Miss Seventeen: Queen of the Clones
First introduced by Louis Marx & Co. in 1961, Miss Seventeen was the best dressed, and most interesting of the early Barbie clones.

Prior to Mattel's success with Barbie, Marx had been one of the most profitable toy companies in America.  Much of their wealth came from producing cheaply made (but often extremely attractive) copies of popular toys.  The perfect opportunity to try and claw back sales from their threatening new competition was presented to them when they discovered that, rather than being an entirely new idea, Barbie was a copy of a German doll, Lilli, made by O & M Hausser.  Most importantly, Mattel did not own all the rights to Lilli.

Because Lilli was an adult doll, her designers had been faced with the problem of getting her to sit tastefully, with her legs closed, rather than sprawled open.  They had come up with a new leg joint, for which Hausser took out patents in several countries, including the US.  Despite the fact that Mattel had been selling Barbie dolls since 1959, Hausser were still the owner of these.  Marx met with Hausser and came to an arrangement with them, allowing them to make and distribute Bild Lilli in the US.

Infact, the dolls Marx made were not recognisable as Bild Lilli.  The company transferred manufacture to Hong Kong, cutting costs, and quality.  Although they used the Lilli molds, had similar paint and hair styles, and were often dressed in copies of original Lilli clothing, the Marx dolls were definitely an inferior product.  Marked:  
US PATENT 29256684/BRITISH PATENT 804566/MADE IN HONG KONG,  the traditional Lilli sized (7 and 11.5 inch) dolls were joined by a new, larger doll, Miss Seventeen (available as a 15 or 18 inch doll).

Obviously designed as Marx's main competitor to Barbie, Miss Seventeen was meant to be a beauty queen, who had an impressive wardrobe of high fashion clothing.  Whilst the quality left a lot to be desired, from a design standpoint the doll's wardrobe and packaging are breath taking.

Both versions of the doll were made from a pale flesh tone hard plastic that was strung at the head, arms and legs.  Her face was hand painted, in a style that was obviously taken straight from Bild Lilli - little red pouty mouth, raised black eyebrows, and heavily lined black and white eyes.  Facial expressions vary, although there are two typical Miss Seventeen "looks" - one with very exaggerated, raised brows (similar to the most frightening Hong Kong Lillis), and the softer, more realistic brows seen on the dolls on this page.  Miss Seventeen had painted finger and toe nails (her shoes were removable) and black earrings.

The dolls came in a choice of three hair colours: blonde (of which there is several shades), brunette and titian. The hair was not rooted, but like Lilli's was placed under a screwed on plastic 'skull cap', and styled in one of two styles: a ponytail, tied at the top and bottom in matching cotton, or swept into a more glamourous bun, which was glued in place.  I have heard that there may have been up to four different hairstyles, but these are the only ones I have seen so far.

Miss Seventeen was sold dressed in her beauty paegent clothes: a black nylon swimsuit, red satin cape lined in white and red open toed shoes. Accessories were a "Miss Seventeen" sash with an attached yellow rosette, a crown and trophy (both of these are hard to find in complete condition).  Her packaging was a slim box covered in black paper, with a stylish "Miss Seventeen... A Beauty Queen" logo written across it in a very fifties script (in pink and yellow for the 15" doll, green and pink for the 18").  Although the box rarely turns up in perfect condition, when it does, it should have a gold sticker with patent information on the end.  Lined in yellow,  it contained a heavy black plastic pedestal stand, with a long metal prong that could be inserted into the doll's foot, and a pamphlet illustrating Miss Seventeen's ensembles.

Designed by Jay E. Roberts and Edward Watkins at New York's
Fashion Institute of Technology, Miss Seventeen's twelve ensembles were definitely the doll's biggest selling point.

18" brunette Miss Seventeen in her original outfit.
The back of Miss Seventeen's 'Fashion Book' clothing boxes featured wonderful illustrations of the doll's twelve ensembles.
18" auburn Miss Seventeen (with upswept hairstyle) wearing Champagne Waltz.  This doll has a much prettier face than most Miss Seventeens, who often look very severe.
By Chloe Gambell
Miss Seventeen Continued...