Paper dolls have been affordable toys for children for almost two centuries. They first appeared in Paris during the 1700s and were also a popular toy in England. English paper dolls often included moral stories and booklets of virtues as part of the packaging. Prior to the widespread availability of chromolithography printing in the 1880s, paper dolls were colored by hand. Furthermore, early paper doll clothes did not come with the folding tabs to dress the dolls that we see today, but were attached with tiny drops of beeswax which were not greasy, therefore did not leave a mark when the clothing was removed.
America did not enter the paper doll manufacturing arena until the mid-19th century. Crosby, Nichols & Company of Boston printed the first paper doll in the United States in 1854 titled “Fanny Gray: A History of Her Life, Illustrated by Six Colored Figures. By the author of Cousin Hatty’s Hymns and Twilight Stories.” She was packed in an elegantly lithographed box with six figures, a wooden base to stand the figures and a booklet of moral verses. Included was “The Cottage where Fanny Lived,” Fanny with Her Kitten,” “Fanny Selling Matches,” Fanny Feeding Chickens,” Fanny a Flower Girl,” and Fanny Her Uncle’s Pet.”
Images from “Fanny Gray: A History of Her Life …”
A similar boxed set of paper dolls sold in the 1850s was “The Boston Lady and Her Children, the most Beautiful in the World, in a variety of Beautiful Costumes.”
Paper Dolls Book
The first American book on paper doll making, Paper Dolls and How to Make Them, A Book for Little Girls, was published by Anson D. F. Randolph in 1856. It included hand-colored plates of dolls and clothing for children to cut out and play. This book was so popular that it was soon followed by Paper Dolls’ Furniture and How to Make It or How to Spend a Cheerful Rainy Day in 1857. That same year, Anson Randolph printed a collection of paper dolls in a box called “The Paper Doll Family.” TheNew York Evangelist advertised this unique book in 1856:
Page from Paper Dolls and How to Make Them, A Book for Little Girls.
"Paper Dolls and How to Make Them, is a book of a thousand for little girls. It contains instructions how to make those ingenious and beautiful little paper dolls, clothed with every variety of costume, and every style of appearance, which are sometimes sold at the shops. The instructions are so plain, and the plates giving illustrations so numerous, that every little girl can learn the art, and in learning it, will have a perpetual field for the exercise of taste and ingenuity. The study is exceedingly attractive, and will furnish means of enjoyment to the nursery and fireside that may well alternate with books and plays. The author has displayed great tact in giving the descriptions, and a genial loving desire to promote the happiness of children — a trait which we place among the highest virtues, in anybody. As there is nothing of the kind in market, and opens a boundless field of occupation and enjoyment, the little book must become a favorite.”
Pages from Paper Dolls and How to Make Them, A Book for Little Girls
Pages from Paper Dolls and How to Make Them, A Book for Little Girls.
Paper Dolls in Magazines
The first magazine to print a paper doll grouping with costumes was the American women’s publication, Godey’s Lady’s Book. The November 1959 issue included a page of six figures of boys and girls for “the little girls who read Godey” to color, plus a page of hand-colored paper doll clothes to cut out. Only the front view of the paper doll figures was shown.
Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1959
Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1959
In 1866, Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine also published pages of dolls with hand-colored costumes, but this collection included the front and back of the dolls with their outfits.
Paper dolls from Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine.
During the 1860s Brown, Taggard & Chase of Boston; Clark, Austin & Smith of New York; and McLoughlin Brothers of New York were the prominent paper doll manufacturers. These dolls were often sold in envelopes or small boxes. McLoughlin Brothers was the largest manufacturer of both paper dolls and children’s books in the United States. Their popular dolls included “Nancy Fancy,” “Dottie Dimple,” “Jenney June,” “The Bride,” and “The Bridegroom.”
In 1900 McLoughlin Brothers published a series of “Dolls of All Nations.” Also available was “Princes and Princesses Paper Dolls” by Elizabeth Tucker, which was a beautiful series of historical paper dolls with designs as loose sheets in a box. Included were representations of Mary, Queen of Scots, as she appeared in 1554; Wilhelmina, the Queen of Holland, 1887; An American Princess, 1895; Infanta Marguerite of Spain, 1842; Louis Dauphin of France, 1739; Crown Prince Wilhelm Friedrich of Germany, 1890; Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, 1855.
With the advent of color printing, hand-colored paper dolls were replaced with the less expensive color printed paper dolls. In the years following, American magazines such as The Delineator, McCalls, Ladies Home Journal and Women’s Home Companion included pages with color paper dolls to entertain the children of their subscribers. Ladies Home Journal published the famous “Lettie Lane Paper Family” series by Sheila Young from October 1908 until July 1915. Women’s Home Companion dolls were “Kewpie,” “Punch and Judy,” and “Twins that Grow Older.” The Delineator published the “Adele” paper doll. In the spring of 1895, the Boston Sunday Herald printed a spring fashion paper doll, followed in July by a beach fashion paper doll.
By the end of the 19th century, advertisers began to make use of the popularity of paper dolls. Back and front printing on the doll plus clothes that were slipped over the head helped sell coffee, thread, crackers and other incidentals. The Willimatic Thread company published one of the earliest paper doll advertisements in 1885 while Lion Coffee used the “Palmer Cox Brownies” in 1892. In 1895, Columbia Bicycle Co. published a doll in a cycle costume. Hood’s Pills created a family of five dolls with clothing branded with their advertising. Other advertisers who took advantage of the paper doll craze were Clark’s O.N.T. Spool Thread, Wilson Sewing Machine, Dennison’s Paper Co., and Duplex Corsets.