History of Paper Dolls – Part One

Today’s paper dolls evolved from the development of paper, ceremonial and performance figures, and dressmakers’ fashion dolls.

General history

Paper was invented in China around 105 C.E. by Ts’ai-Lin, a courtier from Lei-yang. Although the word ‘paper’ is derived from ‘papyrus’, this early paper was not a papyrus product.

With paper’s development in nearby China, it should be no surprise that the earliest paper dolls were reported in Japan, in 900 C.E. (or earlier) when a purification ceremony involved placing in a boat a paper figure and a folded kimono-like object.

China was likewise responsible for the Spanish pinata–according to legend–when 13th-century explorer Marco Polo brought the tradition home from his travels in Asia. And, it is possible that the western movement of paper dolls began in China, where puppets were used in shadow shows. These large puppets were often flat and mounted on sticks, to create dramatic shadows on a screen.

Some paper doll historians include the shows created for the upper class in France, where life-sized jumping-jack figures, like marionettes were used to satirize nobility. And, there were other cultures practicing a variety of paper arts–including the German scherenschnitte,–that may have influenced the development of paper dolls.

However, our modern paper dolls trace a more direct history to traditional dolls, not puppets or even paper arts.

Dolls in general date from earliest recorded history. Manufactured dolls trace their European popularity to wooden dolls made in Germany in the 17th century. To meet demand by the early 18th century, German dollmakers were employed throughout Europe.

Modern paper dolls

Paper dolls appeared in Western society in the late 18th century, when French dressmakers’ life-sized dolls were replaced with the “English fashion doll.” These eight-inch tall figures were printed on cardboard (invented by the Chinese about 200 years earlier), and jointed with threads. They came with underclothing as well as several changes of dresses and coiffures. At about three shillings (about $15 in today’s American dollars) for a complete doll and wardrobe–plus an envelope to store her in–dressmakers could afford to own several sets, and distribute these dolls among their favorite customers.

1810 paper doll - little fannyIn 1810, the London firm of S. & J. Fuller & Company printed the first commercially popular paper doll, Little Fanny, with a 15-page book that included seven figures and five hats. Fanny’s head & neck were separate, and fitted into various outfits as the moral tale, The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures,was told. (Fuller also published the earliest “peep show” books, which were hinged, tunnel-style books.)

At five to eight shillings for each book, their primary audience included wealthy families. (Today, that’s the equivalent of 9 to 15 pounds, or US$13 – $22.)

The success of Little Fanny was followed two years later in America, when J. Belcher printed a paper doll with a similar moral tale, The History and Adventures of Little Henry.Within ten years, boxed sets of paper dolls were popular playthings for children in Europe and America.

These dolls were often lithographed or hand-tinted, although some were left black-and-white for children to color.

Beginning in the 1830s, celebrity paper dolls featured entertainers such as ballerinas and characters from the P. T. Barnum Circus, as well as British royalty. And, in 1838 when Charles Fenerty made the first paper–newsprint–from wood pulp, the price of paper dropped dramatically. Paper dolls became affordable for more families.

McLoughlin Brothers in the United States–later purchased by Milton Bradley–quickly became one of the largest manufacturers of paper dolls, printing them from engraved wooden blocks. Dottie Dimplewas one of their most successful paper dolls, and McLoughlin was a leader in this field throughout the 19th century.

Several other American companies, including Crosby, Nichols & Company (Boston), Frederick Stokes, and–later–Selchow and Righter, contributed many different styles of paper dolls to meet popular demand.

During the Victorian era, Godey’s Lady’s Book, was the first magazine to publish a paper doll in their November 1859 issue.

This article continues in History of Paper Dolls – Part Two.

More Dangerous Women

For another art doll exchange (a swap), I decided to modify my earlier “dangerous women” cloth doll design.

I rarely work from a pattern anyway, so any time I decide to repeat a design, it’s not likely to turn out the same as the original.

The photo above is one of a series of six dolls, created in mid-2000.  Most of them looked alike, though no two were identical. 

The dolls were each about five inches tall, not including the hair. The bodies were made with preshrunk 100% cotton, the hair was “doll hair” wool, only loosely tugged to give it volume. The face was drawn on with waterproof pens, and then ironed on with Stitch Witchery.

The arms and legs were stuffed before being attached to the body. Then, I added a star charm to one hand on each doll. Finally, I sewed on sheer wings (not shown).

Each doll was machine stitched, except for the final seam where she sits down, and that was closed by hand after stuffing.

All six were sent to the swap, and are now in other people’s homes and galleries, making mischief.

The original pattern, created and scanned as a GIF, can be downloaded here. Be sure to enlarge it to scale.

Artfest Doll

Many years ago, I taught at Artfest.  It was a golden era, and I had a wonderful time.

At one Artfest, organizer Teesha Moore gave us simple cloth dolls.  I think her grandmother had assembled them.

When I received mine, I promptly embellished her.  Here’s the result.

Artfest doll - 2001 or so

(I apologize for the size of the image. It’s from around 2001, I think.  All of my online images were very small, because — with dial-up connections, and some people paying by-the-minute for Internet service — load time and file sizes were a big concern.)

My embellishments:

I added rubber stamps, beads, wool hair, antennae with beads, and wired, rubber-stamped, paper “faerie wings.”

I think she’s in storage right now.  When I find her again, I’ll be sure to take a better photo and add her to this website.

Dangerous Women Reaching for the Stars

Dangerous women, reaching for the stars… they were some of my earliest pindolls from one basic concept. I made them in 1998 and 1999.

My concept was this: Work with a simple, triangular design.  Create dolls that could be pinned to a curtain, or — for courageous people — worn on a lapel.

These are from the first batch of dolls.  Only three were made.

 

(That image is from my scanner.  Back then — before digital cameras were popular or even very practical — I scanned everything.)

Each doll is about 6 inches tall.  I made them for a swap.  If you own one of them, let me know!  I’d love to know where they live now.

close-up of one dangerous woman, reaching for the stars

Above is a close-up of one of them. The other two had already escaped into their own fantasy world, and are probably plotting dangerously creative adventures.

Make your own dangerous women!

Click on the image for a FREE copy of the pattern

Dangerous Women