Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paper Doll Memories

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.

Women's magazines often came with a page of paper dolls for children to cut out: Ladies' Home Journal (Lettie Lane Series); Pictorial Review (Dolly Dingle); and McCall’s (Betsy McCall). The website, Betsy McCall Paper Dolls: The First Ten Years, features scanned originals from 1951 through 1961, ready to download, cut and play.  Another web site includes a brief history of McCall’s magazine and the history of the Betsy McCall paper dolls.

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.
A site from which to order vintage and mint uncut paper dolls (as well as a real trip down "Memory Lane") is: http://www.papergoodies.com/scripts/default.asp.  You are certain to locate some of your old favorites!


  1. Hi Cassandra,
    What a wonderful and also informative post!
    The pictures bring back many memories.
    I must admit that even later in life I bought books with paper dolls, and was given one as a gift, published by Laura Ashley, but also a paper doll Princess Wilhelmina to dress up.
    You are sharing such pretty and creative examples on here.
    Have a happy day!

  2. Hi Cassandra,
    Thanks so much for posting all these beautiful images of paper dolls. I played with them just a little bit, as a child. I appreciate them much more today...as an adult. I learned so much from your post today!

  3. Oh gosh, I just visited memory lane! I had forgotten about paperdolls and how much I loved them. Thank you for the reminder, great post .

  4. I loved the post! What memories! We even made our very own paper dolls too. My parents were missionaries and in America on furlough when we traveled to churches, I would sit in the back (we would make it flat back there - no seat belts back then) and I played for hours with paper dolls!!

  5. What a lovely post and full of so many memories! As a little girl in the sixties I absolutely adored my paper dolls and I had a much loved Lucielle Ball one - oh I can still remember the outfits and the happiness I felt playing with her!

  6. Cassandra, I really enjoyed your Paper Doll Memories ...
    Growing up in the 60s I played with paper dolls all the time. If we didn't happen to have any store bought ones, we'd simply grab an old Sears or Eaton's catalogue and make our own!
    One of the nicest paper doll sets I had was one given to me by an older girl who no longer played with it. The set was a family of 4 and it even came with a standing house background. At the time I thought their clothes were very old-fashioned (probably from the 50s), but now I wish I'd kept the set instead of trashing it when I went off to college.

    1. I grew up in the 50's and used the Sears catalogs after the new ones came each year, and cut out tons of paper dolls, too!! I didn't have too many "boughten" ones, but a set of old ones that were sadly thrown away for which I am still searching!

  7. No one knows Hopkins' "Pied Beauty" these days - or so it seems. What a delight to find it posted on your blog. Lovely!

  8. Betsy McCall was My first paper doll and that fueled a life-long love of them, even at 65, I cannot resist a new offering from Dover. One of my favorites from Dover is the Giant "Shirley Temple" she had to be pieced together and I glued her over a thin sheet metal to a 1/4" plywood tracing of the doll that my brother cut out for me, (he even made a stand for her). I taped sheet magnets to the backs of her clothing so everything stayed on, "like Magic" (just like your Magic Mary Jane)
    When I was a girl we sometimes had to make use of our imaginations (like when we were in emergency Quonset US Navy housing awaiting our permanent housing and every thing was still in storage). I had to draw a doll and then color, cut her out and trace lightly around her to create clothes from old clothes we grew out of, sheets, magazine pages, trims, etc. they looked pretty odd, but we enjoyed the process of the creating! Thank you Cassandra, for that memory! Sharon Turner

  9. Audrey Burtrum-StanleyNovember 10, 2012 at 2:28 AM

    The theory of PAPER DOLLS seems lost in an era where Barbie Dolls are sold for less than a full-color book of paper images. HOWEVER, I STILL LOVE THE PAPER DOLLS!
    My favorites were McCalls - and specifically, much prefer the rounded lines of the 1950 style and the sharp lines of the 1960s redesign as compared to the hip 1970s drawings of Betsey, etc... I have several reproductions (sold in the 1990s) on thin plywood with a peg to hold the apparel.
    I also greatly admire the art style of illustrator QUEEN HOLDEN - such rich hues and her shading is marvelous. Her work is often available through Merrimac or Shackman.
    One of my happiest memories was getting THE GOLDEN BOOK PAPER DOLL WEDDING. It was quickly cut up, played with and sadly disappeared. Over the years, I have gasped at the cost of replacing the book with other vintage editions from antique shops. Finally, I discovered one at a greatly reduced price and COMPLETE (which is sooooo rare). The artwork is excellent.
    There have been a few weak revivals of paper dolls (the Tierney sets from Dover seem to be more for adults than children!) Alas, I'm afraid the world of paper dolls / no matter if they are movie or TV personalities or popular ideas from Kewpies to Hollie Hobby characters / will never be as popular as they once were -- and that removes the glorious joy of imagination from the childhoods of many. What a shame!

  10. Cat Hawblitz
    I loved your site! I had some very unique paper dolls as a child. I think they may have been made in the 30's. They were about 10 to 12 inches tall and made from heavy cardboard. I had two girls and one boy. They were UNIQUE in that the eyes could be changed...brown, blue and green!! I think I inherited them from an older sister. They didn't have many clothes, and I recall tracing around the clothes they DID have and "coloring" new ones with crayons. Back in the late 50's, I think my Mother cleaned the attic and threw out everything without asking me what I wanted to keep. :-(( Oddly, I've found a number of my precious toys on eBay over the years (Yep...I'm an old baby-boomer..LOL), but I just cannot find dolls like these with the interchangeable eyes. Yes...I had a few other paper dolls over the years when I was a child...such as Betsy McCall and cut-outs from the newspapers. But those large dolls with the interchangeable eyes I have never forgotten. What a shame I cannot find them again. I think they had cardboard stands on the back, too. If anyone knows WHO made them, I would appreciate any information. Thank you so much.


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