All About Annalee Faces


Annalee faces
A collage of Annalee’s many face designs from the Summer 1985 Collector magazine.

It’s all about the face!

An expressive and impish face is the hallmark of each Annalee doll. It doesn’t matter if the doll was created years ago or yesterday, you can easily distinguish an Annalee doll by its expressive face.

Annalee’s faces, however, have changed through the years. She was constantly refining her face designs to match the story behind her dolls as well as express her views as an artist. That’s why any consideration of the evolution of Annalee dolls must focus first and foremost on the facial expressions, which are indisputably the heart of each felt design.

One of the first things people would often say to Annalee Thorndike when meeting her was “you look just like your dolls.” And it’s true. Annalee realized in her teens that she wanted to be a dollmaker. From that time on she would spend hours in front of a mirror studying and drawing the expression of her own face. She familiarized herself with musculature and the “life spark” that puts the twinkle in the eye and the irrepressible grin on the face. She would draw her own smile, smirks, and grins. She would do this over and over again. She detailed every part of her face. She had a mischievous streak and it showed up in her expressions. She would continue drawing her facial expression throughout her life and changed the look of her faces as needed.

The Early Years

Annalee’s faces can be broadly classified into five categories. Annalee herself categorized the first stage of her design career as the “No Frame, No Facial Expression” era. Her earliest dolls, from the mid-1930s to 1950, consisted almost exclusively of ski dolls. The dolls were handmade with very limited production.

Annalee began the second stage of her design career in 1951. Characterized as the “Round Eyes” (or Dot Eyes) period, the faces of her dolls featured small dots for eyes. Most of the doll designs from this period, which ran through 1954, consisted of skiers, ski bums, and frogmen. Two of the more unique, and now highly collectible, designs from late 1954 included the Sno-Bunny (a child dressed in a bunny suit) and the very first Annalee Santa Claus, which was 12-inches tall.

The short-lived “Almond Eyes” period would appear next, running exclusively through 1957. Almond-shaped eyes have a smaller eyelid and are longer in width than they are round — just like an almond! This eye shape tapers to a point by the tear duct and the outer eye. This era also marked the gradual introduction of the next phase, “Character Faces,” which ran from 1957 to 1959. The change to Character Faces was advocated by the marketing company promoting Annalee dolls as a way to broaden Annalee’s audience nationwide. During this two-phase era, Annalee’s skiers, kids, hikers, water skiers, Fifth Avenue fashion classics, and baby angels all featured Almond Eyes while her bathing beauties, square dancers, oil tycoons, bellhops, bathers, doctors, golfers, boaters, lawyers, and carpenters all reflected the move to Character Faces.

Face Adjacent

All of Annalee’s dolls from the earliest days till 1959 all featured hair made of yarn. During the “Featherhead Years,” from 1960 to 1963, a gradual shift was made with hair. Some dolls continued to have yarn hair, but many had yellow or orange chicken feathers for hair. (Remember: Annalee and her husband, Chip, ran a chicken farm for many years.)  At this same time, synthetic fur hair was introduced on other dolls. It was also the last time Annalee would focus exclusively on humans as the subject matter for her dolls.

The Animated Character Face

The Annalee “Animated Character Face” made its debut in 1964 and continues to today. According to Gracie Blackey, the current head of design at Annalee Dolls, each of these faces “tells me a story. I can imagine what that doll was thinking, feeling, or doing. One is an inexperienced carpenter who just hammered his thumb. Or maybe a housewife who just spilt the bag of flour. Another is confessing to me that ‘yes, it is true. I’m the one who ate all the cookies.’ And, of course, the guy who had one too many, and all he can say is ‘hiccup!’ These faces tell stories. So many stories, so much fun!”

This period also marks the introduction of animals to the Annalee doll line. A great lover of wildlife, Annalee expanded her doll world to include all types of creatures. The bunnies, monkeys, cats, ducks, and mice, yes, the mice, made their debut in 1964. The mice were buck-toothed. There were three 12-inch versions of mice, named George, Sheila, and their babushka-garbed Country Cousin. These designs proved so popular that the next year (1965) saw the introduction of the birthday mouse, a bride and groom, a diapered baby, a doctor, a lawyer, and a trio of orange, royal blue, and chartreuse mice named Eek, Peek, and Squeek.

A great expansion of subject matter, in both people and animals, took place during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Clowns, more and more Santas, kids, a variety of elves, mobiles, skiers, balloons, dragons, suns, pigs, scarecrows, foxes, carollers, drummer boys, and the return of the ski doll all were added to the Annalee line.

The Animated Character Face really took a new turn in 1983 with the introduction of the Collectibles collection. This included two widely popular series: The Folk Hero Collection and Annalee Animals. The Folk Hero designs were especially notable (and still highly collectible today) for their depiction of famous individuals, such as Johnny Appleseed and Robin Hood. The Folk Hero designs were also positioned on a wooden base with a brass plaque and housed in a glass dome.

Today the designers at Annalee follow Annalee’s lead in every new design. All of the artwork used for each new doll’s face or other markings, such as dots on a dog or stripes on a zebra or any of her trademark smiles, is Annalee’s original hand-drawn work.

“The faces we use today are what Annalee actually approved,” said Gracie Blackey. “We can adapt them to give us something new. But they are all Annalee. There are actually millions of ways to present the faces due to her designs.”

Whatever the expression or time period, there’s something special and undeniably clever and whimsical in all of Annalee’s face designs.

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