Doll Digest

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Buddy Lee: Little Big Man

One look at these 13-inch tall cuties and you can see why they are so wildly popular with collectors. They have a charm that combines all the best elements of kewpies, baby and googlie type dolls. Their impish "little boy" charm is evident the moment you see one. He has a mischievous smile and side glancing eyes. He is jointed at the shoulders and his "shoes" are painted on.

Buddy made his debut in the early 1920s. He was an advertising doll for the Dayton Company Department Store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was used to model the various clothes that the Lee clothing company produced at that time. He proved so popular that the Lee Company began producing him in a composition type material and stores across the country used him as an advertising doll in their windows and on the shelves.

In 1949 Lee changed the material he was made of to a hard plastic. Although these Buddies can still suffer damage, they are a lot sturdier than the earlier plaster composition examples. The composition Buddies would tend to craze, crack and deteriorate over the years. Finding a near mint compo Buddy Lee doll is quite a find.

Part of Buddy’s charm is the fact that he wears adult work clothes. With his baby face, blushed cheeks and outfits; he gives the impression of a little boy dressed in his daddy’s clothes. He has a very high "cute " factor. It is a challenge to find one of these dolls in original and complete outfits. Often a hat, belt or neck scarf will be missing. During the years of production, a number of other companies used the dolls for advertising purposes. Among these, Coca-Cola, Phillips 66, Shell and Texaco can be very hard to find. Nice examples of these can fetch $600-$800 and up depending on condition of the doll and completeness of the costume. The Coca-Cola doll is very desirable to doll, Coke and advertising collectors.

Some of the more common examples are dressed as cowboys or engineers. To find cowboy Buddy in his original felt hat with paper "Lee Rider Jeans" band intact is a real accomplishment. The band is often missing even if you are lucky enough to have the hat. A nice compo or plastic "basic" Buddy with his outfit complete or near complete will range in price from $450-600. An exceptional example can go for more.

I have found several Buddy Lee dolls at my flea market over the years, but one of the best places to find them now is online. Check the online lists and auction sites. If you are interested in getting started in Buddy Lee collecting, you might consider purchasing original clothes if you see them for sale separately.
Some of the things to look for when considering a purchase are crazing if it’s a compo example. Paint rubs, cracks, breaks and missing outfit pieces all can effect the value. Make sure to ask if the doll has had any restoration.

Lee stopped producing Buddy Lee dolls in the 1960s. Recently, he has resurfaced as an advertising icon for Lee. He ran as a candidate for President of the United States last year and he even has his own website. There have been several companies recently producing Buddy Lee-type dolls as well. These are similar to the originals, but do not command the prices of genuine and original Buddy Lees.The Lee Company is in the process of establishing a Lee Museum that will document Buddy's life for all of his fans.

To find out more about this cute little guy, here is his website: