The Scrappy History of Paper Dolls

Paper dolls date from the 18th century, beginning as political satire and swiftly earning their fashion paper clothing. With the invention of lithograph printing, they went mainstream, and were even made for children to play with. The variety of paper dolls was endless.

For many collectors, artistry isn’t the only draw—it’s the ghost of a paper doll’s previous owner that makes the vintage objects so appealing. Whether from 20 or 200 years ago, the personalities of these little girls and boys are particularly strong in handmade paper dolls, often constructed by children whose parents couldn’t afford to purchase toys.

A common variety of handmade paper dolls are “catalog dolls,” made from discarded department-store catalogs, like the ubiquitous tomes from Sears, Roebuck & Co. Children would carefully cut around a model, and then find various items of clothing that best aligned with the illustrated or photographed model’s limbs.

Other kids traced images from books, or created drawings entirely from their own imaginations. “The best is when you find a paper doll where the child made her own clothes for it, or actually created her own doll,” says Ocasio. “Some of those handmade dolls are so exquisitely done, they’re in the realm of folk art.”  

Paper dolls changed over time to reflect the world as it was. Old paper dolls may not come with provenance telling who owned them, but you can often tell the era by the clothing they wore. Read about paper dolls through history at Collectors Weekly. Link

(Image credit: Linda Ocasio)


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