I have spent most of my life as part of Mary Meyer Stuffed Toys. Besides the 50+ years I have worked here, the time when I was growing up, I was also involved in the Mary Meyer company. The main reason was that Mary Meyer was my Mother and she and Dad (Hans Meyer) were totally involved in their business. So were their son – me – Walter.
This story started in New York City, where Mother was born. Dad met her there and they were married in 1929. I came along in 1931. In 1933 they started Mary Meyer Manufacturing Co. in NYC.
Mother designed the animal pin cushions and toys and she and her girls made the them. Dad was the sales end of the business and he sold them. Keep in mind at that time I am between 10 and 12 years old and stuffed toys were really of no interest to me, but they were part of my family’s life. I was exposed to Mother and Dad’s conversations at dinner, where they constantly talked about business.
Now let’s get to the Dutch Boy Doll. In January 2010 my wife Elaine and I were vacationing in Vero Beach, Florida. One Saturday I suggested we go to an Antique Show at the Vero Beach Fair Grounds near us in Florida.
We went and walked around the show and saw a lot of antiques. I was looking for old Mary Meyer toys and animal pin cushions that we may have made in the late 30’s and early 40’s. In one booth I saw a doll lying on a lower shelf. It was not displayed very well, but it caught me eye. What I noticed first about the doll were the wooden shoes. Now dolls wearing wooden shoes are not something you see often. I was not looking for them, but when I saw them, something in my brain clicked and made me wonder if this might be a Mary Meyer creation. If we had made this doll, I believe we did not make a large quantity of them.
When I asked to see the doll, the lady selling it said “You can have it for $30”. It was marked $39. The more I looked at it the more I thought, possibly Mother had made this toy.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s we did not sew name-tag into the toys we made, that might say Mary Meyer made it. There was no tag on this toy, so it’s possible anyone may have made it. Keep in mind I had listened to my parent’s conversation at home for many years talking about their business, so I did have a few memories of what they said and did. I also hung around the factory and saw a lot of what was happening.
Mother and Dad are in this story, plus a man named Anton Schumacher, who was a German and came over from the “Old Country”. He was a carpenter and worked for a sugar refinery in NYC. Mr. Schumacher worked weekends for my Dad and built tables for the factory and any other carpenter worked Dad needed.
In the late 1930’s I can remember seeing dolls and especially a Dutch girl and boy dolls. What I remember most about them were their wooden shoes. That’s where Anton Schumacher came into the story. Anton was a happy, hard working German, who smoked White Owl cigars. Often I was sent on an errand to a local drug store to get cigars for Anton. I was ten years old and I told the druggist they were for my Father and they sold them to me.
After we returned home from Florida to Vermont in March 2010, I checked the Dutch Boy doll carefully. The shoes were made of wood and I am sure I had seen those same wooden shoes almost 70 years before. I felt they could be the same ones Anton Schumacher made.
The doll’s face was made by Crescent Hill Novelty Co, of New York City. We had purchased these same doll faces from them for many years. I used Crescent Hill as a face supplier in the 1960’s and 70’s, when I was managing the Mary Meyer production for our plush dolls. So the faces matched also.
The body of the doll was made of a cotton fabric called chintz, which Mother had used many times. So that helped the connection. There was also a neck ribbon with a small brass safety pin fastening the neck ribbon to the doll. Mother used those same small brass pins on her animal pin cushions. That helps substantiate that Mother may have made this Dutch Boy doll.
In April 2010 I found a photo selling sheet that Dad had made showing the toys Mary Meyer was offering in 1947. The heading said Mary Meyer Mfg. Co., Townshend, Vermont.- Hygienic Stuffed Animals and Dolls. The sheet showed 13 stuffed animals plus 3 dolls.
