I found a toy that may have belonged to your great-grandparents once upon a time. A little thrift store called Safe Haven sells items that were once held so dear to someone that they were pristinely cleaned and cared for, and they stood the test of time. Located in the heart of a retirement community in the small town of Southbury, CT, Safe Haven inherits antiques, some with rich history and a story to tell.
One day, I ventured into the store out of curiosity and staring at me was a curious looking doll made to stand upright on a metal rod going up and around its neck like a retainer.
That’s a little extravagant for a doll, I thought.
The doll’s head felt heavy, but the rest of the body was lighter; and so it made sense that the metal rod would hold it upright. I must have forgotten to erase the puzzled look on my face, because the manager, Susan McNeil, approached me to answer the questions she already knew I had.
“That doll is an original 1910 Campbell Soup Kids collectible,” she said.
I was looking at a 108-year-old doll in almost pristine condition. McNeil explained that in the early 20th-century, the dolls were sold by the Campbell Soup Company as a part of its marketing campaign. The company directly marketed to the kids, and back in its heyday, this doll was all the rage.
Upon doing a bit of research, I learned that the Campbell Soup Company was originally called Joseph Campbell Company.1 The Campbell Soup Kids first appeared in 1904.2 As the story goes, per her husband’s request, Grace Drayton, a children’s book illustrator, sketched some dolls for his advertising campaign.3 Then, she offered her illustrating service to the Campbell Soup Company. The drawings of the dolls became so popular that the doll manufacturers raced for rights to create the figurines like the images on Drayton’s sketches. Owning these dolls in those days became a popular trend, and almost every home had one.4
According to the company’s website, the dolls played a crucial role in the current events of their time. “The Campbell Kids donned Red Cross uniforms and appeared as doctors and nurses in advertisements throughout World War I. During the Great Depression, the Campbell Kids appeared in advertisements supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Relief Association, stating that We Do Our Part.”5
The original owner of this 108-year-old doll may have long since passed, but he or she left behind a little history, a little mystery in a thrift shop hidden in plain view to be rediscovered.
1. Eric Troy and CulinaryLore, “When were the Campbell Soup Kids Created?” CulinaryLore, December 22, 2014. http://www.culinarylore.com/food-history:when-were-the-campbell-soup-kids-created/.
5. Beth Jolly, “Campbell Kids Celebrate Their 100th Birthday; Oh… To Be a Kid for 100 Years!” Campbell Soup Company, January 9, 2004. https://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/newsroom/press-releases/campbell-kids-celebrate-their-100th-birthday-oh-to-be-a-kid-for-100-years/.