Paper dolls are among the simplest and cheapest toys, yet for centuries they have provided great entertainment for children and adults all over the world. These dolls are normally two-dimensional and are most often made of paper, but they 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). It is believed that these dolls also 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 first dolls of this type were used in the fashion industries of France, Austria, Germany and England in the mid-1700s. These dolls they have been hand painted and intended to entertain adults. They were often used to show the fashions of the moment, or to represent popular characters of the time. These types of dolls were first produced 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 only date back to the 1700s, the paper figures (with no accompanying clothing or costumes) have existed for thousands of years. Asian cultures have used paper figures in ritual ceremonies for over 2,000 years and other cultures have had special forms of paper folk art for centuries.
Paper dolls began appearing 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 to this day. Dolls also began appearing in newspapers in the 1890s. They provided cheap entertainment and were especially popular during the Great Depression, when money was scarce and many people couldn’t afford to spend much on entertainment.
In the 1940s and 1950s, dolls began appearing in comics as well, including many of those published by Archie Comics, Atlas Comics, Eclipse Comics, GAY comics, DC Comics, Fawcett Publishing, National Periodical Publications, Renegade Press, and Star Comics.
Manufactured paper dolls designed by talented artists were very popular in the 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 EA Voss.
Some of these artists’ publishers 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 to the present day. 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, Dionne Quints, Tiny Tot Shop and Vicki Valentine. The list also includes many Disney characters, celebrities and famous movie stars, starting with Silent Screen favorites.
Paper dolls are still very popular and are a cuddly childhood treasure, both as fun toys for children and as a delight for collectors of all ages.