|By Larry LeMasters
If you are a woman from the Baby Boomer era, you most likely played with a Betsy McCall Doll. Betsy burst onto the scene in 1951 as a paper doll in her namesake magazine — McCall’s. And she was an overnight hit.
She was so popular as a paper doll that Ideal Toy Company immediately purchased the rights to make a 14-inch Betsy McCall Doll. This doll, produced in 1952, skyrocketed Betsy into the doll market. She was a unique doll for the era since her hair was made of Saran, a new wonder fiber that, unlike the hair of other dolls, could be combed and styled.
In 1957, American Character produced the prized, 8-inch Betsy McCall Dolls (which sold new for $2.25). Betsy now offered everything an American girl could want in a doll — large wardrobes, outfits with fun accessories, china and silverware, dollhouses, and furniture too.
The 8-inch American Character Betsy McCall is considered to be the classic Betsy and was made of hard vinyl with five distinctive hair colors (blonde, brunette, Tosca, redhead, and a very rare dark brunette). She possessed a slender body with captivating smile and bendable knees. During its seven-year production (1957-1963), American Character produced and sold approximately 700,000 8-inch Betsy McCall Dolls.
From 1952 through 1963, several other companies also produced Betsy McCall Dolls, including Horsman, Uneeda, and Ideal. Different versions of Betsy appeared almost every year through the ’50s. Other large dolls appeared, including14-inch and 20-inch dolls in 1958. And in 1962, a giant 29-inch Betsy hit the market. Other Betsy innovations included a doll with jointed knees and one with “flirty” eyes.
Several of Betsy’s friends and family stepped off of the paper doll pages into the hard world of vinyl dolls during Betsy’s heyday years, including Betsy’s cousins Linda and Sandy and Betsy’s twin younger brother and sister.
Robert Tonner, a doll artist who worked on the original Betsy McCall Dolls nearly 45 years earlier, reintroduced Betsy Dolls in 1996. These modern Betsy McCalls are also made of hard vinyl and appear a little more pixie-ish than the original dolls.
Collectors of Betsy McCall dolls seek her clothing as well as vintage dolls. The 8-inch Betsy is famous for her wonderful wardrobe, which, sold separately, exceeded more than 100 separate outfits.
Betsy McCall collectors like to enhance their doll collections with several paper doll images of Betsy. The earliest mention of Betsy McCall came in her “announcement” in the April 1951 issue of McCall’s. The next month, May 1951, saw Betsy and her 6-month-old dachshund, Nosy, first produced as paper dolls. In June 1951, McCall’s magazine printed the first Mrs. McCall (no first name) paper dolls, followed by Betsy’s father, Mr. James McCall, in July. In August of 1951, McCall’s printed Cousin Barbara paper dolls, which gave Betsy a playmate. Over the years, Betsy’s imaginary world came to life for young girls on the pages of McCall’s as more and more paper dolls were introduced into Betsy’s family. One particularly sought after paper doll is McCall’s December 1962 issue where Betsy is standing in the snow in front of her home on what is probably Christmas Day.
The 8-inch American Character Betsy McCall dolls, in played with condition, can easily be purchased today for around $200. Mint 8-inch Betsy dolls, wearing the most desirable cloths, easily bring $400-500 on the secondary market.
The original 14-inch Ideal Betsy McCall dolls are not as popular with collectors; however, they still sell between $150-200 on secondary markets.
Betsy McCall made the transition from paper doll to vinyl doll to having her image produced on all manner of items. If you are collecting all-things Betsy, not just the dolls, look for the Betsy McCall cookie cutter offered in 1971. Other items to search for include a Betsy and Nosy plate, Betsy “Wooden” doll, Betsy coloring books, and Betsy McCall send-away paper doll books that first appeared in January 1955 and originally cost 10 cents.