Paper Dolls - 100 Years of Play, 1880's - 1980's
It is believed that the history of paper cutout dolls begins in Germany
in the 1650's. These first dolls, though a novelty, were not highly popular
because of the design which involved laying costumes on top of a flat-lying
figure. The pieces were too easily disarranged to satisfy children, and this
led to the development of tabs being added to the costumes so that the paper
dolls could stand up and 'walk about'.
Europe remained the major producer of paper dolls up until the late
Victorian age, when America stepped in as a serious manufacturer of
these intriguing items of children's play. Godey's Ladies' Book
made history in the mid-1800's by publishing what is believed to be
the first free giveaway paper doll. The marketing value of such an item
became quickly obvious to manufacturers and publishers, and soon
numerous lady style paper dolls were in print, depicting late-Victorian
Paper Dolls 1880's - The Turn of the Century
The example shown at left is from a lot at auction, which contained a variety
of cut out paper dolls in quite good condition. The clothing worn by these dolls
points to the Edwardian era and these dolls would have appeared in: Delineator,
Pictorial Review, Woman's Home Companion, McCalls, Ladies' Home Journal,
and similar women's publications. The fact that families of dolls came out in
successive issues was an excellent incentive for mothers to purchase further
editions of the magazines.
Our next photo is a wonderful example of two important parts of the history of
paper dolls. Firstly, more emphasis began to be put on creating paper doll
children rather than women around the turn of the century. As you can see,
tremendous attention has been paid not only to the details of the costume, but
also to making the child's face look youthful. Additionally, this little girl
paper doll was actually part of an advertisement for Lion Coffee. Cards of paper
dolls were used to advertise numerous early 20th century products to excellent
Paper Dolls 1910's - 1940's
Little Marjorie and her dresses were introduced to the public in 1914. This is
a round faced toddler-like doll with jointed limbs. Paper doll manufacturers
frequently experimented with novelty techniques in production. There were dolls
that could 'sit' by means of creases in the paper, there were dolls trimmed with
real fabrics, and there was even a doll created that had a pair of tiny magnifying
glasses for eyes. Miniature advertisements were created for this last doll, so
that when a child looked through the doll's eyes, the minute print could be
But, perhaps the best loved paper doll from the Jazz age was Dolly Dingle,
the creation of illustrator Grace Drayton. Dolly Dingle first appeared in
Pictorial Review in 1913, and over the next 20 years, she and her cast
of fun little friends embellished the pages of this popular publication.
This era in the history of paper dollmaking also saw the introduction of
paper cutouts for teenaged children, focusing on slightly older dolls who
dressed in the modish tennis costumes, furs, cloche hats and other emerging
fashions of the day.
Paper Dolls 1940's - 1950's
The golden age of dollmaking typically refers to the 1940's and 1950's, and
the manufacture of traditional dolls, but it is also frequently applied to
the paper doll arena as well. America's involvement in World War II led to
the printing of patriotic-themed dolls, including a series on wartime weddings.
Additionally, paper doll printing companies obtained the rights to create
sets of dolls based on major motion pictures, such as Gone with the Wind,
in order to capitalize on America's fascination with the theater.
Going through the successive stresses of the Depression and the Second World
War made Americans eager to look for sunny times and peaceful places when the
chaos of these events had ended. The 1940's and 1950's are the beginnings
of our country's romanticized love of the Wild West.
The Lone Ranger, western singers, and historical romance novels set in
the west charmed the public with the idea of bold adventure and wide open
spaces. The paper doll book below was printed in 1943 by Lowe. It features
every child's dream of life at the dude ranch, complete with cowboy boots
and hacienda-style dresses. These particular paper dolls were called 'turnabouts',
meaning that both they and their costumes were double-sided. It is also nice
to note that a male paper doll is included in this set. Masculine dolls are
so much rarer, and consequently, more valuable at auction.
McCalls Magazine had been publishing paper dolls since 1904, but in 1951 they
created a brand new doll who was, arguably, to become America's most famous
paper doll - Betsy McCall.
She was an instant and tremendous success, and from that point on, every issue
of McCalls contained a sheet of the paper doll and her costumes. Betsy McCall's
appeal to mothers and children was that she seemed like an everyday little girl
and her adventures revolved around daily tasks, little vacations, and
celebrating the holidays. This was to be one of history's longest running series
of paper dolls, and until they last appeared in 1995, the Betsy McCall paper doll
serves as a fascinating record not only of vintage fashions, but also of changes
in illustrative style. In addition to the paper dolls, real dolls were also
produced by Ideal, American Character, and most recently, Tonner.
The new medium of television rapidly found its way into the paper doll world,
and child actors were popular subjects for the many, many paper doll books
printed in the 1950's. The photographs below are an excellent example of
just such a set of paper dolls based on a young television actor named
Evelyn Rudie. I'll confess, this is not a name or doll I am personally familiar
with, but perhaps she will bring back some nice memories to girls of the
1950's. As usual, one of the chief draws of dolls like these were the many
wonderful articles of clothing that came with them, just waiting to be cut or
The paper doll set shown to the left is a truly valuable collectors' item. It
is a very nicely done paper doll book featuring Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and
Dusty at the Double RR-Bar Ranch. Roy Rogers' fame as a singer and actor had
gained an almost folk hero-like status in the 1950's, and this paper doll set
published in 1957 by Whitman would be a welcome addition to any doll or paper
ephemera auction. It features five dolls and six pages of cowboy fashions.
