Company's trademark figures make affordable collectables

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Does your child need a hobby? Is your family looking for something different to collect -- something besides the standard coins, stamps, and matchbook covers? Have you ever thought of collecting advertising dolls? These are the dolls that represent a company's trademark figure -- like the Jolly Green Giant and Little Sprout, the Keebler Elf, or the Poppin' Fresh Doughboy from Pillsbury.

Most advertising dolls are well made by companies such as Mattell, Ideal, and Dakin. Generally they're inexpensive compared with buying a similar doll in a toy store. Some are even given free for a certain number of labels or boxtops. The drawback, of course, is that your family might have to eat the same brand of cereal for a month to have enough proofs of purchase.

Cereal companies aren't the only ones that offer dolls. There have been Chiquita Banana dolls, Charlie the Tuna, Mr. Peanuts from Planters, Spagettio's Wizard of O's, Swiss Miss, the C&H Sugar Twins, the Helping Hand of Hamburger Helper -- the list is practically endless. Many restaurant chains also give away or sell dolls of their promotional figures. Ronald MacDonald, Big Boy, and Burger King have all been dolls at one time.

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The hobby might even turn out to be profitable. Often dolls are available for a short period of time or in a limited supply. Sometimes not everyone who wants a particular doll can get one, and the ones that are issued soon become valuable to other collectors.

For the US bicentennial celebration, Campbell Soup offered a pair of Colonial Kids dolls (the Campbell Soup kids in Colonial costume). The pair cost less than $10. Now, just a few years later, these Colonial Kids are selling in flea markets and at doll shows for $30 or $40. A 1961 Mr. Clean doll can hardly be found for less than $30 in antique stores.

The collection has another plus. It's a good way to study history. You can follow the change in America's breakfast habits from dolls representing the cooked cereals of the early 1900s to today's pre-sweetened cereals of Captain Crunch, Tony the Tiger, and Sugar Bear. You can track the change in fashions from the Buster Brown shoes doll of 1902, through the Miss Revlon dolls of the 1950s, to the more current Levi Denim Rag Doll.

If you're interested in learning more, a good book is available. "Advertising Dolls: Identification and Value Guide by Joleen Robison and Kay Sellers (Collector Books, PO Box 3009, Paducah, Ky. 42001) contains 320 pages of descriptions, pitures, and history of these dolls.

Advertising dolls, or offers for them, can be found anywhere. While you're grocery shopping, your child can be kept busy checing the backs of food boxes for new offers. Watch for dolls in restaurants (especially fast food chains), and even gas stations. Show your child how to look through the ads in magazines. Older dolls can often be bought at garage sales or flea markets for a very small amount. The collection will grow faster by adding banks, puppets, and other premiums bearing a trademark character's picture.

It's a hobby that will expand your child's world. Grocery shopping will become more interesting. Waiting for the mailman will be exciting. An interest in reading (if only cereal boxes and soup cans) can develop.

But beware. Your entire family could become hooked on this entertaining and inexpensive hobby. All those captivating little creatures that dance across your television screen could end up on a shelf in your house.

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