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Last Updated 2/19/2005
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.
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