What is a Doll?
How long have we had this
love affair with Dolls?
Pearls of Wisdom:
Doll Painting tips by Jean Nordquist
- What is a Doll?
Webster's New World Dictionarydescribes a
doll as - "a child's toy, puppet, marionette, etc. made to resemble a human
- How long have we had this
affair with Dolls?
A History of Dolls
- Dolls have been a part of humankind since
prehistoric times. Used to depict religious figures or used as
playthings, early dolls were probably made from primitive materials such
as clay, fur, or wood. No dolls have survived from prehistoric times,
although a fragment of an alabaster doll with movable arms from the
Babylonian period was recovered.
- Dolls constructed of flat pieces of wood, painted with various designs and with
"hair" made of strings of clay or wooden beads, have often been found in
Egyptian graves dating back to 2000 BC. Egyptian tombs of wealthy
families have included pottery dolls. Dolls placed in these graves leads some
to believe that they were cherished possessions.
- Dolls were also buried in Greek and Roman
children's graves. Girls from Greece
and Rome dedicated their wooden dolls to goddesses after they were too
"grown-up" to play with dolls.
- Most ancient dolls that were found in children's tombs were very simple creations, often
made from such materials as clay, rags, wood, or bone. Some of the more unique dolls were
made with ivory or wax. The main goal was to make the doll as "lifelike" as
possible. That ideal lead to the creation of dolls with movable limbs and removable
garments, dating back to 600 B.C.
- Following the era of the ancient dolls,
Europe became a major hub for doll production. These dolls were
primarily made of wood. Primitive wooden stump dolls from 16th and 17th
century England number less than 30 today. The Grodnertal area of
Germany produced many peg wooden dolls, a type of doll that has very
simple peg joints and resembles a clothespin.
- An alternative to wood was developed in
the 1800s. Composition is a collective term for mixtures of pulped wood
or paper that were used to make doll heads and bodies. These mixtures
were molded under pressure, creating a durable doll that could be mass
produced. Manufacturers closely guarded the recipes for their mixtures,
sometimes using strange ingredients like ash or eggshells. Papier-mache,
a type of composition, was one of the most popular mixtures.
- In addition to wooden dolls, wax dolls
were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Munich was a major
manufacturing center for wax dolls, but some of the most distinctive wax
dolls were created in England between 1850 and 1930. Wax modelers would
model a doll head in wax or clay, and then use plaster to create a mold
from the head. Then they would pour melted wax into the cast. The wax
for the head would be very thin, no more than 3 mm. One of the first
dolls that portrayed a baby was made in England from wax at the
beginning of the 19th century.
- Porcelain became popular at the
beginning of the 19th century. Porcelain is made by firing special clays
in a kiln at more than 2372 degrees Fahrenheit. Only a few clays can
withstand firing at such high temperatures. Porcelain is used
generically to refer to both china and bisque dolls. China is
glazed, whereas bisque is unglazed. Germany, France, and Denmark started
creating china heads for dolls in the 1840s. China heads were replaced
by heads made of bisque in the 1860s. Bisque, which is fired twice with
color added to it after the first firing, looked more like skin than
- The French "bebe" was popular in
the 1880s, and it has become a highly sought after doll today. The bebe,
first made in the 1850s, was unique from its predecessors because it
depicted a younger girl. Until then, most dolls were representations of
adults. Although the French dolls were unrivaled in their artistry,
German bisque dolls became quite popular because they were not as
expensive. Kammer & Reinhardt introduced a bisque character doll in
the 1900s, starting a trend of creating realistic dolls.
- For centuries, rag dolls were made by
mothers for their children. Rag dolls refer generically to dolls made of
any fabric. Cloth dolls refer to a subset of rag dolls made of linen or
cotton. Commercially produced rag dolls were first introduced in the
1850s by English and American manufacturers. Although not as
sophisticated as dolls made from other materials, rag dolls were
well-loved, often as a child's first toy.
- Dollmaking did not become an industry in
the United States until after the Civil War in the 1860s. Doll
production was concentrated in New England, with dolls made from a
variety of materials such as leather, rubber, papier-mache, and cloth.
Celluloid was developed in New Jersey in the late 1860s and was used to
manufacture dolls until the mid-1950s. German, French, American, and
Japanese factories churned out cheaply produced celluloid dolls in mass
quantities. However, celluloid fell out of favor because of its extreme
flammability and propensity to fade in bright light.
- After World War II, doll makers
experimented with plastics. Hard plastic dolls were manufactured in the
1940s. They resembled composition dolls, but they were much more
durable. Other materials used in doll manufacturing included rubber,
foam rubber, and vinyl in the 1950s and 1960s. Vinyl changed doll
making, allowing doll makers to root hair into the head, rather than
using wigs or painting the hair. Although most dolls are now
mass-manufactured using these modern materials, many modern doll makers
are using the traditional materials of the past to make collectible
- This summary was created
by using information from the following sources: Britannica Online; "Doll,"
Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96
Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. (c) Funk &
Wagnalls Corporation, The
Ultimate Doll Book by Caroline Goodfellow; and Dolls: A Collector's
Guide by Olivia Bristol. All rights