As children during the “Fabulous Fifties,” my sister and I enjoyed playing with paper dolls. Many hours were spent on our living room rug or on that of our Grandmother Lavenua, cutting out and arranging the clothes, accessories, and sometimes even furniture of our paper doll families. Our favorites included brides and grooms; ballerinas; movie stars: Doris Day, Vivien Leigh, Debbie Reynolds, and Elizabeth Taylor; and television stars: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; the Mousketeers, Cubby & Karen from the "Mickey Mouse Show;" the Story Princess from the “Howdy Doody Show;” and the Lennon Sisters from the “Lawrence Welk Show.”
A special favorite was our magnetic set, “Magic Mary Jane.”
Paper dolls are a wonderful source of history, culture, literature, costume, art, marketing, and nostalgia and have been around as long as there has been paper. In Asian cultures many years ago, faces or other objects were applied to the paper used during religious rituals and ceremonies. More similar to contemporary paper dolls were the “pantins,” the jointed dancing or jumping jack puppets of eighteenth century France. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain, printers printed paper dolls, mixing fun and virtue by printing stories with morals and values to accompany them. Paper dolls were a valuable treasure in early America, since paper was limited.
By the mid-1800s, paper dolls were produced as a beautifully lithographed full-color collection. The artist, Raphael Tuck, was perhaps the best known manufacturer of the vintage paper dolls of this era. The trademark style of this company was the set of vintage paper doll costumes and interchangeable heads.
There were dolls representing royalty, the children of royalty, and actors from the theater, stage, and opera. Early paper doll sets often advertised a particular product, e.g., sewing, bakery, or medicinal products. With the purchase of the product children would receive a doll or outfits.
The Boston Sunday Globe began printing paper dolls in the 1890s. Characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” were the subject of one of its paper doll supplements in 1896.
The popularity of paper dolls soared during the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Paper dolls were made and sold representing royalty, public leaders, movie stars, fantasy fairy tale style characters, comic book characters, TV characters, family groups, brides, dancers, stuffed animals, babies, and even cherubs. Public popularity waned somewhat during the 1960s , attributed to the increased popularity of television-viewing and the rise of the three dimensional fashion doll industry, i.e., Barbie, Toni, etc.