Looking at the dolls, I saw the doll – #800 – was exactly the same body pattern as the Dutch Boy doll. Compare the arms, the way they were shaped, their size, the thumbs, the arm thickness and it’s proportion. The #800 Doll of the sheet matched the pattern, size and shape of the Dutch Boy Doll. Compare the arms in the two photos below. They are identical and made with the same pattern. The left one is from a 1947 Mary Meyer sales flier and the Dutch Boy was taken very recently. After comparing the two bodies and arms, I knew then that Mother had made the Dutch Boy that I bought in Florida 70 years later. I have designed and made enough stuffed toys in my life-time to know this was the same pattern.
The legs or body seem longer in the Dutch Boy. That’s okay. It’s a common practice in stuffed toy designing, to make use of old patterns when creating a new design. If the body design is a good one, it’s very easy to lengthen the body and legs to make the new design taller. I have done that many times when creating a new toy.
To further check my theory, I looked in some bookkeeping ledgers from 1938 showing the materials that Mary Meyer purchased for manufacturing at that time. I had them at home. In the ledger, on Anton Schumacher’s page, there is an entry on March 12, 1938 in Dad’s handwriting – “2 Dutch do. and 2 Rabbits – $4.50” . It appears Anton had bought a set of Dutch Girl and Boy dolls plus 2 Rabbits for $4.50. It was March and Easter was coming. Dad later voided the bill for $4.50. I would guess he gave the toys to Anton Schumacher as he had made the wooden shoes. Dad gave toys to his friends and carpenters and plumbers who did work for him in appreciation of their good work.
The “do.” After the Dutch I believe is an abbreviation, as there was not enough space to write out all the letters “dolls”, he just wrote “do”.
Checking further on page 22 of the same ledger I found Crescent Hill’s account. On March 8, 1938 we purchased something from them. Now thinking about what we bought from them. It could only be doll faces. We did not buy any else that I know of at that time. Supplying faces was their business. It is very possible we had those doll faces in stock and Mother used what she had in stock to make the Dutch Boy doll.
I am 100% sure that Mother made the Dutch Boy doll I found 70 years later is Florida. How it ended up in Florida, I have no idea, but I am sure Mary Meyer Mfg. Co. made the Dutch Boy doll I found at that antique show in Vero Beach, Florida in January 2010 and I am very happy to have him finally come home again.
In April 2010 I received a call from Paul Lukas, a writer from New York City. Paul had stumbled upon a file cabinet full of Report Cards from the the early 1920′s. My Mother, Mary Meyer, was one of those students at the Manhattan Trade School For Girls learning the dress-making profession.
The school had been established for you girls to teach them a marketable skill so they would not be forced to work in a sweat shop. With their skills they could get a better paying job. Paul Lukas send me copies of Mother’s report cards. It showed she was energetic, did her assignments well and was a good all around student and worker.
It’s wonderful that Paul Lukas found those report cards and realized the family histories that came out of the education offered to help these young women. My Mother was a student there from 1918 to 1922 and learned the skills that allowed her to start a business, which is still alive and well today.
Mother met my Dad in the late 1920′s, they married and in 1933 started their company, Mary Meyer Manufacturing Co., which is still alive and and growing today in Southern Vermont.
Mother and Dad managed the company and I joined the them in 1955. Mother’s four grandsons (my sons) joined in the 1980′s. Mother was active in her company until the early 1980′s. At the age of 78 she said, “I’ve done this long enough” and retired to less stressful jobs, like opening the mail and reporting it’s contents to her Grandson, Kevin, now the president of Mary Meyer.
All of this came from a small beginning at the Manhattan Trade School for Girls and it built the beginning of a family business and jobs for up to 1,000 people during the past 77 years.
The next time you pick up a stuffed toy, look at the label. It just might say “Mary Meyer – Townshend, Vermont”. The company has been around for a long time because a young woman learned her skills at the Manhattan Trade School for Women and started a business and a big, happy family and now they are one.
Last week the New York Times had a story about the Manhattan Trade School for Girls. To read the article, click here.