Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Short History of Dolls

Most little girls hope to receive a doll for Christmas at least once in their lives. These days, they are increasingly human-like and could, in some extreme cases, be taken for a real baby. In fact, they were originally known as toy babies, and the word doll was used as a diminutive form of the name Dorothy. Although dolls have been around for centuries, many of them seemed more like ornaments than cuddly toys, with fancy dresses and lifeless eyes. I thought it might be fun to look at some of the dolls through history.

At first, dolls were often modelled on adults, with fancy wigs, glass eyes, and eyelashes made from human hair and were initially made from wood, clay, wax, or even ivory. During the 15th century, Germany was one of the most famous countries for toys, and dolls started to become quite popular as playthings. Usually made of wood, some even had moveable limbs. In 17th century Germany, the most popular dolls had wax heads attached to wooden or cloth bodies. During this period, many dolls were dressed in elaborate copies of the day’s fashion.

By permission of Deutsche Fotothek
China-ware, or porcelain, arrived in Europe from Portuguese ships in the 16th century, bringing a new medium for making dolls. The first real western porcelain was made at Meissen, near Dresden in Germany, in 1710, although Standard English porcelain, bone china, was made in the 1750s by adding bone ash to the soft paste. From the 19th century, porcelain was increasingly used in making many of the dolls. By 1850, the first wax dolls to be fashioned in the image of an infant were made in England. Unglazed porcelain, known as bisque was used for a great variety of dolls’ heads from the late 19th century to the 1930s, mainly in France and Germany.

Even today, some of the highest priced, and most sought after toys, are German bisque character dolls from the early 1900s, produced by Kammer and Reinhardt of Watterhausen. Using a very advanced design, their baby and toddler dolls were modeled on real children, with varying facial expressions. Bisque made dolls tended to look more realistic than glazed china porcelain.

It’s no wonder that dolls are often the subject of creepy films and stories, and I’m not overly surprised that my own daughter (who is now an imaginative writer), was never very fond of dolls as a child. Sometimes, they look a bit too realistic!



Teresa Ashby said...

What a lovely and interesting post :-) I loved dolls as a child, but none of mine were creepy I'm glad to say x

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Teresa - thanks so much! Glad you had no creepy dolls. I had a huge Pollyanna doll after the film came out, but I quite liked her and she went on various nieces afterwards.

Linda Kage said...

I'm with you. Anything made from human hair has an element of creepiness to it!! But what an interesting history. I think I need to get my daughter a toy baby...not a creepy one though! She likes to hug her stuffed teddy bears. Ooh, do you have the history on teddy bears?? That would be cool.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Linda - I'm sure your little Lydia would love a toy baby. I'm talking about teddy bears (fictional kind) on my Flights of Imagination blog just now. But I'll post something about the history of teddy bears here another day.

Bill Kirton said...

Interesting post as usual, Rosemary. Even though dolls have never been part of my own experience, I know what you mean about their creepiness. In fact, I recently saw an article on some which looked so realistic that they truly were scary - like inert human beings. My daughters had dolls, of course, but the only recollection I have of a boy and his doll was that my stepson crucified his Action Man on a cherry tree.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

This is as interesting as I knew it would be. I must confess I loved my dolls and lined them up to teach them once I started school. I wonder why they never learned to read? I'm not too keen on the present fashion dolls but today's children seem to enjoy them and I suppose one day they will be part of history too.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Bill, especially when dolls wouldn't figure high on your personal experience! Poor Action Man (I think) - wonder how he got out of that one.

Thanks, Gwen. I remember one of my sister's friends (a lot older than me) had all her little dolls sitting on the settee when my big sis took me to visit. It was fascinating and a memory I never forgot - maybe she used to teach hers too!

Carolb said...

Very interesting post, Rosemary, thank you.
There was one of those scary type dolls shown on the Antiques Roadshow recently.
I had a tall articulated doll with short black hair, which I called Bella.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Carol. Glad you know what I mean about the scary type!