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Picture courtesy of the Carmel Doll Shop and Grovian Doll Museum,
located in Pacific Grove, CA

The Doll Corner
“The Million Dollar Baby”
by Mary Senko

There have been a lot of “Million Dollar Babies” that have come into the public eye and have slowly faded away, but none that have maintained their appeal as the Bye-Lo Baby. The Bye-lo Baby first appeared in 1922 and remains one of the most successful dolls of all time. The Bye-Lo revolutionized the doll market, as it was the first to look and feel like a real baby. It became an instant sensation and was “the doll” for every child to have.

The reason for the “Million Dollar Baby” tag line you ask? The doll originally sold for $1.75 - $2.50, which was a lot of money at the time and there were millions sold. The appeal for the doll came from the realistic feel that it provided with its stuffed body, sleep eyes and realistically formed celluloid reaching fingers. The body, with a frog-leg like look (which was designed to help make diapering easier), celluloid hands with outstretched fingers which looked like a baby trying to grab a bottle and the small sleep eyes that looked exactly like a baby asleep and awake, was a child’s dream for play.

Continued Reading from Newsletter . . .

The Bye-Lo baby was created by Grace Story Putnam, a well-known artist and doll designer of the time. She studied art in San Diego under Maud McMullan and later met a sculptor named Arthur Putnam whom she married in 1899. The couple moved to San Francisco to allow Arthur to pursue his career and later divorced in 1915. Grace, needing to support her children, started drawing, teaching art and painting. The love of art and sculpture led her to sculpting dolls and other figures. Grace was inspired when she visited a nursery on a trip to an area Salvation Army Store and saw a sleeping 3-day old baby girl. The idea of sculpting a realistic looking baby was sparked and her focus and determination was instantly directed to creating a doll for mass-distribution.

George Borgfeldt and Co., a large importer of German dolls, doll parts, manufacturer, assembler and distributor was always looking for new and fresh merchandise. He was famous for distributing dolly-faced dolls and was very keen on staying on top of the doll market. His company, based in New York, was a significant hub for distribution throughout the U.S. and Canada. Borgfeldt held the distribution rights for many of the German manufacturers that doll collectors know of today. In addition to distribution, assembling and more, George was producing the Kewpie doll for Rose O’Neil in collaboration with a German porcelain manufacturer, which was extremely successful. As an American Businessman, he was always on the lookout for other dolls that could also be big sellers. When he saw the Bye-Lo Baby prototype, he quickly signed Grace Story Putnam to a contract and the rest was history.

Today Bye-Lo Babies can be found with bisque heads, composition heads, celluloid heads and everything from all-bisque bodies in the smallest sizes, to dolls with cloth bodies that can be upwards of 20” long. The Bye-Lo baby dolls represent the determination and imagination of a woman that wanted to support her family and is now a recognized designer in the Doll Community. Her legacy of creativity and ingenuity lives on with emerging creative doll artists today. The Bye-Lo baby not only represents a tremendous shift in the doll landscape of the times but remains a quintessential talisman of the American Dream. “You Can Do It,” if you just have the dream, determination, and willingness to work. This is what truly makes the Bye-Lo Baby the “Million Dollar” Baby.”

Mary Senko, owner of World Doll Day Shows, is a life-long doll collector. She started her collection at 6 yrs old and enjoys dolls of all kinds today. Looking for wonderful history and collectibles to add to your collection? You can find Bye-Lo’s, Dream Babies, Dolly-faced dolls, Barbies, Vintage, Composition Dolls, Bears, Toys, and Miniatures at her doll shows throughout the West. Check the calendar in this edition to find a great Doll and Bear Show near you and make plans to attend. Her shows are family-friendly, safe and fun shopping events that bring collectors and sellers of quality goods together for a fabulous shopping day. Don’t miss the World Doll Day Shows near you!