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Baby Doll to Barbie: Dolls through the Decades
Lady Gaga Doll
History of Dolls and today's Doll
In my youth I fantasised about being a prima donna ballerina and my prized possession became my ballerina Sindy. I spent hours watching her and helping her to dance Swan Lake in the same perfect way I hoped I eventually would.
I wrote to Santa Claus hoping with all my being that he would bring me a Sindy house which was just like the one I dreamed of owning when I grew up (I still don’t seem to have grown up all that much though but that’s another story). I also imagined what a perfect world it could be would be if I could someday have her platinum blond hair and her perfect size eight figure (That never happened either but so what!).
My daughter on the other hand always looked at me quizzically when I went into a nostalgic rendition of my love for my childhood friend. As far as she was concerned (when she played with dolls) there was just no doll who could ever compare to her Barbie. She was the queen of chic.
Barbie is undoubtedly the star of every toyshop. No trip can possibly be contemplated without seeing the vast array of shelves that are all devoted to this marketing friendly goddess.
But there was a time before today’s Super Dolls, when the doll was a much simpler affair. The story of the doll dates right back to 500 B.C. One of the earliest dolls found is on display in the British London Museum. It is a very simple Egyptian doll with beads for hair and a simple wooden body.
Most of the earliest dolls seem to have been made in the image of a man. Some of them were ancestor images others were kept as lucky charms and then there were dolls which were believed to possess magical powers such as the infamous voodoo doll.
It wasn’t until eighteenth century England that dolls began to rise in popularity. The Pierotti family began making dolls in England as far back as 1780. However the ever-enduring baby doll as we now call it did not exist until 1825.
Before 1825 dolls were very basic and had little to entice the modern child. The dolls were made in the shape of a woman the head was moulded in papier mache and then the stuffed body was attached.
Dolls were not widely available at this time. Children of the eighteenth century were expected to look and act like miniature versions of their parents. Once children discarded their baby clothes they were expected to act like young adults and this left no time for juvenile activities.
In 1825 the Germans began to produce a new model of doll. This doll was made of flesh coloured papier mache dipped in a waxed solution which gave a similar appearance to human skin.
When the Victorian era began in England dolls began to become much more popular. Parents of this era began to realise that children should not be expected to act in an adult fashion and needed to be allowed to play and have fun.
Young girls were seen as being future mothers and a baby doll was seen as the perfect toy for her. It would after all allow her to nurture her maternal instincts and help to prepare her for her future role as a wife and mother.
Dolls were now being made from wax or china and began to be dressed in fashionable clothes. More attention was paid to detail and these dolls were dressed in elaborate dresses along with hats, shoes, gloves and other fashion accessories. England was now the chief manufacturer of dolls but a large number were still also being imported from Germany.
The German dolls normally arrived in Britain with a hole in their crown, this was left there for financial reasons i.e. the tariff charge for importation was based on the weight of the items and without being complete the dolls were much lighter. Before being sold this hole was filled in sometimes with cardboard and then the hair was attached.
In the 1860’s the Parisian fashion houses began to influence the type of doll being produced. The new craze came in the form of the French Fashion Doll’s. Their bodies were made from stitched kid and they were dressed in the fashionable outfits of the era. These dolls were luxury toys and were only attainable to the wealthier members of society.
For the less well off members of society there were other dolls available. There was the popular stuffed doll, the wooden dutch doll which had a painted head and joints secured by tiny pegs. These dolls would have cost about a farthing each. There were also rubber dolls manufactured by Good year and golliwogs were also popluar.
Although the eighteenth century saw an explosion in the mass production of dolls, their origins can be traced back to ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. They were also found among all the African tribes, the Australian Aborigines, the Red Indians and the Eskimoes.
It wasn’t until medieval European times that dolls began to take on a feminine appearance. They were not yet though referred to as dolls they were mostly known as children’s babies. It is believed that the word doll came from the Norse word dual (woman).
The ever-enduring doll has seen many changes during the intervening centuries. Fashions and trends have always influenced the appearance of dolls. Today dolls are being made in the image of popular bands and it is a status symbol to have a doll made in your likeness. The latest craze seems to be the Lady Gaga doll. However in the past dolls were seen as a tool to nurturing young girls maternal instincts whereas today’s dolls are ultra chic and career orientated.
I sometimes wonder though. What would the Victorian mothers have thought of the appearance of today’s dolls? How would they have coped with their daughters dressing up in hipsters and belly tops and singing, come on Barbie let’s go party. The history of the doll is undoubtedly a very real indicator of the changing times, fashions and the ever changing perspective of the modern world.