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Dolls, Dolls, and more Dolls!

Last month, The People’s Museum of Limerick looked at the Irish Crolly Doll. Garbed in Irish tweed and hand-knit, the Crolly Dolls on display in Limerick form part of a huge collection of Crolly Dolls donated to the Museum of Childhood Ireland / Músaem Óige na hÉireann by Anne O’Leary in 2018. The Crolly Doll is part of a larger display of mass-produced twentieth century dolls exhibited at The People’s Museum of Limerick. This exhibit includes Barbie, Sindy, Daisy, Fleur and Skye doll, to name but a few. Though manufactured overseas, these dolls were as much part of Irish childhood in the twentieth century as the Crolly Doll. As such, we would love to hear your doll stories.

Particular to Ireland and the United Kingdom in the second half of the twentieth century was the popularity of the Sindy doll. Created in 1963 by Pedigree Dolls & Toys, in Ireland, the Sindy doll retailed at what equated to over fifty euro. One way Irish toy shops made Sindy more accessible to young consumers was by holding competitions.(1) In 1965, one toy and electrical store in Waterford held a children’s essay tournament where Sindy and her large collection of outfits were up for grabs. With Sindy again as first prize, another toy shop in Dublin city carried a children’s colouring competition in 1985.(2)

As playthings and collectables, dolls have the capability to reflect fashion and societal trends. The substantial display of Sindy dolls at The People’s Museum of Limerick are miniature models of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s western fashion. Though the early Sindy was marketed as ‘the girl next door’, her style in the 1960s channelled the streetwear of London youth.

In 1957, pioneering British fashion designer Mary Quant opened Bazaar boutique in London. Bazaar on London’s King’s Road had fresh designs that included the mini skirt, hot pants and brightly coloured tights. The short bobbed hair, blue eyeshadow and matching shift dress of an early Sindy at The People’s Museum of Limerick evokes the turn in the 1960s from pricey couture to new and vibrant looks.

Targeted at young buyers, Mary Quant’s Daisy clothing, interior design, jewellery, makeup, and doll range in the early 70s belonged to a post-war culture of mass manufacture and consumerism. Like Andy Warhol in the United States, Quant became a globally recognised brand and creator in this era. Similar to Sindy, Quant’s Daisy doll measured eleven inches in height, was made from vinyl and had curly blonde hair.

A 1970s brunette Sindy wearing bright blue stockings, oversized cream knitted dress and gold pendant at No.2 Pery Square recalls the initial meticulous designs of Sindy’s outfits by London designers, Faole and Tuffin. To compete with Daisy doll who was released in 1973, Sindy in the 1970s retained the attention to detail and wholesome look that made her an Irish consumer favourite. Other international toys favoured by Irish children in this decade included mechanical moving models, talking dolls, and electrical sewing machines.(3)

The 1980s rang in an exponential expansion in the doll market from child consumer, to collector. With Barbie, Sindy and Daisy dolls fetching high prices at world wide auctions, prices soared and collectors hoarded.(4) A 1985 Sindy doll dressed in a holographic pink and purple jumpsuit at the museum highlights how Pedigree Dolls & Toys aimed to retain Sindy’s relevance with children and toy collectors alike through fashion. Despite Sindy’s up to date looks, the doll was discontinued in the late 1990s.

A top children’s toy and collectable fashion doll in Europe, Japan and America in the 1990s was Barbie.(5) In her sixty-one years, Barbie has worked with more fashion designers than any other brand in the world.6 The popularity of Barbie as a collectable in Ireland is reflected in Museum of Childhood Ireland / Músaem Óige na hÉireann exhibit at The People’s Museum of Limerick. Included, but not limited to, in the display is the Thai Barbie Doll from Dolls of the World Collection released in 1998, Barbie Doll as Snow White from the 1999 Children’s Collectors Series and the Victorian Barbie Doll with Cedric Bear from the 2000 collector edition.

Thanks to team member Aisling for researching and writing this piece.

1. Evening Press, 23 Dec., 1978.

2. Munster Express, 22 Oct., 1965; Evening Herald, 30 Nov., 1985.

3. Irish Times, 14 Dec., 2016.

4. The Christian Science Monitor, 31 Mar. 1983.

5. The Guardian, 26 June, 1994. 6 Robin Gerber, Barbie Forever: the inspiration, history and legacy (Bellevue, 2000) p.56.

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