Paper dolls are among of the simplest and cheapest of toys, and yet have provided great entertainment for children and adults around the world for centuries. These dolls are normally two dimensional, and are most often made of paper, but can also be made of other materials such as cloth, wood, or plastic, and can be figures of people, animals, or inanimate objects (including various types of toys). These dolls are also considered to include three dimensional dolls made entirely of paper.
Strictly speaking, the term ‘paper dolls’ includes only dolls that have accompanying clothing or costumes, and the earliest such dolls were used in the fashion industries of France, Austria, Germany and England in the mid 1700s. These dolls were hand painted, and intended to entertain adults. They were often used to show current fashions, or to represent popular figures of the time. These kinds of dolls were first manufactured in England and America in the early 1800s, and many beautifully crafted dolls were exported from Europe to America in the late 1800s. Although these dolls date only from the 1700s, paper figures (without accompanying clothing or costumes) have been in existence for thousands of years. Asian cultures have used paper figures in ritual ceremonies for over 2000 years, and other cultures have had special forms of paper folk art for centuries.
Paper dolls began to appear in magazines in the mid 1800s. The dolls, themselves, would be printed on one page, with clothing and costumes (which could be hand colored) printed on the next page. This practice became very popular in the early 1900s, and continues today. The dolls also began to appear in newspapers in the 1890s. They provided cheap entertainment, and were especially popular during the Great Depression, when money was scarce and many people could not afford to spend much on entertainment.
In the 1940s and 1950s the dolls also started appearing in comic books, including many of those published by Archie Comics, Atlas Comics, Eclipse Comics, GAY comics, D.C. Comics, Fawcett Publishing, National Periodical Publications, Renegade Press, and Star Comics.
Manufactured paper dolls designed by gifted artists were very popular in 1940s and 1950s. There were many such fine artists, including Betty Bell, Doris Butler, Rachel Dixon, Maud Fangel, Irene Geiger, Queen Holden, Miriam Kimbal, Mary Knight, Ann Kovach, Kathy Lawrence, Avis Mac, Maybell Mercer, Hilda Miloche, Jean Morse, Ruth Newton, Rose O’Neill, Fern Peat, Nan and George Pollard, Louise Rumely, Florence Salter, Merily Sharpe, Ethel Simms, Judy Stang, Ethel Taylor, and E.A. Voss.
Some of the publishers for these artists included American Greetings Company, Hobby House Press, Merrill Publishing Company, Saalfield Publishing Company, Samuel Lowe Publishing Company, Western Publishing Company, and Whitman Publishing Company.
Some doll characters were short lived, but others have continued on into today. A partial list includes A Date with Judy, Angel Babies, Baby Patsy, Baby Shower, Barbie and Ken, Beth Ann, Betty and Veronica, Blondie, California Girls, Carolyn Lee, Dennis the Menace, Hair-do Dolls, Judy Garland, Katy Keene, Millie the Model, Misty, My Girl Pearl, Neil the Horse, Patsy and Hedy, Sugar and Spike, the Dionne Quints, Tiny Tot Shop, and Vicki Valentine. The list also includes many Disney characters, celebrities, and popular movie stars starting with the favorites of the Silent Screen.
Paper dolls are still very popular, and are an endearing childhood treasure, both as enjoyable toys for children, and as a delight for collectors of all ages.