Kimport Dolls

For the second week of the April Alternative Challenge, I thought I’d do a little something different.  Instead of showing you part of my collection yet again, this time I’m going to tell you something about dolls I don’t have.

Kimport was a company based in Independence, Missouri.  (Independence, btw, was the birthplace of Harry Truman, but it’s now generally viewed as more-or-less a suburb of Kansas City.  I haven’t got an opinion on that, personally.  Though I think I’ve been there once…)  Run by the McKim family, Kimport imported foreign dolls, and ran a newsletter through which they sold the dolls they imported, as well as selling domestic dolls.  The newsletter started in the 1930s, and went for decades.  (Though I don’t know specifically how long; trying to Google “Kimport” was not useful. 😦  And if you add “dolls” then you just get ten thousand links trying to sell you dolls.  Was there ever a time when search engines were useful for obtaining information, instead of just trying to get you in touch with people who want to sell you things?)

Aaaaaanyway, the Kimport dolls were hand made in traditional (or contemporary) garb of the country in which they were made.  I’ve recently been very interested in these dolls, because the museum where I work has a small binder filled with Kimport newsletters.  A few weeks back, I scanned in all those newsletters.  They were from a brief two year period, starting in 1941.

This is the personalized cover page that was in the binder in front of the newsletters.  (I’ve de-personalized it by blanking out the name of the person to whom this “certificate” was made out.  That seemed uncool, broadcasting someone else’s name like that.  (I think it was the name of the person who donated the binder to the museum, but if so it was her maiden name, rather than her married name.))  As you may or may not be able to tell depending on your screen resolution, the page was signed by Betty McKim, one of the family running Kimport.  Behind this cute little page were a few loose advertisements for dolls, and some blank pages, on one of which the owner had written out the names of the dolls she had gotten from Kimport.  (I really should have scanned that in, too…)

The newsletters weren’t just advertisements for the dolls that Kimport was selling to the members of its doll club.  There were also informational articles about various doll types and manufacturers (articles on unusual materials, on wax and bisque, and articles on Margarete Steiff and Lenci, for example), and even war news.  Seriously.  War news in a doll newsletter.  Not massive amounts of it, but there was one — pre-Pearl Harbor, at that — that started out giving an update on “the situation in Greece.”  (Though of course then it moved on to talking about Greek dolls Kimport had brought in earlier.)  There was even one piece that was half article, half advertisement, talking about how no new doll stands were being made, because the metal was needed for the war effort…but that Kimport still had a few old ones lying around that were still for sale to those who needed them.  Mostly, I want to show you how Kimport advertised the dolls, and how the dolls really look (though there are a few cases where I don’t know what they really look like), but first I want to share a few text-only pieces that I found interesting.

The usual accounts of World War II don’t tend to focus on the damage it did to the doll manufacturing industry.

That Texan would be shocked to see today’s doll industry!  As Marty McFly said, “All the best stuff is made in Japan!”  (Okay, actually, a lot of it’s made in China by Japanese companies these days, but…)

This next one is rather the opposite:

Plastic did indeed take off as the material of choice for toy manufacture in the years immediately after WWII.  (I wonder when resin became a thing in doll-making?  I should look that up someday…)

Okay, so now I can move on to the dolls.  The newsletters in the early ’40s rarely featured photographs, and even when they did, the photos were in black and white.  (No idea if that changed later on.  I’ve only seen the ones in the museum’s collection.)  Instead of photos, they let their customers know what dolls looked like by giving them drawings and descriptions.  For example…

This drawing and description (which pales in comparison to a lot of the other product-of-their-times descriptions of now-astonishing racial and cultural insensitivity) were depicting this doll:

I recognized him from his drawing right away, but I was surprised, since his file didn’t mention him being a Kimport doll!  (I fixed that, of course. 😛 )  (If you’re curious about what the other doll looks like, I found an Etsy seller who has both of them.  You can find them here.)

This is another one we’ve got in our collection at the museum.  Like the witch doctor, the doll in the collection isn’t identical to the one in the drawing, which is hardly surprising since they were all hand made.

This is one of those objects we love to find an excuse to display, because she’s just so darn cool. 😀

Not so cool are the ones that keep inserting racial commentary in the description…

   

Yeah, that doesn’t even look like the same doll, does it?  I’m pretty sure she’s supposed to be, though.  Possibly from a much later “batch,” as it were, made by entirely different people.  And of course the male doll there is the one who wasn’t in the drawing.

Again, she doesn’t look all that much like the drawing, but that’s largely because they changed the type of cloth they were using.

Image from KaLimaNanea on Etsy. Click for link.

So, moving away from racism now (at long last!)

Image from FinnishTreasures on Etsy. Click for link.

The girl doll seems to be a different one (or maybe the drawing is just wrong about her wearing white) but the boy is definitely the same guy.

So it looks like Kimport actually fell down on this one a little.  Their “Scottish” doll was made in England!  (I guess they didn’t realize that, while they are politically joined, England and Scotland are not the same country.)  The doll’s cute, though. 🙂

So, that’s the last of them that I have photos of the dolls to accompany the drawings.  (Though I could have added a few more, but they’re not as interesting, and/or I forgot to get copies of the catalog photos when I was last at work. 😛  Unfortunately, that includes that I didn’t grab the Liberty of London photos. 😦  There was a really great Beefeater on Ruby Lane, but the site wouldn’t let me download its pictures…)  But now I want to share some drawings that I looked at and said “whoa, what must the dolls actually look like?!”

