Will the Real Patti Playpal Please Stand Up?
What is the difference between a Patti Playpal and a Companion Doll? To correctly answer this question, we must first define who and what is Patti Playpal. Patti Playpal was a child size doll produced by the Ideal Doll Company from 1959 to the early 1960s. She is 35-36 inches tall and has the proportion of three-year-old child. Although many people refer to any large, child size doll from this era as a “Playpal” this is not correct. Patti Playpal, and the Playpal line, is a trademarked series of dolls produced by the Ideal Doll Company. All Playpal dolls, including Patti and her siblings, are clearly marked Ideal (typically on the neck and torso). If a doll is not marked Ideal, she is NOT a Playpal.
So, what do we call these dolls that look quite similar to Patti Playpal but are not made by Ideal? Most collectors refer to them as a “companion doll.” A companion doll is any large, child size, playline doll. It is a generic term, much like “fashion doll,” and is usually applied to dolls produced during the same period as Patti Playpal. They were given the term companion doll because they were marked as being a companion or playmate for their child owners. Genuine Patti Playpals, made by Ideal, can correctly be called a “companion doll” just like Barbie can correctly be called a fashion doll. However, not all companion dolls are Patti Playpal dolls.
So, who are these Patti Playpal look-alikes, and are they always worth less than a genuine Patti Playpal? Most of these generic companion dolls were produced by various companies as a cheaper alternative to Idea’s Patti Playpal. When she introduced, in 1959, Patti Playpal's suggested retail price was $29.95 (approximately $300 today), quite expensive for the average consumer. Other companies produced lower quality dolls that were typically priced from $7.99-$15 ($80-$150 today), still an expensive doll for the era, but much less than Patti. Today, non-Ideal companion dolls generally sell for less than a Patti Playpal. This is due to both their lower quality, and their relative abundance. Because they were much cheaper , more of them were produced and remain in circulation today. There are some exceptions to this; for example, a mint condition, all original non-Ideal companion doll will sell for more than a damaged or TLC quality Patti Playpal. High quality companion dolls produced by other companies, such Madame Alexander’s Janie and Joanie, are sought after by collectors, and generally sell for more than a comparable condition Patti Playpal.
Because the Ideal did not produce a Black Patti Playpal until she was re-issued in 1981, Black companion dolls made by other companies in the early 1960s also typically reach higher values than an average Patti Playpal.
Ok, so now that we know who Patti Playpal is, and what a companion doll is, who ARE these companion dolls? Most of these dolls did not have designated names, which can make them hard to identify. The Horsman company produced a lovely, very good quality companion called 'Princess Peggy', but Peggy, and other named dolls, such as Horsman's 'Thirstee Walker', and American Character’s 'Betsy McCall', are the exception in that their molds are easily identifiable, and they were sold under a specific name.
Many companies, for example AE*, often produced dolls from the same mold that were dressed and packaged differently for small local stores, simply to take advantage of the popularity of Patti Playpal in the market. They might be given a random name on their packaging, or a general descriptor such as “Walk with Me Doll” or “Sister.” Catalogues often simply sold them as a “36-inch walking doll.” This makes it almost impossible to identify these dolls by name unless one is found with its original packaging. If these dolls are marked, they are usually referred to by their manufacturer. For instance, a doll marked AE* (the company that produced it) would be called an “AE* companion doll” (if the doll has no markings, then it can simply be called an unknown companion doll).
Now, onto the Playpal “family.” Ideal produced several other child-size dolls that were marketed as part of the Playpal family, as well as dolls that did not use the Playpal brand name but are generally considered by collectors to be family equivalents. Ultimately, five siblings were released for Patti, bringing the total Playpal family size to 6. These include older brother Peter Playpal (38-inches), younger sisters Penny (32-inches) and Suzie (28-inches) and baby twins, Johnny and Bonnie (24-inches).
The only other dolls sold under the “Playpal” family name was Ideal’s 36-inch Shirley Temple and Pattite.
Shirley used the same body as Patti, but a different head mold. Pattite is a miniature 18-inch version of Patti Playpal, so although still a Playpal, she is not a companion doll.
Ideal’s other large dolls make excellent additions to any Playpal enthusiast’s collection, even if they are not technically part of the Playpal brand. Although the 32-inch and 28-inch Saucy Walker dolls have very similar proportions and box art, their boxes do not list them as being part of the Playpal family. While not sold under the Playpal brand, these Saucys are typically referred to as Playpal-style to differentiate them from the hard plastic doll that Ideal sold under the same name during the 1950s.
These and other large Ideal dolls Daddy’s Girl (38-inch and 42-inch), Lori Martin (38-inch) Bye-Bye Baby (25-inch) complement Patti Playpal very well, and are often informally considered part of her family.
OK, so what about the Ashton Drake Patti Playpals are they real Playpal dolls? Ashton Drake re-released Patti Playpal in the early 2000s under license. They are "real" in the sense the they are licensed to use the Playpal name, but they were produced by a different company for adult collectors new molds.
*AE is often identified as Allied Estern. However, recent thought within the doll collector community is that this may be a mis-attribution. Therefore, we refer to them as AE as this is what they are marked.
All dolls pictured are part of the authors personal collection.
The Art of Patti Playpal by Jennifer A.H. Krohn, Rita J. McCloskey and Pauline V. Yohe (2004) Reverie Publishing Company Amazon Link
The Patti Playpal Family by Carla Marie Cross (2000) Schiffer Books Amazon Link