Although I am a life-long New Yorker, I can count on one hand the times I have been to Harlem. Once for a party, and a couple of times biking through. But even, then I didn’t even stop. But Harlem is home to a must-see on the list of any doll-obsessed child (and parent) – the Alexander Doll Company, makers of Madame Alexander dolls.
Madame Alexander offers tours where you can see the showroom, how dolls are put put together, and how they are repaired in a doll hospital. You learn about different types of doll hair, including glued on wigs and sewn-in rooted hair. You also see the inner workings of dolls, from the rubber bands that hold arms, legs and heads in place, to the gizmos that allow eyes to open and close.
Throughout the tour, you see versions of the dolls, inlcuding collector’s items like Cirque du Soleil dolls, but the real show-stopper is the Heritage Gallery, with dolls through the years. This large room is filled with hundreds of dolls, from Alice in Wonderland to Eloise dolls. Be sure to put on headphones to hear the company’s founder, Beatrice Alexander Behrman, talk about the dolls.
Also on the tour, we watched designers stitch outfits on old-fashioned sewing machines, felt different fabrics used for the dolls, and examined the straight and curly hair used for the dolls. If the hat maker is in the day of your visit, you may get to see him make a few hats.
Although most visitors are girls with their parents, boys will also enjoy the tour, particulary the wall of baby heads. And the might like seeing the contraption that fuses the doll heads together.
You can add a mini creat-a-doll workshop onto your tour (tours are $8 for adults, $4 for those 16 and under; the workshop is $25, with the tour included). At the workshop, you choose a doll, hair and outfit. A designer glues the hair onto the doll, and you dress the doll. The most magical part, for kids and adults, is when you take a flat piece of cardboard, tie the doll into place, and fold the board into a box. You put the box in plastic and you have a professional looking present, for yourself or another doll lover.
The Alexander Doll Company is part of the Gray Line New York Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour Uptown Loop. You can see the Heritage Gallery free and shop at the Company Store, daily, from 9am to 5pm.