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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paper Doll Plunder

Contributed by Stephanie Bearce

Have you ever had a really lucky find? Like discovering a diamond ring in a box of costume jewelry, or a gold coin in an old sewing basket? My friend Valerie and I had a find even better than diamonds or gold. We found the jackpot of all jackpots. A box of vintage paper dolls.

Now I'm not talking about one of those little boxes of two or three paper dolls. I'm not even talking about a shoe box. We found a big box so full of paper dolls that it took both of us to haul it back to the bed and breakfast where we were staying. We took one look at that box and the thirty dollar price tag and bought them without even haggling. We knew we had the find of the century.

When we finally had time to sit and look at our amazing treasure we discovered we had hundreds of paper dolls from the 1930's and 40's all in pristine condition. Some of them were carefully cut out and saved in separate envelopes. Some were still in their original books, never touched by scissors. The graphics were amazing. Oranges and reds that still popped off the page. Swirling ball gowns and cute frilly “play suits”.

There was a “life size” baby paper doll complete with paper bottles and blankets. There were movie stars like Sonja Henie, Deanna Durbin, Vivian Leigh, and Judy Garland.
And the clothes, oh the clothes. I only wish we had clothes like that to wear now. Lovely hats and elegant shoes. Purses to match every outfit. It was a little girl's dream and a big girl's fantasy.

Valerie loved the dolls for the vivid graphics and style. I was immediately dreaming of crafts I could create with copies of them. We both loved the history. Somewhere in time there was a little girl who loved her paper dolls and cared for them so diligently that eighty years later the dolls are still bright, beautiful, and bringing joy to those who see them.

Lately I’ve been exploring websites to learn a little more about the history of these delicate toys.  The first mass produced paper dolls were published in 1828 by the McLoughlin Brothers.  The inexpensive dolls were an immediate hit and have been enjoyed by little girls ever since.  But the great hey-day of the dolls came in the 1930’s and 40’s when due to the depression and WWII actual dolls were too expensive for many families.  Paper dolls were affordable play toys and favorite gifts.

The dolls from WWII are especially touching to me.  I can just imagine some young girl dressing her dolls in their uniforms, and thinking about the father or brother who was away at war.  The dolls represent the hope for victory and a peaceful future.

It is amazing to be able to hold these pieces of history in my hands and to think of the hands that came before mine.  Little girls dreaming of their weddings, their husbands, and children.  Dressing for parties and work.  How lovely it is that paper dolls are still a part of the world today.  Almost two hundred years later, paper dolls still allow little girls to create, dream and pretend.

To learn more about paper dolls, or to print some of your own, visit these great websites:

And enjoy an afternoon playing with your paper dolls.  It will truly make you feel youn again!

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