Historic Folk Toys: Craft, 'Topsy-Turvey Doll Kit

Historic Folk Toys: Craft, 'Topsy-Turvey Doll Kit

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Topsy-Turvey Doll Kit
This is the classic antebellum doll that is actually two dolls in one. Our Topsy-Turvy Doll Kit includes pattern, instructions, fabric, stuffing, lace, yarn, turning stick, embroidery floss, needle, thread and historical background of the the doll. Fabrics will vary. Finished doll is approximately 14 inches in length. Topsy-Turvy Dolls became popular in the southern United States around the time preceding the American Civil War. These dolls could have been made for slave children by their mothers so they could have a "hidden doll" when the master was around. Or, the dolls could have beeen made for the child(ren) of the slave owner so that they could roll play. The specific reason(s) and origin for these "turnabout dolls" are unknown, but they became very popular dolls.

Historical Background: Considered a controversial doll by some, the authentic Topsy-Turvy doll, features a black doll with a headscarf on one end and a white doll with an antebellum-style dress on the other end. The black doll could represent a maid, slave or servant and the white doll could represent the master's child or the mistress of the house.

The original Topsy-Turvy dolls were created before the Civil War in the Southern United States on plantations where slavery was prominent. Arguments arise as to whether the dolls were made for the slave children to play with or whether they were made for the white children who lived in the plantation house.

Topsy-Turvy Doll Positioned for Black DollWith one identity on one side and an opposite identity when flipped, slave children could have played with their prohibited black doll and then flipped it to the white doll when the master was around. Others believe that the double-ended dolls were made for white children with the black doll used as a maid for their other dolls.

Stephanie V. Siek writes that this doll "was a mirror of the African-American woman's life. She took care of white children, but had children of her own -- the white child is present when the black child is invisible, the black child is present when the white child is invisible."

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders has explored the possibility that Topsy-Turvy dolls were made by the black mammies to represent the two categories of children they took care of: the white master's children verses their own. After the Civil War, the white side of the doll was identified as that of a child, while the black doll suggested the black mammy caretaker.

Black and White Topsy-Turvy dolls began to be mass manufactured after 1900. One of these dolls made in 1901 was purchased with the advertisement: "Turn me up and turn me back, first I'm white, and then I'm black." The Babyland Rag company produced a Topsy-Turvy doll with a hand painted face in 1901. Later, wooden Topsy-Turvy dolls were made with jointed arms.

Regardless of its history, this is a very unique doll and many storybook and nursery rhyme characters have been based on it since its inception. These upside down dolls have been used to teach the differences between the characters, showing contrasts between two opposites, good or bad, rich or poor, average and prominent, innocent and evil, subservient and authoritative.

Topsy-Turvy Doll Positioned for White DollDuring the mid 1900s, McCalls, Vogart, Redline and Butterick pattern companies began producing their own Topsy-Turvy Doll patterns. Vogart's pattern in the1940s was titled, "Topsy and Eva Doll--One doll with two changeabout faces." Redline's pattern in the 1940s was called Topsy and Eva. McCalls' 1940's pattern #1014 was for an "Upside Down Doll," but both dolls were white. Some of these historic patterns are now available as copies.

Some of the dolls that were made in the mountain regions of North Carolina in the1970s featured one doll head on one side and 2 to 3 doll heads on the other side, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears (with three heads), or Little Red Riding Hood on one side and Grandmother on the other side, but with the wolf on the back side of grandmother. Even Hansel and Gretel appeared with two heads (the children) on one side of the doll and the evil witch on the other. Some of these dolls are featured in a book titled, "How to Make Upside-Down Dolls" by John Coyne and Jerry Miller, published in 1977, which features patterns and instructions for ten upside-down dolls. The introduction in this book mentions the Crafts Unlimited group and craft cooperatives that the doll makers in the Appalachian area belonged to. Many of their dolls were sold in New York City and Chicago. John Coyne states, "This book is the first time any of these upside-down dolls have been shown in a 'how-to' fashion."

We don't know if the original Topsy-Turvy dolls were used in a teaching manner or whether they were just played with. Only a very few of these flip-flop dolls remain from the early 1900s. Several are located in museums and others are in private collections.

Valerie Borey who holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago writes: "Although the Topsy-Turvy doll had changed substantially in design since the pre-war years in the American south, it retained its essential capacity to emphasize the differences between the powerful and the powerless. For this reason, it is a doll uniquely able to detect and reflect cultural tensions as they changed with the times and economic conditions. As if a looking glass into the American social order, the two-headed, reversible, upside-down doll is able to turn things, well, topsy-turvy. In this sense, it is more than a doll--it is a symbol of power, of resistance, of secrecy, and of revolution."

Museums with Topsy-Turvy dolls included in their collection:
       • California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA
       • Churchill County Museum, Fallon, NV
       • Mariposa Museum & World Culture Center, Peterborough, NH
       • New York Historical Society, New York, NY
       • Orange County Historical Museum, Hillsborough, NC
       • Philadelphia Doll Museum, Philadelphia, PA
       • Stoy Museum of the Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, P