Hello, fellow doll collectors! I hope you are enjoying the summer! Have you recently taken in any good estate sales or flea markets for doll finds? I have recently come across a doll that I have fallen in love with and today I want to share a little information about her origins. So grab a cool drink and “let’s talk dolls” for just a few minutes…..
I am always scouring the doll market looking for something I may have previously missed. Do you do that? Recently, I found a doll that I hadn’t seen before. She had such a sweet face and the moulded hair, which by the way, has become a new favorite with me. I flipped her over to see the maker’s name on her neck. That’s the first place to look to find out who made the doll be it a vintage or modern doll. I could barely make out the letters….the dim overhead lights and my aging eyes weren’t giving me much aid in deciphering the tiny inscription. I got a little closer to the window where the light was a little brighter. The last name appeared to be a little clearer: Bannister. I spent a while looking the doll over and finally turned her over again and the name was finally clearer to me: Constance Bannister. That wasn’t a maker I was familiar with like Madame Alexander or Effanbee. Those names show up quite frequently.
She was a cute little pink baby doll with red fever cheeks, sleep eyes that opened and closed, moulded curly brown hair, and she wore a cotton robe that desperately needed a good soaking. She was a little dirty (no, it was a lot dirty) but she did have all her fingers and toes! I wasn’t yet sure if I would purchase her, but I was certainly curious about who this Constance Bannister person was and why had I not encountered that name on a doll previously. So I went on a quest in search of her, and what I found out was very enlightening.
Bannister was a photographer, very well-known in the 1940s and 50s for her photographs of babies. She had come YEARS before the famed Anne Geddes captured a diverse group of babies as flowers, animals, and arranging them in unusual surroundings.
The baby doll I was presently looking at was made by the Sun Rubber Co. which apparently took advantage of the photographer’s fame in the 1950s by making a doll in the image of her babies. I am very familiar with Sun Rubber dolls as they are amongst my favorites, so I felt as though progress was being made as to who Bannister really was….She was one of more than 10,000 female photographers of this era, with numbers increasing after WWII, according to the book “A History of Women Photographers,” published in 2010 by Naomi Rosenblum.
Born in Tennessee, Bannister moved to New York as a teenager in the 1930s to attend photography school, after which she got her first job with the Associated Press in Palm Beach, Florida, according to the website maintained by her daughter Lynda. Bannister returned to New York and began working for the Chicago Tribune, shooting shows headed from Broadway to the Windy City on road tours. She also opened a studio near Central Park and was a photographer for the Ice Capades and the ballet.
Later, she started photographing babies in diapers, taking more than 100,000 photos and becoming famous worldwide. Now mind you this was prior to the age of digital photography. These photos became known as “Bannister Babies,” and she wrote cute and humorous captions to go with the photos. These photos of adorable babies in diapers accompanied by amusing captions became her signature. They could be seen in books, magazines, calendars, and on posters, billboards and TV shows, according to the website. They even sold war bonds during WWII. During WWII, the Bannister Baby Posters helped sell War Bonds and contributed her service to the USO by doing camera stories. No one thought of “pin up babies” until Miss Bannister tried a few. One of her baby pictures which had been reproduced in a national magazine was found in the possession of a German soldier captured by the U.S. infantry group. “The March of Time” featured the incident in one of its films, and thereafter, Miss Bannister was firmly established as a baby photographer.
The baby pictures have appeared on TV, Garry Moore Show, Perry Como Show, Frank Sinatra Show, Steve Allen Show, Ernie Kovacs Show, Jack Parr Show, and the Joey Bishop Show. Her baby pictures have appeared so frequently and with such wide distribution that the name “Constance Bannister” had become synonymous with babies. Jack Parr titled her “Constance Bannister – World’s Most Famous Baby Photographer.”
Babies by Bannister have been printed in advertising campaigns in many different languages and have traveled the world many times. Her comic strip “Baby Banters” was a popular twice weekly syndicated feature for six years to approximately 50 newspapers. A line of “Bannister Baby” dolls were produced in the 1950s.
It goes without saying that I purchased that Bannister Baby that very day and have since purchased several. They are very difficult to find. The doll has a very special look to her, but became even more so after I knew more of the history behind her. The photos pictured in this blog post were made by me and are of my dolls in my private collection. (BTW, the picture of the trio has yet to be cleaned up.). The photo of the doll’s neck reads “Constance Bannister – New York, New York.” Lower down her back are her Sun Rubber manufacturer’s marks. The beautiful doll in the photo alone is the first I purchased and she has been restored. It is so easy to love her…just look at that precious face!
This small bit of information is only a slight bit of the wonderful stories behind the Bannister Babies. I am very happy that this little doll’s sweet face and endearing looks pulled me in that day and I made a purchase that I have enjoyed so very much! My Constance Bannister doll ranks right up there with my Gerber Baby doll – both being manufactured by Sun Rubber Co. I hope you have enjoyed this post and will be in search of your own Banister Baby….
Until next time we are together to talk dolls, stay well, be safe, and most of all be kind to one another. I love you all and appreciate you taking the time to read the BabyBoomerDolls blog.
Big hugs to you,
**All photos in this post were taken by me and all dolls belong to me**