When I was a young girl, I remember my dad singing a song , “Paper Doll.” If you don’t know the words, you may want to look them up because they are rather unique. To this
day I still remember them. The song written by Johnny S. Black in 1915 is about a relationship that went sour and the gentleman is giving up on women. One line of the lyrics is, “I’d rather have a Paper doll to call my own, Than have a fickle-minded real live girl.” This song was later revived in the 1940’s by the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Remembering this song brought to mind the cheapest, most fascinating toys of my childhood, paper dolls. I played with them a lot. After cutting out both the dolls and the clothes, I would stretch out on the living room floor and let my imagination go, as I dressed the dolls for different occasions. I had a set of Elizabeth Taylor, one of Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. A set of bridal paper dolls was one of my favorites and dolls of royalty with their costumes.
Paper dolls have existed as long as there’s been paper and has been one of the inexpensive children’s toys for almost two hundred years. Yet, I don’t remember our
daughter playing with them in the 1960’s and 70’s. She’ll tell you that she was too busy keeping up with her four older brothers and they didn’t play with paper dolls. I wonder, though, if there could have been a lull in this type of play during those years. Perhaps the creation of the Barbie Doll had an effect. I do know that many fine artists are known for their paper dolls of the 1940’s and 1950’s and some collectors know and recognize the work of paper doll artists.
Magazines use to publish paper dolls, some needed their faces and clothing painted. Do any of you may remember Betsy McCall? She came along after a long tradition of
paper dolls published in McCall’s magazine from 1904 to 1926. She modeled fashions that could be made with McCall’s patterns. Clever idea, wouldn’t you say so? When paper dolls surged in popularity, manufacturers of all kinds of household goods took advantage by using them to promote their wares. Pillsbury Flour, Baker’s Chocolate, Singer Sewing Machines, were some of the manufacturers doing this. Some paper dolls appeared in the Little Golden Books and today a “Gone With The Wind” paper doll book sells for $400.
Are kids playing with paper dolls today? They are still being published. I am aware of sets that are magnetic and the clothing attaches and stays put on the dolls without paper tabs. With a little research I learned that paper dolls were on-line. I went to Bella-on-line and found a model in modest under wear that could be dressed in many costumes. With just a click of my computer’s mouse, dresses, wigs, boots, and accessories were dragged over and placed on the doll. It was fun and educational, too. As always, there was the dark side awaiting my research when I came across Japanese graphics that generated cartoon nudity, I found, too, that some doll’s under clothes, which were usually permanently attached, could be removed.
The paper doll books today include “The Barack and Michelle Obama Paper Doll and Cut-Out Book.” There are 30 mix and match coordinated outfits and accessories featuring the Obamas vacationing, playing golf and, at the Inaugural Ball, etc.
I don’t know what happened to my paper dolls, I think I wore them out. I should have saved my Elizabeth Taylor book because a vintage one is selling for $29.95. Another
uncut book from the 1950’s by Whitman Publishing is available at $275.00. Don’t just throw away old stacks of papers, there may be paper doll books waiting to be found. If
the collecting bug for paper dolls hasn’t hit you yet, – it just may.