There is a wonderfully vibrant, colorful quality to so many of the paper
dolls produced in the 1950's. Advances in printing techniques were resulting
in bolder colors and an increasing ability to mass produce products. Quite a
few of these vintage items are still around, some of them having been kept
unopened for more than 50 years. It is amazing to peek into these collectors'
paper dolls when they are in truly mint condition.
Paper Dolls - 1960's to 1980's
Brenda Lee, the famous pop and country singer from the 1960's, who recorded
such hits as "I'm Sorry", "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", and "You Can
Depend on Me" was honored with this official set of paper dolls, shown below.
Music was such an important part of the identity of young people in the
1960's, and paper doll manufacturers made the most of this by creating cutouts
of numerous well known singers and bands.
America's love of popular music continued into the 1970's, and children
dreamed of rock stardom. I greatly enjoyed coming across the set of paper
dolls below called Terri and Tonya Dolls - the Duo-Tones. The premise of the
collection makes you smile, and even better, the cut out clothing perfectly
captures early 1970's fashions. The hats and purses will be of special interest
to vintage clothing collectors. This inexpensive paper doll booklet was
published in 1970 by Saalfield.
To my mind, this article saves the best for last, but I am not impartial in
making such a statement. I am certain that every woman would think the paper
dolls she played with were the very best paper dolls of all. The photograph
below shows the highly collectible line of paper dolls known as The Ginghams,
published in 1979. People of my generation go nuts when they catch sight of
this doll series, which revolved around four girls who seemed to live in the
Victorian era, but also had a somewhat 70's flair to them. The Ginghams were
published both in booklet form and in these lovely boxed sets as well. Golden
Books created several stories revolving around them, and they also were
featured in Shrinky Dinks, made by Colorforms. If I recall correctly, The Ginghams,
like Holly Hobbie,
enjoyed a great but brief popularity not only as paper dolls but also embellishing
other collectibles such as stationery and calendars. I hope to be able to
add more information to this website about The Ginghams because my generation
loves them so. If you can share a photo, please let me know.
The last paper doll I will feature here is one I had to search everywhere
to find. Like so many of the paper dolls most women remember, this one was not
a major or famous doll. Rather, it was a simple treat from my mother on a trip
to the neighborhood five and dime store. I must have been a good girl the day
she bought me Betty Butterscotch, published in 1983 by Golden. When I came
across this photograph, it immediately looked familiar to me, but I have been
unable to discover so far whether this is the exact book I had. The one I
remember was truly fascinating in that the inside cover of the book transformed
into Betty Butterscotch's bedroom, complete with a fold-down 3-D bed. I just
loved playing with this, and the fact that it was obviously meant to depict
a girl from the 1950's fitted in well with the Donna Parker books my grandmother
had given me. I loved the fall feeling, the plaids and sweaters that came with
my Betty Butterscotch doll.
Collectors' Value of Paper Dolls
I will break down here the four main factors that will determine
the value of paper dolls at auction:
- Age - Truly antique paper dolls are going to be fairly rare, and
extremely valuable. If the history of the specific doll is available,
you can expect these to take between the low hundreds into the
thousands at auction.
- Nostalgia - As I've mentioned above, bidders who are nostalgic
about dolls they played with in childhood may well bid up into the low
hundreds for vintage dolls from the 1940's through the 1980's.
- Subject - Dolls depicting famous figures or icons are almost
guaranteed to command a higher price than non-celebrity-type paper
- Condition - Paper doll collectors absolutely prefer uncut dolls and
doll clothing in as near perfect condition as possible. Though
allowances will be made for some wear on truly vintage paper dolls,
the better the condition, the higher the asking price.
Being one of the most affordable substances readily available to the public,
paper was a natural choice for dollmaking in the Victorian era. In addition to
the manufactured paper dolls, homemade paper dolls of exquisite quality show
up from time to time at auction. The skill of some of the painting that I have
seen put into these is truly admirable, and it is easy to imagine the loving
heart of the creator who would make such a detailed and charming set of toys
for a little one. The Little House on the Prairie books mention the pioneer
girls playing with just such dolls, but one of the great pities about paper
is its tendency to deteriorate over time. This adds to the value of 19th
century dolls that have made it into the 21st century.
Interest in antique and vintage dolls has led to an enormous amount of
reproductions being offered in today's toy stores and doll shops. This is a
trend I am pleased to see, as it ensures that the simple pleasure of playing
with paper dolls will remain available to today's children.
My sincere thanks to Arlene's Vintage Paper Dolls
for the generous donation of so many of the excellent paper doll photos
exhibited here. Arlene has a truly nice collection of rare paper dolls in great
condition. She also runs an eBay store selling more great paper dolls.