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Lil Popeye: 1938

Lil Popeye: 1938

October 1938. Crowley, Louisiana. "Woman with child in front of store during National Rice Festival parade." After the spinach ran out. 35mm nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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To stuff or not to stuff

I'm pretty sure it's an inflatable, for several reasons: There appears to be machined, scalloped edges; and there are no lumps. A stuffed doll would not have had perfect, identical seams and at least some kind of lumpage over time.

As for tterrace, I can sympathize with you deferring to your sister. I have 7 sisters myself, all of them older than me; thus, at an early age, I quickly learned "The Sister Rules": 1 - Never ask them their age; 2 - Never ask them their weight; and 3 - Never contradict them, regardless of whether you're right or wrong.

However, since your sister isn't MY sister, I can make the following statement with complete confidence (that she won't find me and hurt me): Your original assessment was correct: inflated. :-)


Enough about Popeye

What is that strange alien looking balloon critter on her left? Looks like it escaped from area 51!

Definitely inflated

The fact that there is the rippled edge is a clear give-away. A single seam completely around the edge and then reversed (inside out) and the bend lines in the knees and elbows are indications. While stuffed toys often have ripples in the seams, inflatables have them all the way around. I got a number such toys when I was little, in the 1950s at fairs at the balloon vendor.

Blow up

Blow up toy for sure.

A stuffed toy would bend downward, when held by the leg like that. No matter how tight you stuff the batting, the weight would bend it.

[It is bending. There's a kink in the leg. I agree with tterrace's sister -- it's cloth, stuffed and stitched. - Dave]

Further down. She does not have a tight grip on it either. And his chest is too shiney for fabric.

Inflated, for sure

Note the scalloping along Popeye's legs and (looks like, anyway) cap. You can clearly see the external welded seam of the plastic.

Sorry, Sis!

Popeye's value today

Just might put a big dent in the farm mortage back then.

Stand Your Ground tterrace

That looks like a blowup valve on the back of Popeye's head.


I tend to agree with tterrace's first impression. The toy reminds me of similar inflatable toys that were around my grandmother's house as I was growing up in the 50s. It looks too shiny and smooth to be fabric.

I tried doing a quick search and found two things quickly:
If you search for "inflatable toys", no matter how carefully you define your terms, you will get mostly sex toys for results. The other was that the beach ball, with pop-out valve, was invented in 1938. Which at least confirms that inflatables were around at this time.


Popeye appears to be a fabric doll which has been stuffed like a rag doll. Fabric stores used to carry fabric printed with the front and back of popular characters. Just take home, cut out, sew, and stuff with cotton batting.

[tterrace bows to the expertise of his sister, and withdraws his previous comment. - tterrace]

Take a stroll

Judging by the handle, the stroller is a "Taylor Tot" stroller. Made from the 1920's to the 1970's, they were the most popular style in the 1950's.

Wonder what Popeye is made of?

Another great Shorpy photo. Wonder if Popeye the (stuffed?) toy is made of an early plastic, or ceramic (doubtful) or painted wood (also doubtful) or maybe knitted yarn?

Whatever it is, I'll bet it would be worth a bunch today as an old-time toy.

[Looks like inflatable rubber or plastic. See above comment entitled "Stuffed." - tterrace]

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