Roddy The Dolls of Merseyside by Carol Pierrepont
The Roddy Doll Company began its life as Toy Time Toys LTD in Southport (UK) and in 1934 was owned by a Mr D. G. Todd, he was to be joined later by a Mr J Robinson. The name “Roddy” was registered in 1948 and was derived from both the director’s surnames. They had used the name “Rhodnoid” previously on the dolls they made until another doll manufacturer complained because the name was already in use by their company.
The first dolls that Roddy produced were made from composition and then composition and cloth most of these were unmarked, making them quite hard to identify today unless they are still contained in their original boxes. They would cease production in 1940 at the beginning of the Second World War – like many of their competitors and resume it again in 1945.
The 1940’s was the time when the British government was determined to offer people a more secure and promising future. The Butler Act of 1944 made Secondary School education compulsory – surprisingly it had not been until then. The National Health Service was launched in 1948 and
the Victoria and Albert Museum held “The Britain Can Make It” exhibition in September 1946 this exhibition was organised by “The Council of Industrial Design” and included toys because toys needed to play their part in the re-birth of Britain – as vital exports and educational tools. New materials would ensure that Britain would keep up with the competition at home and more increasingly from abroad.
The Press called it “The Britain Can’t Have It Exhibition” as most of the goods were to be made for export and the British people were still coping with Austerity.
This was the beginning of the Consumer age America and the Far East were having a great influence on our culture. This had been gradually happening since the 1930’s and it was to become much larger – very rapidly, with the arrival of Television which most British homes would have by the 1950’s.
Plastic gave doll and toy manufacturer’s – at least those willing to invest in the expensive machinery that delivered Injection Moulding, a head start in the race because it was cheap and fast and came without splinters of wood – or the sharp edges that came on tin and pressed steel.
Plastic had been regarded with some suspicion because it was associated with cheap imports from the Far East. But it had proven its worth in toy manufacturing during the 1940’s – its use of bright colours and association with hygiene (because it could be washed) was a property much admired by the new National Health Service.
So in 1948 Roddy Dolls were using Hard Plastic with injection moulding – and the moulds lent to them by America as part of the Marshall Aid Plan. These early hard Plastic Roddy dolls are easy to identify with their American cousins especially when laid side by side.
The firm became as prolific and inventive as its competitors Pedigree and Rosebud and The Woolworth’s Chain of Stores was to become one of Roddy Dolls largest customers.
I loved the weekly trips to Woolworth’s, Mum shopped on the ground floor while my brother and I would charge upstairs and hover around the glass sectioned counters of their toy department. As my brother looked at plastic Cowboys and Indians – I headed for the girls section of the counters to gaze down on a wonderful selection of small and very reasonably priced plastic dolls. Woolworths was like Harrods to the working classes!
The dolls that lay in those small squares of glass were halfpenny pillar dolls, 4inch Kewpie dolls with rubber arms
that cost sixpence, 8inch Baby dolls at two and sixpence, slim 11inch walker dolls ( The Roddy Walking Princess ), the pretty 10inch Roddy toddlers and bent leg baby dolls that cost a massive five shillings. Only when Christmastime was on its way can I remember the larger dolls appearing.
It was not the norm in those days to have gifts of any value bought except to celebrate an occasion – so Christmas and Birthdays were what we patiently waited for, unless you were really poorly or hospitalised.
The anticipation of a gift from a relative for an occasion which was not a Birthday or Christmas encouraged us to “Window Shop” or “Catalogue Shop” and what a wonderful hobby that was!
Pedigree Dolls were known to have supplied some of the larger dolls that were sold in Woolworths at that time but it is Roddy who supplied nearly all of the smaller dolls.
There will always be an emotional connection for me when I see and handle a Roddy Doll – because these dolls are part of my childhood memories. Pedigree dolls were made in the South of England at Merton, Roddy dolls were made in Southport – they were the dolls of Merseyside.
Roddy dolls have happy faces the moulds that were used are quite detailed some having open mouths with teeth, tongues and dimples – the plastic gave the dolls good clean sharp modelling. On the early Roddy dolls the Plastic was shiny and became pale when exposed to sunlight and the dolls eyes were metal with transfers called “Decals” applied. The later dolls were a flesh coloured matt plastic, with eyes that had a blue iris with the eyelash moulded onto it.
The dolls that many collectors attribute to Tudor Rose are in fact Roddy – and have been mistakenly named so by collectors for years. Please notice them in the original Catalogue pictures I have with this article.
Roddy dolls started at 2 inches and went up to 21 inches in height. The company was inventive and liked trying new gimmicks and ideas. They made walking dolls with hard plastic dresses and a very attractive “Yes – No” doll – with a button in its tummy to makes its head shake no and agree yes. This was an early doll made of shiny plastic sold in regular toy shops as it would have been expensive to make and so expensive to buy. Then there was “Edna” the fully jointed doll – strange that Roddy chose to use the Victorian and Edwardian idea of a jointed body on a modern doll, reflections of a much earlier time maybe. Edna was dressed by Faerie Glen as were many of the 1950’s dressed dolls sold by the Roddy company.
To return the favour Roddy made the dolls for Faerie Glen – when they designed a doll with a wardrobe of fashionable
outfits which was a similar concept to that of the American Ginny doll – these were the much loved “Tonie and Sally” 7.5inch dolls. These pretty little pocket dolls have become very collectable nowadays because of the wonderful miniature outfits and accessories that were made by Faerie Glen to compliment them.
Roddy made also made the shoes for their dolls and some of these were sold through Woolworths in small plastic bags with cardboard headers. They made collapsible drinking cups, combs and even Budgerigars water holders (please see catalogue picture).
Their first dolls made from vinyl were made during the late 1950’s and by the mid 1960’s the company was sold. The dolls where now sold as ‘Bluebell’ dolls though the dolls themselves often had the name ‘Roddy’ on them as some the dolls were cast from the old moulds. Production of Bluebell dolls ceased in 1974 and the company was sold to Denys Fisher.