What you see: A circa 1950 Jackie Robinson doll, with its original box and accoutrements. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.
The expert: Auctioneer Michael Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, New Jersey.
Who made this doll? And is it possible to know how many of these Jackie Robinson dolls were made? I can tell you who made it: the Allied-Grand Doll Company in New York. I think the manufacturing was in Brooklyn, New York, but I’d want to double check. Based on the number of dolls I’ve seen, probably not many were made.
Apparently there were two versions of the Jackie Robinson doll, and this is the de luxe version. What does this have that the standard version lacks? This box is more elaborate, as opposed to the doll items. And it has a cardboard die cut of an actual baseball field on the front. I’ve never handled the other doll. Inside, there’s a Jackie Robinson pocket baseball game, with pinwheels and sliders that allow you to play a baseball game.
Yeah, I think I see the back sides of two wheels on the cover of the game in the full shot. There were three different gages for balls, strikes, and outs per inning. It runs up to 15 innings. It’s pretty complicated for what it is. It’s six inches by 8 inches and on cardstock. It’s pretty cool. All the dolls have a tag with a photo of Jackie Robinson, a ball with a mitt, and a wooden baseball bat that has Jackie Robinson’s signature on it.
Is the printed baseball diamond meant to be used with the pocket baseball game? The pocket baseball game, essentially, is the game. Outside of the visual, the baseball diamond has no significance. There are no figures to move around it.
And we think the Jackie Robinson doll appeared around 1950–well after his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers–and it probably remained available until he retired from the sport in 1956? That’s my assumption. There are no dates written, no way for me to know for sure. [In holding off until 1950 or so] they were probably testing the waters to see how well Robinson was received by the audience. Once he was a success story, they jumped on the bandwagon. There’s no way to know if they continued to make it after he departed from the league, but following his retirement as a player, they probably ceased production. The life of the toy was probably a five-year run or so.
Did the Allied-Grand Doll Company tweak the design of the Jackie Robinson doll or the extras or the packaging over that span of time? Are there subtle changes that help us date individual examples? Nothing I had noticed, but there are few examples of the doll around. It’s possible it started as a large boxed set and it proved to be too expensive to produce [so they made a stripped-down version instead], or the doll itself was not enough and they sweetened it with the go-alongs [the extras, such as the printed baseball diamond and the pocket baseball game] Those are possible reasons why there are two different sets.
Did Jackie Robinson or Major League Baseball or both approve of this doll? I see Robinson’s picture on the box, and you said the toy bat has his signature, but I’m guessing that doesn’t imply official approval? I couldn’t find anything linking to Jackie Robinson or the league. There’s only a copyright next to the signature on the box and on the [toy] bat itself, and the tags for the doll. It does not appear on the pocket baseball game.
And is there any proof that Robinson shared in the royalties for the doll? No, not at all. Interestingly enough, and not to say that it’s true, but on the cover of the pocket baseball game, it says, “Designed by the National League’s most valuable player of 1949,” so it’s possible he had something to do with it.
Is this the only Jackie Robinson doll created and marketed during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It’s the only one I’ve been able to find in my digging around, and it’s the only one I’ve ever handled.
The 1950s predate the rise of the “action figure,” a phrase that made dolls acceptable to boys and their parents. This Jackie Robinson doll really is a doll, with toddler-like proportions. Might its appearance have affected its sales, and explain why so few survive? I presume the doll was marketed to a boy audience while also played with by a girl audience as well. It was probably for boys interested in baseball, but it has the proportions of a baby doll. It could have hit both markets. Predating action figures, it was probably a harder sell. It could indicate why it’s as scarce as it is. It might have missed the mark on the audience. The company might have been ahead of its time.
Is this the only doll that the Allied-Grand Doll Company made and marketed for a target audience of boys? Yes. The rest are girl dolls.
How did the company change its marketing to attract boys? Looking at the box, I take it they leaned heavily on baseball imagery? Yes, it’s very baseball-heavy, exactly. The corner shows Jackie Robinson at bat, but it’s very baseball-heavy, even more than Jackie Robinson himself.
The Allied-Grand Doll Company was located in New York. Did they intend this Jackie Robinson doll to be a regional product, or did they market it nationally? There’s no way for me to tell. Allied-Grand did market nationally, and given that he was the first African-American to enter Major League Baseball, it’s very possible that the reach of the market for the doll went nationwide. I presume the majority of the demand for the doll to be close to home.
Is there any evidence that the company marketed the Jackie Robinson doll nationally? No, nothing like that.
How many examples of the Jackie Robinson doll have you handled? This is the first I’ve handled with a box, and the third I’ve seen in the last decade.
Does it come with everything it ought to have? I believe so. The tag, the bat, the baseball game, and the diamond complete the set. I’m shy to say it’s the most complete I’ve ever seen, but it’s the first I’ve seen with the pocket baseball game.
The lot notes describe the doll and its box as being in “Exc – Pristine Cond.” What does that mean here? It gives it an 85 to 90 percent condition grading, albeit with tears to the box. Given the rarity of the piece, this one grades to the 90th percentile of completeness and it’s 100 percent authentic, with no touch-ups.
I see some fading or bleaching to the doll’s baseball cap and its windbreaker. Would it have gotten that discoloration from being played with? Given the doll’s condition, it’s more age-related wear than play wear.
What is the Jackie Robinson doll like in person? It has an impressive size. It stands 13 inches tall or so–good scaling. The most important detail is the stitched uniform, albeit soiled and aged clothing. It’s cream-colored cloth with light blue stitching on it. And in my opinion, one of the neatest things is the pocket baseball game. It’s a handy little thing.
What is the provenance of the Jackie Robinson doll? It comes from a collector, a very advanced doll collector who’s had it for some years.
We’re speaking on November 4, and the Jackie Robinson doll has already been bid up to $850. Is that meaningful? It’s a soft indication of interest. We’ve had a few phone calls about the condition of the doll, but it’s a bit early to tell. I find that bidders hold their cards pretty tight until the auction is up and running.
Why will this Jackie Robinson doll stick in your memory? The rarity of it, and I think it’s going to draw very wide attention and interest. Sports-themed toys are well-received in the market. Doll collectors could easily go for it, baseball collectors–it hits all the bases.
Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.
Michael Bertoia appeared on The Hot Bid once before, talking about a vintage Tremendous Mike robot toy with box that went on to sell for $11,000.
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