Paper Dolls An Art Form From Centuries Ago ~ Still Here Today

Paper dolls from the early 1900s. They became popular in the United States around 1920.
Paper dolls from the early 1900s. They became popular in the United States around 1920. | Source
Cute paper doll from the early 1920's.
Cute paper doll from the early 1920's. | Source
Little girl playing with paper dolls, always fun they could provide hours of imaginative play!
Little girl playing with paper dolls, always fun they could provide hours of imaginative play! | Source

I Used To Be Amused For HOURS When I Was A Child, By Playing With Paper Dolls!

I remember flying out here to Las Vegas about a year ago, and on the same flight sitting across the aisle from me were a Mom and her daughter, who looked to be about 7 or 8 years old. Mom kept the young girl busy for most of the four hour flight, with an accordion folder full of activities for her. I remembered thinking what a GREAT idea for a child that age! In the folder were pages to color, puzzles she could do (age appropriate) and my favorite thing they pulled out of that folder to play with that day ... paper dolls!

I really didn't even know they still MAKE paper dolls today, and being a Grandma of two little girls, I was thrilled to find out that they do indeed still make them! I watched the Mom and little girl as they played with princesses and other Disney character dolls, changing outfits and creating little scenarios.

I remember as a little girl (and even when I was older) loving and playing with paper dolls, so imagine my surprise and pleasure when I was surfing the internet recently to find that technology has made paper dolls even more fun today! Did you know there are internet sites where you can get FREE paper dolls and their outfits, simply by clicking on pages and printing them? Many of the creators of these paper dolls, who have so generously shared their talent to make them, ask that you only use them for your own use, NOT to be printed and sold.

All you need to do is find the dolls you want, click on the pages (sometimes they are in the form of PDF files) then print them either onto paper or onto card-stock paper (which is a bit thicker to allow the dolls to stand up better). If you print them on regular printer paper, they can be glued to cardboard for thickness, then cut out.

There are also websites where paper doll books can still be purchased. Imagine the thrill of sharing paper dolls with a small child or grandchild. And the enjoyment of paper dolls doesn't have to be limited to girls either. There are dolls in the shapes of animals as well that are suitable for either girls or boys.

A Little Bit Of History...

I found by researching on the internet that paper dolls in one form or another have been around almost as long as paper has been around! Centuries ago, faces and other objects were applied on to paper and used either for decorative purposes, religious purposes in Asian cultures, used in ceremonies in Asian cultures, or simply were made into doll shapes to be inexpensive children's toys.

In France, in the mid 18th century, paper dolls were made that had limbs on them that were jointed. They were referred to as "pantins" which meant dancing or jumping jack puppets. They actually were somewhat similar to the paper dolls that were found in Western culture in the 1900s.

Finding popularity in the 1920s, paper dolls have evolved over the years to reflect changes in society, as society has evolved over the years. Dolls have been made to resemble famous people, politicians, actors and actresses, as well as people that were common in each era.

The 1950s brought the debut of "Betsy McCall" dolls. She debuted in a magazine known as McCalls Magazine, in April of 1951. Betsy appeared in that issue, along with her little six month old dachshund puppy, named "Nosy." In the following months, other dolls appeared representing her Mother, her Father, various siblings, cousins, friends and pets. All of them became parts of her adventures.

The neat thing was, the doll was featured on a page, along with several outfits, and there was also a story on the page so little girls could be thrilled not only by the dolls and outfits, but by reading the stories as well. These are the paper dolls I remembered the best, from the 1960s when I was growing up. I can remember playing in a home-made playhouse in our backyard with the paper dolls.

One could literally spend hours in the summertime playing and making up stories and scenarios. They inspired creativity not only in making up stories, but creativity in fashion as well! I used to make my own clothes for the paper dolls. Who knows? Maybe I could have gone on to become a fashion designer.... but I didn't. Instead, I grew up to be a starving writer!

Today's Paper Dolls...

Today, paper dolls can still be found either as brand new dolls for little ones to play with, or as collectibles from days gone by available in places like Ebay. I recently found some paper dolls for my granddaughters that were dolls with magnets in their bodies, and the clothing also had magnets inside of the outfits. Making it easier for girls to change outfits, magnets today can replace the folding "tabs" from years ago. This can make it easier for younger girls to change the clothes, eliminating the need for "tabs" that folded over the backs of the dolls.

One particularly high quality brand that I found of the new magnetic dolls is made by "Melissa And Doug." I bet any little girl would LOVE to try outfits on any of these dolls, giving her hours of creative enjoyment.

Paper Doll Conventions And Parties...

And for something I didn't even know...there are even annual paper doll conventions. It seems paper dolls are big business, and paper doll collecting is an incredibly popular hobby. This year, the annual paper doll convention will be held in Dayton Ohio, August 9-12 of 2012.