I cannot imagine a doll made from a lobster claw.  Who would even think of that?  I can’t help wondering if they actually aged well…

Ditto with regards to making a doll out of a Spanish moss.  The drawing looks cool, though. 😛

Sponge and shell!  Shell dolls I’ve seen — we have a few in the collection at the museum — but sponge?  And not like a sponge for washing, but a real sponge out of the ocean.  I doubt the reality would live up to the illustration.  Especially not 75 years later!

So, there you have it.  A few highlights from three partial years of Kimport “Doll Talk” newsletters.

I’ve yet to add any Kimport dolls to my collection, but I’d like to someday.  (Unfortunately, the best of them are now exceedingly expensive.)  Anyone out there have any Kimport dolls?  Which ones?

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12 thoughts on “Kimport Dolls

  1. Tami Von Zalez April 13, 2017 / 10:28 am

    This post is way cool! Never knew about these dolls and the backstory is simply fascinating.

    Like

  2. Blackkitty April 14, 2017 / 2:45 am

    What an interesting idea, too bad nobody does that any more! Ethnic dolls made by the country they represent are the best!

    Like

    • Iphis of Scyros April 21, 2017 / 5:50 pm

      Wow, cool! I’ll be sure to check those out as soon as I can!

      Like

  3. Cathy R May 1, 2017 / 6:24 pm

    I just finished a detailed inventory of my 20-yeqr ethnic/souvenir doll collection and found out about Kimport in my research. I am now obsessed with them. I found Kimport when I was looking for info on the World Wide Doll Club from the 50s and 60s. I have several dolls like the Kimport ones but finally got one with a label at a doll show this past weekend. It was a totally lucky accident. As we were packing up I saw a doll in my booth-mate’s tub and grabbed it because it was international. Turned out to be a Martta doll from Finland and on further investigation I found the label on the back of her slip. What a find for $4.

    Like

    • Iphis of Scyros May 4, 2017 / 5:51 pm

      Wow! That’s an incredible find, all right! I need to start making time to go to doll shows instead of trying to shop long-distance over the Internet. (But I’m usually scheduled to work on the weekends, when the shows tend to be held…)

      Like

  4. Donna Wiseman May 12, 2017 / 10:25 am

    I purchased an kimport doll at an auction stated it was from 1903 its on a wooden stand cant find any comparables. any info would be appreciated.

    Like

    • Iphis of Scyros May 15, 2017 / 7:45 pm

      Well, Kimport wasn’t around in 1903, so perhaps the auction was mistaken on that point. (Though the Kimport newsletters did sometimes offer much older dolls for sale on a very limited basis, so that could be what happened with your doll.) Many of their dolls were on wooden stands. What kind of doll is it? I only have access to a few years’ worth of their catalogs, but there’s always the chance I might recognize it. Is there anything written on the stand? What material is the doll made from? Any idea what nationality it represents?

      Like

      • Donna Wiseman May 30, 2017 / 6:56 am

        Someone was nice enough to inform me that it was Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim how much is it worth?

        Like

      • Iphis of Scyros May 31, 2017 / 11:55 am

        I haven’t the foggiest. I was offering to help identify the doll; I don’t know how to appraise them. Auction prices are often viewed as a marker of value, so if you bought it at an auction, you may well have paid roughly the doll’s current market value. Maybe you even *set* the current market value.

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  5. Virginia May 28, 2017 / 12:10 pm

    I have some Kimport dolls. They are from my mother’s collection. I wish I knew more about them, but I know she was given dolls as a child as presents. She was born in 1945 so I think a good portion of her dolls are Kimport. Do you have any advice on what I should do with her collection?

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    • Iphis of Scyros May 29, 2017 / 9:12 am

      If it was me, I’d probably display it in a nice case. 😉 You’re probably asking because you’re not planning on keeping the collection, though. In which case, I personally would recommend donating it to a toy museum, especially if the dolls are in good condition. But I work for a museum, so I’m biased towards preservation. 😛 If you’re interested in selling, there are lots of ways to do so: Etsy, online auctions, antique malls, local antique dealers (which you could find via RubyLane and then contact to see if they want to buy your collection, but they’d never give you market value, since they would plan on selling it for market value themselves). The problem with selling is that to get the collection’s best value, you would need to individually research every single doll, comparing the condition of the doll to the condition of previous dolls sold online, et cetera. Unless you know/can find a collector in your area who’d buy the collection as a group, that is. That would probably be the ideal, but I have no idea how you’d do that. Maybe look around on Facebook or other social media sites for collectors of vintage dolls. (I’m not on any social media other than WordPress, so I don’t know how that works.) The tricky thing about Kimport dolls is that some of them now fetch thousands of dollars in good condition, while others are in the $25-$50 range, even in good condition, so you want to be careful not to get ripped off, but also not to accidentally rip anyone else off, either. Which, of course, comes back to the toy museum notion, because most museums can’t/won’t pay for new items, so it would be a gift, and there’d be no need to worry about the value, aside from how much you claimed it as a tax deduction, and some museums might be willing to appraise the collection and let you know how much to claim on your taxes. (The one where I work doesn’t do that, but some of them might.)

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