There’s a familiar nursery rhyme that goes “sugar and spice, and everything nice; that’s what little girls are made of. Snakes and snails, and puppy dogs’ tales; that’s what little boys are made of.” This saying is just made up fun; however, when I hear it my thoughts turn to little girl and little boy dolls, bankdeets and I begin to think about what life like dolls are made of. This article researches the history of doll making to examine the materials used to make life like dolls.
It is speculated that dolls have been a part of humankind since prehistoric times and were used as religious figures or playthings. Most ancient dolls that were found in children’s tombs were very simple creations, often made from such materials as clay, rags, wood, or bone. Some of the more unique dolls were made with ivory or wax.
It is documented and recorded that dolls were found in Egyptian graves dating back to 2000. These objects were constructed of flat pieces of wood, ddm painted with various designs and with “hair” made of strings of clay or wooden beads to make them look like life like dolls. Egyptian tombs of wealthy families included pottery creations.
Dolls were also buried in Greek and Roman children’s graves. These found life like dolls were simple wooden species, believed to have been dedicated to goddesses after girls were too “grown-up” to play with them.
As a natural flow of history, Europe followed the era of the ancient world to become a major hub for doll production. Dolls found from 16th and 17th century England were primitive wooden stumps. These found objects number less than 30 today. The Grodnertal area of Germany produced many peg wooden dolls, a type that resembles a clothespin with its very simple peg joints.
In the 1800’s, a new material changed the process of making life like dolls when an alternative to wood was developed. Composition is a collective term for mixtures of pulped wood or paper that were used to make doll heads and bodies. These mixtures were molded under pressure to create a durable doll that could be mass produced. Manufacturers closely guarded the recipes for their mixtures. They sometimes used strange ingredients like ash or eggshells. Papier-mache was one type of composition that was a very popular mixture.
Along with wooden dolls, life like dolls made of wax were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Munich was a major manufacturing center for wax dolls; however, some of the most distinctive wax dolls were created in England between 1850 and 1930. Wax modelers would model a doll head in wax or clay. Then plaster was used to create a mold from the head. Next, they would pour melted wax into the cast. The wax for the head would be very thin, no more than 3 mm. One of the first life like dolls that portrayed a baby was made in England from wax at the beginning of the 19th century.
Porcelain was another material that became very popular at the beginning of the 19th century. This material, along with composition, greatly changed the process of creating life like dolls. Porcelain, made by firing special clays in a kiln at more than 1373 degrees Fahrenheit, is a word used generically to refer to both china and bisque. China is glazed, whereas bisque is unglazed. Germany, 24dollsde France, and Denmark started creating china heads for dolls in the 1840’s. China heads were replaced by heads made of bisque in the 1860’s because bisque, which is fired twice with color added to it after the first firing, looked more like skin than china did.
The French “bebe” which was popular in the 1880’s is still a highly popular doll today. It was first made in the 1850’s and was unique from its predecessors because it depicted a younger girl. The French dolls were unrivaled in artistry. However, the German bisque dolls became quite popular because they were not as expensive. Kammer & Reinhardt introduced a bisque character doll in the 1900’s, and this started a trend of creating life like dolls.
For centuries, rag dolls were made by mothers for their children. Rag dolls are unique from cloth dolls because they are made from any fabric, whereas cloth dolls refer to ones made of linen or cotton. Commercially produced rag dolls were first introduced in the 1850’s by English and American manufacturers. They were not as sophisticated as life like dolls made from other materials; however, they were well loved and were often a child’s first toy.
Doll making become an industry in the United States in the 1860’s after the Civil War. Doll production was concentrated in New England, where dolls were made from a variety of materials such as leather, rubber, papier-mache, and cloth. When celluloid was developed in New Jersey in the late 1860’s it was used to manufacture dolls until the mid-1950. New Jersey, German, French, American, and Japanese factories churned out cheaply produced celluloid dolls in mass quantities. However, because of its extreme flammability and propensity to fade in bright light, it fell out of favor.
Another major change in making life like dolls came after World War II when doll makers experimented with plastics. Hard plastic dolls were manufactured in the 1940’s. They resembled composition dolls but they were much more durable. Other materials used in doll manufacturing included rubber, foam rubber, and vinyl in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Vinyl caused a big breakthrough in the making of life like dolls because it allowed doll makers to root hair into the head, rather than using wigs or painting the hair. Although most dolls are now mass-manufactured using these modern materials, many modern doll makers are using the traditional materials of the past to make collective dolls.