Madame Alexander Dolls

Madame Alexander: Quality Dolls & Innovative Marketing

Doll collectors love her high quality toys, but it was marketing savvy of this Russian-Jewish immigrant entrepreneur that put Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind into the arms of millions of little girls in the industry’s first ever licensed movie merchandise tie-in.

The Madame Alexander Doll Company made popular dolls at affordable prices, but their success was as due to innovative marketing as well as unique products. Industry firsts included the first doll based on a licensed character (Scarlett O’Hara in 1936), as well as the first dolls modeled after actual people such as Queen Elizabeth and other members of the British Royal Family. Introduced in 1935, the Dion Quintuplets (not one but five dolls in this set!) were reissued periodically as the girls grew.

Madame Beatrice Alexander
It’s not surprising that the creative force behind a dynamic company would have a colorful history. She was the daughter of Austrian immigrant Hannah Pepper, whose first husband and children were killed in a pogrom. Her mother named her Bertha, which she later changed to Beatrice, which she considered more elegant. No one is certain how the title “Madame” came into use, but those that knew her felt it fit. When Madame was very young, she was adopted by her step-father Maurice Alexander, and she and her sisters grew up above the first Doll Hospital in the U.S, which was run by Maurice. The Doll Hospital provided the Alexanders with a relatively stable existence until embargoes during World War I made it impossible to import dolls or doll parts from Germany. Up until this time, Germany had led the world in doll and toy manufacture, but that was due to change.

The Madame Alexander Doll Company
By 1918, Beatrice had graduated from high school (unusual for a girl in an immigrant family) and married Philip Behrman. The ambitious and energetic Beatrice used the German embargo as the opportunity to enter the doll market. Her first doll offering was a Red Cross Nurse executed in cloth. In 1923, with a loan of $1,600. from friends and relatives the Madame Alexander Doll Company was born. Madame’s innovations in marketing were matched by innovations in manufacturing. In the late 1940′s, the company pioneered the use of plastic in the manufacture of its products. The 1955 introduction of Cissy, the first high fashion doll predated Barbie by four years and proved to be very successful. Madame retired from day to day operations in 1988, but remained active in company affairs. She died in 1990.

Today, Madame Alexander Dolls have their own collector club –, and occupy their very own niche in the world of doll collecting. Although the market has softened for common examples in marginal condition, the market remains strong for the unusual, hard to find, or mint in box Alexander Dolls.

-by p4A Contributing Editor Susan Cramer.

Reference: Madame Alexander Dolls, 1965-1990 by Patricia R. Smith

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