The sensible alternative or supplement to expensive cloth or china dolls, their paper cousins have earned a cherished spot in our culture and for very good reason. There was nothing quite like the thrill of cutting out a new paper doll and getting her clothes to hang on her just so. It was almost as if a coloring book had come to life.
Paper dolls have a long history, becoming popular in Europe and the U.S. during the 1800s. The low price and wide variety were an exciting prospect to children. Even if your parents couldn’t afford a new doll for you, they could sometimes manage a sheet or set of paper dolls. And, let’s not forget Mom telling you make your own clothes for your paper doll if you wanted something new!
Made in the likenesses of celebrities, royalty, and fairy tale characters, paper dolls represented a wide variety of characters. With so many bright colors, it’s easy to see why paper dolls caught on like they did. And they became even more popular when magazines began to publish paper dolls in their pages. It was like getting a freebie! And the magazine’s dolls often had recurring characters or story lines. The beloved Kewpie dolls even started out as paper dolls, created by Rose O’Neill for Woman’s Home Companion magazine in 1912. Some of our favorite actresses and characters were made into paper dolls like Katy Keene, Lucille Ball, Shirley Temple and Scarlet O’hara.
Today paper dolls can be found in many designs, most notably the ones meant for adults. Yes, it seems even when we grow up we don’t always outgrow this pastime. Paper dolls showcasing fashion designers and movie stars have been marketed to adults and feature simply stunning doll prints. But, then again, the roots of the paper dolls have been said to stem from French pantins created for adults, so it’s not a total surprise! Though most are not worth big bucks, there are a few out here that can sell for a bit more including 1930s glamor dolls and early examples of antique paper dolls.
We love these old designs, from the bright and hopeful cherub-like paper dolls of the 1950s to the upstanding ladies of the late 19th century. It seems that one of the best things about paper dolls is that there is a design for nearly anyone!