“Annalee Christmas” Program & Display by Andrea P.
Photos and synopsis of Dec. 19, 2015 CDC program by Pat D.
This is a once-upon-a-time story of a doll-making cottage industry that made it big . . . nationally big. But what makes this story different is that it’s infused with magic—a very special magic that is uniquely Annalee.
The History of Annalee: Barbara Annalee Davis was born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1915. Her entrepreneur tale begins with a young woman meticulously dyeing felt fabric and the freehand painting of doll faces during the Depression.
In 1941, Annalee met and married Charles “Chip” Thorndike and moved to Meredith, New Hampshire, where they raised a family and opened Thorndike’s Eggs and Auto Parts. After the chicken farm failed in the early 1950s, Annalee was forced to get serious about her childhood hobby of doll making with a dash of Yankee influence. The old chicken coop became a design room. Chip became a salesman. Annalee became a doll maker. She fashioned her creations directly from the activities of her two sons—skiing, swimming, and other activities children do best. There is no doubt that this is why Annalee designed more than one mischievous, whimsical face for each of her doll creations.
Originally, the wire frame inside the doll was crafted by Chip Thorndike, while the rest of the doll was sewn and painted by Annalee herself. The dolls consisted of a styrofoam ball and this bendable wires, with barely any stuffing. Chip also would create small wooden props (such as skis, ski poles, boats, etc.) for the dolls to hold or appear to be using in some way.
The 1950’s and 1960’s were growing years: Annalee continued to focus on human figures doing everyday things. She also introduced some animals into the line. The line was a success, and slowly the Annalee doll “Factory in the Woods” was born. This continued until, in 1955, Annalee Mobilitee Dolls was incorporated as a company. Over time, the factory expanded to eventually fill over fourteen acres of land dotted with seven buildings containing 34,000 square feet of space. By 1960 Annalee dolls were sold in stores in forty states, Canada and Puerto Rico.
“The Mouse in the House” of the 1970’s: Her famous mice with several facial expressions took on different personas, occupations and hobbies. Annalee Dolls came into the spotlight again when, in 1975, a New Hampshire state legislator gave then-president Gerald Ford a selection of dolls to decorate the White House Christmas Tree.
The “Collectible Era” of the 1980’s and early 1990’s: The holiday and seasonal lines flourished, Santa, mice, elves and animals became the core of the collections. Annalee was inspired by the family holiday traditions. It’s the ‘positive-ness’ of the face,” said Annalee. “It’s the smile. If you smile, someone else has got to smile back.”
In 1990, Annalee Dolls became the headgear sponsor for Christopher Pederson, a member of the United States Ski Team. The Annalee logo was placed on all of his headgear (helmets, hats, etc.), and in exchange the company sold a special “Victory Ski Doll” of which five percent of the sales went to the ski team.
In 1992, Annalee and Chip gave each of their sons, Townsend and Charles, 48 percent of the doll making company, and in 1995, Charles took control of the everyday operations of Annalee dolls. During the latter part of the 1990s, the market for collectibles began to fall, and many companies began to outsource their operations. Annalee was one of these companies.
The 2000’s, a huge change: In 2001, all construction of dolls and other collectibles was outsourced overseas, while the design and marketing departments stayed in Meredith. A short time after this switch in business model, on April 7, 2002, Annalee Thorndike died.
In 2008, after a string of lawsuits between the two sons of Annalee Thorndike over ownership of the company, Annalee Dolls was acquired by David Pelletier, Bob Watson, and the Imagine Company.
Since Annalee’s death, the dolls have been designed by designers who take “inspiration from Annalee’s earlier dolls to evoke memories and sustain tradition. These designers work in Meredith at Annalee Doll headquarters which also contains sales and marketing departments as well as an outlet store. After design work is complete, the dolls are built by the Imagine Company of Hong Kong then shipped back to New Hampshire for distribution.
Today they have expanded their lines to greeting cards, candlesticks, baskets, garland holders, stocking holders, tree toppers and ornaments and music boxes. There is also a limited line of Annalee dolls which are designed and produced totally in the USA., as well as, lines of dolls made exclusively for stores such as Macys. You can purchase new dolls at their factory gift shop, online, department stores and thru dealers such as Sue Coffee, the largest dealer for Annalee.
A huge thank you to Andrea P. for her lovely program on the history of Annalee and for her bringing a large portion of her legendary Annalee collection for display. This portion was her Christmas themed dolls and critters and it was an extraordinary and huge display showing the variety and whimsical heart of Annalee. Every Christmas theme seemed to be represented: Dickens characters, Santa & Mrs. Claus, Elves, Reindeer, Carolers, Mice, Snowmen, Gingerbread people, and many more in every size from 3 inches to 4 feet tall.