A History of Dolls

A tangible child’s toy, most dolls embody the representation of a baby, or other human being. Dolls designed to resemble animals, or imaginary creatures have also risen in popularity with the progression of time. Throughout history dolls have evolved right along with the time period, often replicating the latest trends in fashion and style. As technology advanced, so also did the method of doll creation which eventually gave way to the simplified mass production of dolls.

The historical popularity of dolls is not limited exclusively to children. Dolls in existence before the 1700’s were not solely considered to be the playthings of children; they were also designed for adults. These particular dolls were not only dressed like adults, they were shaped like an adult also. Ancient dolls were found to have resembled sculptures more closely than their toy counterparts. Dolls are not geographically isolated either. Children in all cultures, of all races spread throughout the earth seem to enjoy playing with “little play people.”

Many different types of dolls have been discovered strewn within the relics of ancient civilizations. Considered to be cult objects by primitive people, well preserved dolls fashioned out of stone, wood, clay, bone, ivory, and bronze have been found in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Dolls were thought to be used in a symbolic nature, but also as toys for their children. There are even examples of puppets with movable arms and legs, which have been found in what would have been ancient Greece. Crochet dolls, some of which considered artistic masterpieces were utilized as representations of the nativity in Roman Catholicism. Fifteenth century fashion dolls gained popularity as gifts amongst the monarchy and its courtiers. Surprisingly these fashion dolls also played a significant role in the spread of various styles of costume. Dolls brought over to the American colonies mirrored current trends in fashion and even modeled the latest hairstyles, exemplifying the current European culture in miniature. Where dolls are concerned, a child’s gender was not an issue.

Seventeenth century dolls were played with by both boys, and girls. At this particular time in history Sonneberg, Germany came to be recognized as a sort of hub in the manufacture of wooden dolls. Keeping in line with their tradition, this same town later became a leading producer of the heads for dolls. These heads were made of china by the dawn of the nineteenth century. The Parisian doll industry began developing dolls that could close their eyes, and speak around this time also. The fact that the Parisian doll industry also specialized in the manufacture of “high fashion” dolls also, surprises me very little. The utilization of papier-mâché as a doll manufacturing material early in the nineteenth century seemed to stimulate the industry into doll manufacture on a larger scale, rapidly. Some of the other commonly used materials for making dolls at this time included wood, china, and wax. Hard rubber was introduced around eighteen-fifty, and bisque in eighteen-sixty two. Colonial cornhusk, and rag dolls had humble beginnings as mere domestic products. Both however quickly gained popularity commercially. The manufacture of dolls in the United States during the twentieth century has become a large and seemingly prosperous industry, to say the least.

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