My aunt owned a Carlson Handmade Indian Doll with a papoose attached. I researched the doll and could find so little, but decided that I would write about what I could find so that others will not have to research the web and books as I had to.
Carlson Dolls were and are made in Maple Lake, Minnesota. Back in 1946 Ray and Ann Carlson started their cottage industry company, but the first handmade dolls were not offered until 1950. Ann designed those dolls. Each doll that I have seen or heard about is a collector doll sold in vacation spots, tourist sites, national parks, historic sites, gift shops and such throughout the United States.
The first dolls did not have moving eyes, but were instead eyes painted on each doll. Later the hard plastic dolls with movable heads and movable arms, but stationary legs, were made with what is called “sleepy eyes” or the eyes that open and shut as the doll is tilted. The movable parts are attached with rubber bands. I loved these dolls even as a kid.
The Carlson dolls typically measure about 7 to 7 3/4″ tall and about 2-3″ in width. Some are about 12 inches in height They have soft hair wigs, which for the Native American dolls are long and braided to reflect their heritage. Each detailed costume is historically reflective of a tribe’s customary clothing. For example, my aunt’s doll is the Mescalero Princess and her papoose. She wears gray buckskin leather that has been fringed and beaded, including the skirt, top, and head band. This princess even sports a necklace of beads. So nice, and she is in excellent condition.
Each doll has a tag which indicates they are not toys but are collector dolls. Each tage gives the doll design number and name. My doll is the Mescalero Princess, Number 12-4. If you sell a doll, it is best to include the tag if available. She has leather shoes which are glued on to her stationary feet. The papoose is carried on her back. I don’t think they dress the papoose on each doll, just inserting it instead into the leather pouch or flap. Frankly, I did not peek!
In recent years my family and I have discovered our own American Indian heritage from several tribes, but the Mescalero Indians are not in our family history.
I did discover during my research that Carlson dolls center on American heritage, for Native Americans and for non-Indians also. For example, there are also dolls depicting the Revolutionary War, frontier cowboys and cowgirls, Civil War dolls, a pirate, and other military dolls.
Because of their quite small size, the dolls are mentioned to be “cabinet dolls” for the purpose of home display. I have found them ranging from $5.00 today to $140. Through ebay and Etsy and such, I determined that my Mescalero Princess is worth about $5 to $15. I found information and offerings in Europe, South Africa and in Australia, so the made in the USA Carlson dolls may have started as a cottage industry, but some of the dolls have traveled the world. Appears the privately owned Carlson Doll Company started their line to honor the unique heritage of the peoples of the United States and they have succeeded in accomplishing that, and are still doing so. Made in America. A nice thing.
By the way, my little doll represents the pride of the Mescalero Apache Indians from New Mexico.
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