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History of Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls
Last Updated 2/19/2005

The Company
The history of Nancy Ann Dolls began in 1936 when Nancy Ann Abbott started her doll-making venture.  She is said to have started her company with $125, working from her apartment 16-18 hours per day.  In 1937, she took a partner named Allan "Les" Rowland to handle the promotion and financial matters.  Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls was incorporated on February 23, 1937 in San Francisco, California.  By 1942, the company claimed a million dollar gross yearly income, and, in the 1950s, top production of dolls reached 12,000 per day.   In late 1945, the company's name was changed to Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls Inc.

The first dolls made were small 3-3/4" bisque baby dolls from the "Hush-a-Bye" collection with the doll bodies made in Japan.  The 5" Storybook dolls began being produced in late 1936.  Doll bodies began being made in California in 1939.  Artists painted the facial features, therefore, giving each doll its own special look.  During the war years, the potteries made bisque cups, platters, and dishes for the Navy hospitals along with dolls.  The government felt the dolls were necessary for morale and demand for the dolls was high.  Many were sent by convoy to Hawaii where soldiers were able to buy the dolls and send them home to their loved ones.

By the late 1940s, the company was producing the largest doll volume in the nation.  However, in the 1950s and 1960s, as Nancy Ann's health began to fail, the company's production also slowed.  Nancy Ann Abbott, who had become known as "The Doll Lady" passed away in 1964.  Les Rowland's health was also declining at that time, and a sale of the company was attempted, but never consummated.  In 1965, the company filed for bankruptcy.

The company was eventually purchased by Albert Bourla and stockholders.  In 1967, the dolls, which were plastic and made in Hong Kong, were presented at the Toy Fair in New York.  This venture only lasted a few years, and in the 1970s an auction of doll parts and accessories eliminated the remaining inventory.  After this occured, Jesco began making imitation Storybook dolls, until Mr. Bourla reminded them that he still held the copyright.

In 1998, Mr. Bourla planned a reintroduction of a bisque line of 5-1/2" Storybook dolls consisting of 52 costumes and limited to 7,500 dolls per costume.  The dolls were issued on the basis of a two doll minimum order for $60 per doll, unless you purchased the entire collection, in which case the dolls were $53 each (including shipping.)  The dolls were packaged in a red leatherette bound box shaped in the form of a book.  As it turned out, only the first four dolls were ever produced before Mr. Bourla decided to sell the company.

In 2003, Mr. Bourla sold the company to sisters Claudette Buehler and Darlene Budd.  They have commissioned doll artist Dianna Effner for a new sculpt and Londie Phillips to design the costumes.  The first doll will be introduced in 2005.  For more information, see the company's website.

Storybook Dolls - "Wee Dolls for Wee Collectors"
One of Nancy Ann's main line of dolls was "storybook dolls" which were named after nursery rhymes and jingles.  The dolls were marketed to little girls, but, it is obvious that they had appeal to the mothers as well!  The bisque Storybook dolls were produced from 1936 to 1948.  By 1943, Nancy Ann had created 125 different characters, but the number was reduced to 77 when certain costume materials became unavailable or too costly.  Nancy Ann changed her characters' outfits from year to year, and often used different materials so that identifying a Storybook doll that does not have her original wrist tag and labeled box with her name can be a challenge.  Also, many times dolls are found in the incorrect boxes.

Other Nancy Ann Dolls
Nancy Ann also produced several other types of dolls that will not be the focus of this website.  These dolls included plastic Storybook dolls with painted eyes (1948-1950), plastic Storybook dolls with "sleepy eyes" (1950+), plastic 8" "Muffie" dolls (1950+), plastic 18" Nancy Ann Style Show dolls (1950+), plastic 10-1/2" Miss Nancy Ann with a teenage body, plastic 9" Little Miss Nancy Ann, plastic 10" Debbie with a toddler body, and vinyl 9" Sue Sue which is a baby doll.  Aline (introduced in 1973 to compete with Barbie) and Missie (Aline's little sister) were produced during the Bourla period.
 

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