in our young lives.  I recently sold the majority of my collection, but I have saved my first little huggums in her threadbare onesie and crazy messy hair.  She looked a lot like this in 1979.

My Mom gifted me her Cleopatra when I played Cleopatra in the 6th grade play. She was saved from her ebay fate as well.

And I can’t leave pussycat out of the mix.  She is also stored in a closet at Mom’s house. I have always been drawn to bald babies, but my Mom bought these black-haired ones. Probably because she has black hair.

To hold with tradition, I bought Phoebe a Little Huggums (bald version) for her first baby doll and she just never took to it. She has never been into baby dolls.  Now she will play Barbies or American Girl, but is more likely to choose Calico Critters or My Little Ponies.  My girls want the REAL THING, not a baby doll.  I also passed along one of my 8″ dolls to each daughter before the ebay exodus, and so there are a few floating around our apartment right now.

Yesterday, after 9 years of living here, I finally took the girls to the Madame Alexander Doll Company in Harlem, NY.  The reception area had several dolls out for little hands to hold and touch.  The walls and floorboards were painted the signature blue and pink that each box is decorated in.  We arrived 10 minutes shy of the scheduled tour of the Factory and so the receptionist arranged for us to have a private behind-the-scenes tour. Miracle!

Tani spent about an hour with us showing us the design studios, sample-makers, hat-makers, doll hospital, museum, gallery and shop.  She showed us the Addams Family’s Wednesday doll she designed.  We met Greta, who has been working in the doll hospital for 54 years!  I learned some interesting facts about Madame Alexander:

She was born in 1895….She was 20 when she had her first daughter.  She started the doll company when she was 28 years old.  Her first dolls were made of paper mache.  She was the first to have movable eyes and an adult body (Mattel jumped on that with Barbie soon after and she “gave it over” to them).  She made a Scarlett O’Hara doll after reading Gone with the Wind, and her doll was GWTW’s director’s inspiration for hiring Viven Leigh to play the role.  Every year MA makes the Little Women dolls (2011’s version has them in ice skates and winter wear! love!).  Tani taught us there are 3 different heads for 8 inchers: Wendy (serious pout), Maggie (wily smile) and Jack (the boy).  Madame Alexander’s own doll face was reused in a Cruella Deville doll.

The sewing equipment they use is a hundred years old (exaggeration), but kept in pristine condition. If I could have taken pix, of course I would have.  I am amazed at how tiny everything is and how well the workers can whip things up.  Today we saw a woman pinning a Queen Elizabeth costume on an 8 inch doll. Incredible.

The company used to have 4 floors and everything was made in Harlem, NY. Now they just have one floor and I am sure you can guess just where the dollies are made now.

We met one designer who let us pick a snippet out of her snippet drawer.  It was a fun keepsake to have to remember our day. Of course the girls wanted to make their own 18″ doll and buy a doll from the store, but instead we bought lunch because we were quite hungry after such a great tour.

On our way out I went to settle up with the receptionist because private tours are by appointment only and cost a nominal fee, and she waved me away with a turn of her head.  Madame A has always been a class act in my book, and even more so after my visit.


3 responses to “Summer Adventure: Madame Alexander Doll Factory

  1. I love this post and I can’t wait to go with you on my next visit!

  2. You got the royal treatment yesterday. I played dolls throughout my childhood, all Madame Alexanders. All but 2 of my originals gather with too many others every Christmas. After adding “Batty” (2009), I said “This will be my last one”.

  3. My mom totally collected these too! I have a whole bunch of them in my attic that she gifted to me each year as I got older – mine are all from the different countries of my heritage :) I didn’t even know this place existed – super fun!!

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