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Copyright (1987):  Roselyn Gadia-Smitley

Reprinted from:   Dolls' Clothes Pattern Book

            (pages 187-188.)

Publisher:  Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., NY

                                          387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY  10016


he origins of the doll have been traced back by historians to religious rites of primitive societies.  Historians further speculate that as beliefs faded, the importance of the doll waned.  As a result, the dolls were handed down to children as toys.  Evidence of the link between the doll and religious rites is supported by ancient Greek literature, in which girls were observed making clothing for their dolls and offering these valued playthings to the nymphs or to Artemis at the time of their engagement for marriage.  Further evidence was noted by Boehn, a historian, on the practice of the Hopi Indians who, at the conclusion of ceremonial rites, gave the dolls to the children to play with.

    The earliest samples of European dolls dated from the fourteenth century in Nuremberg, Germany.  These dolls were modeled after children, monks, and women, dressed in the fashion of the time.  One notable characteristic of these dolls was a circular hollow in the breast.  It has been speculated that these cavities may have been designed to hold a christening gift, such as a florin.  Archaeologists noted the existence of similar dolls in diggings, which indicated that these dolls were made in multiple numbers.  These discoveries indicated that the doll industry was a thriving enterprise at this time.

    Listings of dollmaker names in the city records of Nuremberg were dated as early as the fifteenth century.  During this period, guilds of dollmakers were also established in the city, which regulated the types of dolls made and the methods of distribution of these dolls by peddlers.

    An actual specimen of a doll  made in the 1500's was found in 1966 in a Rhenish castle, giving us a glimpse of the period dolls of this time.  This nine-inch doll was described by Hillier, a historian, as one carved in limewood and embellished with colored paint.  The doll wore a tightly bodiced linen dress, which extended to the neckline, held in place with gold embroidery.  A matching embroidered wide stomacher was worn over the girdle of the dress.  The doll wore a net cap, with rounded points, which was drawn down to the side, over her ears.  It can be noted that dolls dated in the 1500s bear testimony to the costume period when compared to the paintings of this time.

    Fashion dolls became popular around the 1300's.  Court records noted events such as the gifts of fashion dolls sent by the French queen to the queen of England in 1321.  Another event that was noted was when Isabeau of Bavaria, queen of France, sent dolls to England from France to show the newest French fashions in 1391.  In essence, the task of popularizing French fashions abroad was carried on by the doll.

    To far-reaching colonies, such as North America, Parisian dolls were sent to illustrate the current Parisian fashions and to serve as the dressmaker's model as well.  An advertisement of the New England Weekly Journal of July 2, 1733 read as follows:

       " At Mrs.  Hannah Teatt's, dressmaker at the top of Summer Street, Boston, is to   be seen a mannequin, in the latest fashion, with articles of dress, night dresses, and everything appertaining to women's attire.  It has been brought from London by Captain White.  Ladies who choose to see it may come or send for it.  It is always ready to serve  you.  If you come, it will cost you two shillings, but if you send for it, seven shillings."

It can be noted that these fashion dolls were exempted from embargoes even at the time of wars during the 1300's to the 1800's.

    The practice of sending costume dolls to other countries remained popular until the emergence of the hand-colored fashion plates.  Fashion magazines such as The Lady's MagazineEntertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Polite Depository of Amusement and Instruction, The Lady's Monthly Museum, and Instruct the Mind and Exalt the Character of the British Fair all enjoyed popularity late in the 1700's.  These magazines became the major source of fashion information for the ladies of the tie.  The magazines gradually replaced the fashion dolls as the means of fashion communication between countries.


   Germany as the leading doll manufacturer in Europe during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century dominated the doll market in Europe and abroad.  It has been estimated that about seventy-five percent of these German dolls were sold in the British Isles and the United States.  Germany became the leading doll manufacturer of two reasons.  One reason was the abundance of raw materials such as wood.  Another was the need of its agricultural society for occupation during the long winter months.  Although dolls were cast from the same or similar molds, doll characteristics varied from dollmaker to dollmaker.

    Dollmakers in Germany were group in two regions:  The Saxon Ore Mountains where paper-mache, wood, and leather toys were made, and Nuremberg and Sonneberg where wood and metal toys were produced.  On a smaller scale, France, Austria, and England also engaged in the blossoming doll industry.


    Prior to World War I, the United States imported dolls from Germany, Austria, France, England, and Japan.  World War I generated the building of the American doll industry due to embargoes on goods, especially those of German origin.  The incentive of the doll market's profitability induced many smaller companies to engage only in the sale fo dolls, such as the E. I. Horsman Doll, Incorporated.

    Materials of all types were employed in the production of the American doll.  Composition limbs and heads, made of glue and sawdust, were commonly utilized among with leather for the toy's body.  Wooden dolls were manufactured in smaller scale by fewer companies.

    Originally developed for military use, in 1948, the use of plastics became popular.  With this advent, hard plastic doll replaced other types of dolls in the consumer market.  The vinyl plastic doll was later introduced, which is still utilized by the doll industry as we know today. Resume.html


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