In addition, there will be two paper doll parties held. One is a Southeastern Paper Doll Party held in Summerville, SC on March 23rd and 24th. And an Ohio Paper Doll Collector's Party will also be held on May 19th of 2012 in Streetsboro, Ohio.

These are the paper doll parties and conventions for the year 2012, but a simple search of the internet can give you dates and locations of future parties and conventions as well. The internet is a wonderful thing!

With so many terrific options out there today for collectors to fondly remember yesterday, and for the new generation to be introduced to a fun, creative and interesting hobby, just a few clicks on the internet can have one getting into paper dolls. I guess it's true what they say about Grandma's being just "little girls grown big."

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Comments 22 comments

alocsin profile image

alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

Did not realize they were that old, but with computers you can print your own designs for kids. Voting this Up and Interesting.

laurathegentleman profile image

laurathegentleman 5 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

This is wonderful! I LOVED my paper dolls when I was a kid. We had a huge collection - some were new and "fancy" - with magnets to help the clothes stick, glitter, and the "latest fashions," but we also had a bunch of really cool older hand-me-down paper dolls from when my mom and her sister were younger, and even a few that we were only allowed to touch gently that came from my grandmother!

This was a wonderful Hub, and so nostalgic! :)

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks so much, laurathegentleman, glad you like it! I thought the magnets were a neat idea, especially for little ones! :) I bet it was neat to see the hand me downs from your grandmother! Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thank you, alocsin! I didn't realize they had been around so long either, the history was interesting I thought! Thank you for commenting and for your votes! :)

pmccray profile image

pmccray 5 years ago from Utah

OMGosh . . . talk about memories. I loved my paper dolls. You could play with them for hours. Thanks for the memories. Voted up, marked interesting.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

You're welcome, pmccray! They brought back memories for me, too. Many happy hours were spent playing with paper dolls for sure! :) Thanks for stopping by!

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States

I've enjoyed these dolls for many years with my girls. They also enjoy the magnet type and there are felt dolls too which come with a board and a scene that we've liked a lot. Voted up and useful!

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, VirginiaLynne! Glad you like it, and thanks so much for commenting and voting! I appreciate it! :)

Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

Delightful Hub and brought back memories of many hours playing paper dolls. Some years ago I worked for a company, Artifacts, Inc. in Palestine, TX that sold paper dolls and their clothes. They were imported from England and were probably the most exquisite paper dolls I'd ever seen. Excellent information and fun Hub. Best, Sis

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, Angela! :) So glad you like the hub, and that must have been a neat company to work for, it must have been really interesting! :) Thanks for reading and for your wonderful comment! :) Best to you, too. :)

Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

I have such a soft spot in my heart for paper dolls. I remember a really amazing set of Shirley Temple paper dolls I got for my birthday one year... double win!

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

That's awesome, Maddie! :) Shirley Temple was a real "living" doll as well! :) I LOVED the movies she was in, so cute! So glad you stopped by, and thank you for your great comment! :)

Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

Very interesting history! The paper dolls I remember from my childhood where the ones that linked together in a chain (holding hands). I have this vague recollection of cutting them out.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thanks, Kris! :) I remember those kind, too, that's why I was excited when I found a website that had a pattern for the linked together (chain) ones, for free! ;) It's neat the things we remember from our childhoods! Thanks for stopping by and for commenting! : )

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 5 years ago

I remember the Betsy McCall paper dolls. I would get so excited when the magazine arrived so that I could cut her out. I have a set of paper dolls for my granddaughter to play with when she visits. Of course, I enjoy playing right along with her. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

You're welcome teaches12345. I guess there are some things we never outgrow, I still love paper dolls, too! :) Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

profile image

laurel536 4 years ago from North Carolina, United States

I loved paper dolls when I was little and I recently found some of my doll outfits tucked inside a paperback book to keep the edges from wrinkling. Awesome hub!

KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Thank you, laurel536... glad you enjoyed this! :) Thank you for stopping by and for your thoughtful comment! :)

BarbaraY 4 years ago

Do you know who the illustrator of the two dolls the little girl playing is using? I love them both and would like to find them.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

Hi Barbara! I'm not exactly sure who the illustrator is. I found out that the middle picture I have in this hub, the doll there is called "Dolly Dingle" and she first appeared in "Dolly Dingle And The Stories Of Mrs. Mousie and Bumpty."

It is an English paper doll considered to be an antique. I guess it came from a women's magazine called Pictorial Review which was published from 1889 until March of 1939.

From looking at the dolls the little girl is playing with, I'd bet that they are from a similar place. The description I found said that the picture came from "English Wikipedia" so I'm assuming that they are also antique English paper dolls. Hope that helps! :)

BarbaraY 4 years ago

Oh my goodness! You are a wealth of information. How interesting. I think my grandchildren would love these. I am going to look into these dolls. Thank you ever so much.

KathyH profile image

KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada Author

You're very welcome Barbara! :) So glad you found it helpful! :) Good luck finding them for your grand children! :)

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