Let’s Play Paper Dolls!


Hello and welcome to BabyBoomerDolls blog!  I’m glad you’re here!  I live in the Mid-west United States.  Here the weather can’t decide if it is still winter or welcoming spring.  At this point, I have decided that Mother Nature is indeed very fickle!  I am so ready for some warm sunshine and dry weather!  The nights are still in the low 30s here.  I hope wherever it is that you call home the weather is more pleasant than it has been here in recent weeks.

Dolls have always been a first love for me.  I love collecting dolls and learning all I can about them.  I am a baby boomer myself, and grew up in a time where there wasn’t always money for the beautiful dolls in the store windows.  Oftentimes, they were only dreams on my wish list.  That wish list was usually confined to Christmas and Birthdays, so you had lots of time to think over which doll was the very best.   However, today we are going to briefly chat about dolls that are often overlooked….paper dolls!  More times than not, paper dolls were a nice substitute for those dolls in the department store windows and still had all the pretty outfits and hours of endless play and imagination for me.    So, let’s get started and “Let’s Talk Dolls”!

Paper dolls are a generations-old toy.  Dress -up paper dolls owe their origins to 18th century France.  At that time, they often had moveable limbs and were akin to puppets.  A London company produced the first commercially available paper doll in 1810. The product appeared in American two years later.  Did you have any idea that paper dolls had entertained children for that many years?  Neither did I until I began to dig into the subject!  

The biggest American producer of paper dolls, the McLoughlin Brothers, was founded in early 1800 and was sold to Milton Bradley in the 1920s.  It was around this time that paper dolls really began to catch on in the USA and then grew in popularity in the decades to follow. 

Paper dolls are figures cut from paper or thin card stock, with separate clothes which are also made from paper that are usually held onto the dolls by folding tabs.  Paper dolls have been inexpensive children’s toys for almost two hundred years.  Today, many artists are turning paper dolls into an art form.  I have several framed paper dolls in my doll room that I have embellished with ribbons, lace, etc. so that I can enjoy them rather than keeping them stored away where they can neither be seen or enjoyed.  There are those who would argue that this is not the best way to preserve the paper doll, but for me, it is the way to be able to enjoy them daily.  


Paper dolls have been used for advertising, and  appeared in both magazines and newspapers.  Today, they have become highly sought- after collectibles.  This is especially true as vintage paper dolls become rarer due to the limited lifespan of paper objects.  Paper dolls are still being created today.  

Paper dolls have regained popularity with young children featuring popular characters and celebrities.  there are also online and virtual paper dolls where the users are able to drag and drop images of clothes onto images of dolls or actual people.  While this is wonderful, I am still old school and I still to this day enjoy the cutting out of the doll and the accessories from the paper doll book.

The first manufactured paper doll was “Little Fanny”, produced by S&J Fuller, London in 1810.  “The History and Adventures of Little Henry,” by J Belcher, was the first American toy that included paper dolls.  Published in 1812, this book prompted children to act out various scenes with the paper doll that were included in the book.  Around 1920 paper dolls became popular in the USA and then grew in popularity in the following decades.  The rise of paper doll production in the mid 19th and 20th centuries was partly due to technological advances that made printing significantly  less expensive.  Movie stars and celebrities became the focus in the early days of paper dolls in the USA.  Paper dolls are still produced today and Whitman and Golden Co. still publish paper dolls.  


Vintage paper dolls with hand-painted artwork are becoming increasingly rare due to paper aging issues.  they have become collectible, and the prices for mint sets can range from $100 to over $500 for a sought after title.  I find this amazing as I have recently purchased paper dolls that I had as a child and while I thought them pricey in the $30-50 price range, I can’t imagine purchasing paper dolls for over $500!  I guess that is because I still have visions of my younger sisters tearing the head off the doll or the tabs off the clothing and my mother using scotch tape to repair them  and trying to convince me that they were as good as new…….

I can remember taking a quarter to Kresge’s Dime Store and staring intently at all the paper doll books.  Picking just the right one was always such a difficult decision.  I  remember taking my choice to the front of the store where the check out lady was and carefully placing my paper doll book on the counter so as not to bend the edges of the book  along with my quarter and intently pushing the quarter toward  the nice lady.  I was always so pleased that I had paid for the paper doll myself.  I then proceeded to take my new treasure home and spend countless hours, sometimes days, carefully cutting out each piece and dressing the paper doll for hours.  It was pretty good entertainment for a quarter!  This still allowed me to have some form of those lovely baby dolls in the department store windows.  


Many of us have spent innumerable hours using our imaginations and playing with those wonderful paper dolls.  I have included a few photos of some of my collection.  While they are not the pricey dolls mentioned above, they are dolls I remember from childhood.  In my eyes, that is what counts.  I like something that I can relate to and that brings back fond memories (except for those incidents where my little sisters got hold of them).  LOL!


I hope you have enjoyed this brief piece on paper dolls.  They still remain a favorite in my heart.  I currently have a piece I am working on with a vintage paper doll and I enjoy every minute of it!  Until we are together the next time, stay well and above all be kind to one another!