History of Dolls: Who Invented Dolls



History of Dolls

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Long before smartphones, tablets, and even before the written word, there was a timeless companion that captured the hearts of both the young and old: the doll.

These cherished playthings, which span cultures and millennia, offer a unique window into the values, dreams, and daily lives of societies past.

But have you ever stopped to ponder the origins of the first doll? Dive with us into the intricate tapestry of history as we unravel the captivating tale of who brought the very first doll to life.

History of Dolls

Dolls have been a part of human civilization for thousands of years, serving various roles ranging from religious symbols to playthings. The history of dolls is rich and varied, reflecting cultural, societal, and technological changes over the millennia.

Time PeriodDescription
Ancient Civilizations (c. 2000 BC – 500 AD)Egypt: Wooden paddle dolls with painted hair and jewelry were buried with the dead.
Greece: Terracotta and clay dolls, some with movable limbs, were used as both toys and religious offerings.
Rome: Dolls made of bone, ivory, and terracotta were common toys.
Medieval Period (500 AD – 1500 AD)– Dolls during this period were made from materials like wood, clay, and fabric – the first rag doll.
– They often represented religious figures and were used in rituals and ceremonies.
Renaissance (14th – 17th century)– Wax dolls started becoming popular in Europe, especially as religious effigies.
– Dolls also began to be dressed in contemporary fashion, reflecting the period’s attire.
18th Century– Porcelain dolls, known as “China dolls,” originated in Germany and became fashionable.
– Doll-making became a recognized craft, with artisans crafting detailed and lifelike dolls.
19th Century– Bisque dolls, made of unglazed porcelain, became popular due to their realistic, skin-like matte finish.
– The advent of industrialization led to the mass production of dolls.
– Composition dolls, made of a mix of sawdust, glue, and other materials, were introduced.
20th Century– Celluloid, an early form of plastic, revolutionized doll-making, allowing for mass production and lower costs.
– In the mid-20th century, dolls like Barbie became cultural icons.
– Soft-bodied dolls, electronic dolls, and “designer” dolls became popular.
– Dolls began to reflect more diverse representations of race, profession, and abilities.
21st Century– The rise of technology led to interactive dolls with AI capabilities, voice recognition, and more.
– Customization became a significant trend, with dolls that kids or collectors can personalize.
– Ethical and sustainable doll-making, using eco-friendly materials, gained traction.

Throughout history, dolls have been more than mere playthings. They have acted as cultural and historical markers, reflecting societal values, traditions, and advancements.

From simple clay figures to technologically advanced interactive toys, dolls remain a cherished part of human culture and history.

Who invented dolls?

The simple answer to that question is that we’ll never know. Evidence of doll toys has been found from thousands of years ago, as far back as ancient Egypt.

With many examples known on ancient Greek and Roman dolls. But when it comes to discovering who invented dolls unfortunately we’ll never know.

Early dolls were made from available materials such as clay, wood, stone, bone, ivory and leather. Stories from ancient Greece describe dolls being used as playthings as far back as 100 AD although the likelihood is children were playing with a version of dolls long before this.

In fact a doll made of soapstone was found in a Siberian child’s grave dating back to the bronze age, around 4500 years ago, which appeared to be a child’s toy rather than a religious or spiritual symbol.

Dolls were not just children’s playthings but would also have had spiritual and ritual value in many cultures. We still see examples of this today, for example, Guatemalan worry dolls and African Akua’ba fertility dolls and corn husk dolls.

What is the history of paper dolls?

Paper dolls have a long and varied history that spans cultures and centuries. Here’s a brief overview of their evolution:

  1. Ancient Civilizations: The origins of paper dolls can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The Chinese, for example, used paper puppets for ceremonial purposes as early as 200 AD.
  2. Europe in the 18th Century: In Europe, the first commercially produced paper dolls were made in France in the mid-18th century. These were often hand-painted and were used as popular fashion plates, showcasing the latest styles and trends.
  3. 19th Century: The 19th century saw a boom in the popularity of paper dolls, especially in the United States and Europe. Advancements in printing technology made it easier to produce paper dolls on a large scale. They were often featured in ladies’ magazines as a way to promote the latest fashions. Children also started playing with paper dolls as toys during this period.
  4. 20th Century: The 20th century saw a diversification in the types of paper dolls available. They became a popular promotional item, often used to advertise products or celebrities. For instance, movie stars, singers, and other public figures had their own lines of paper dolls. During World War II, paper dolls were also used as an inexpensive entertainment option. The latter half of the 20th century saw a decline in their popularity due to the rise of plastic dolls like Barbie.
  5. Collectors and Enthusiasts: Even though the mass-market appeal of paper dolls waned, they never completely disappeared. Collectors and enthusiasts have kept the tradition alive. Today, vintage paper dolls are sought after by collectors, and many artists and crafters create custom, artisanal paper dolls.
  6. Digital Era: With the advent of digital technology, paper dolls have also found a place online. There are virtual paper doll apps and websites where users can dress up digital avatars. Nevertheless, the tactile pleasure of traditional paper dolls continues to appeal to many.

Throughout history, paper dolls have been more than just playthings. They have reflected societal norms, fashion trends, and cultural shifts. Whether used as toys, teaching tools, or promotional items, paper dolls have a storied past that offers a unique window into the eras they hail from.

Handmade Dolls

Of course, all ancient dolls would have been hand made as are many dolls that still exist today. Whether they were made as playthings or for ritual or spiritual purposes they would have been crafted by hand.

Handmade rag dolls are likely to have existed for far longer than we have evidence of as they simply wouldn’t have survived. Made from scraps of material they would have been created as gifts or used as a way to teach young girls how to sew.

The British Museum has an example of a rag doll found in a child’s grave from around 500 AD but as the fabric does not preserve well there are a very limited number of examples.

Mass produced dolls

Toys started to be mass-produced, including dolls, in the 19th century. Hard plastic dolls were first manufactured in the 1940’s and Barbie Doll was introduced to the market in 1959.

Barbie dolls were invented by Ruth Ruth Handler and designed by Jack Ryan. This was the first fashion doll aimed at older children as was destined to be a huge success worldwide.

Ken, Barbies boyfriend was introduced at a later date but despite being a boy doll was still primarily aimed at girls as part of the fashion dolls range, however, the 60’s also saw the introduction of action figures such as GI Joe aimed at boys by the toy company. And addressing the question can boys play with dolls simply by giving them another name.

Nowadays our concerns about the use of plastic mean many people are choosing to go back to more traditional toys and materials and soft dolls and baby dolls are seeing a rise in popularity again. And it’s not just the environment that will benefit from this change as doll makers specialising in the traditional doll market have seen a huge rise in popularity.

Simple toys foster creativity and inspire the imagination so they are better for your children too.

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