European bisque doll from the 1870s

A doll is a model of a human being, often used as a toy for children. Dolls have traditionally been used in magic and religious rituals throughout the world, and traditional dolls made of materials like clay and wood are found in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. The earliest documented dolls go back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Dolls being used as toys was documented in Greece around 100AD. They have been made as crude, rudimentay playthings as well as elaborate art. Modern doll manufacturing has its roots in Germany going back to the 15th century. With industrialization and the appearance of new materials like porcelain and plastic, dolls were increasingly mass produced. During the 20th century dolls became increasingly popular as collectibles.


History, types and materials

Early history and traditional dolls

A typical Egyptian paddle doll from 2080 - 1990 BC

The earliest dolls were made from available materials like clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, leather, wax, etc. Archaeological evidence places dolls as foremost candidate for oldest known toy. Wooden paddle dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs which date to as early as 2000 BCE. Dolls with movable limbs and removable clothing date back to at least 200 BCE. Greek dolls were made of clay and articulated at the hips and shoulders. There are stories from ancient Greece around 100AD that show that dolls were used by little girls as playthings.[1] In Rome dolls were made of clay, wood or ivory. Dolls have been found in the graves of Roman children. Like children today, the younger members of Roman civilization would have dressed their dolls according to the latest fashions. When Greek and Roman girls got married they would dedicate their doll to a Goddess.[2] Rag dolls are traditionally home-made from spare scraps of cloth material. Roman rag dolls have been found dating back to 300BC.[3]

Traditional African akuaba dolls

Traditional dolls are sometimes used as children's playthings, but they may also have spiritual, magical and ritual value. There is no defined line between spiritual dolls and toys. In some cultures dolls that had been used in rituals were given to children. They were also used in childrens education and as carriers of cultural heritage. In other cultures dolls were considered too laden with magical powers to allow children to play with them.[4]

African dolls are used to teach, and entertain, they are supernatural intermediaries, and they are manipulated for ritual purposes. Their shape and costume vary according to region and custom. Frequently dolls are handed down from mother to daughter. Akuaba are wooden ritual fertility dolls from Ghana and nearby areas. The best known akuaba are those of the Ashanti people, whose akuaba have large, disc-like heads. Other tribes in the region have their own distinctive style of akuaba.

Japanese hina dolls, displayed during the Hinamatsuri festival

There is a rich history of Japanese traditional dolls dating back to the Dogū figures (8000-200 BC) and Haniwa funerary figures (300-600 AD). By the eleventh century dolls were used as playthings as well as for protection and in religious ceremonies. During Hinamatsuri, the doll festival, hina dolls are displayed. These are made of straw and wood, painted, and dressed in elaborate, many-layered textiles. Daruma dolls are spherical dolls with red bodies and white faces without pupils. They represent Bodhidharma, the East Indian who founded Zen, and are used as good luck charms. Wooden Kokeshi dolls have no arms or legs, but a large head and cylindrical body, representing little girls.

The use of an effigy to perform a spell on someone is documented in African, Native American, and European cultures. Examples of such magical devices include the European poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa. In European folk magic and witchcraft, poppet dolls are used to represent a person, for casting spells on that person. The intention is that whatever actions are performed upon the effigy will be transferred to the subject based in sympathetic magic. The practice of sticking pins in so called voodoo dolls have been associated with African-American Hoodoo folk magic. Voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian Vodou religion, but have been portrayed as such in popular culture, and stereotypical voodoo dolls are sold to tourists in Haiti. Likely the voodoo doll concept in popular culture is influenced by the European poppet dolls.[5] A kitchen witch is a poppet originating in Northern Europe. It resembles a stereotypical witch or crone and is displayed in residential kitchens as a means to provide good luck[6] and ward off bad spirits.[7]

A traditional Native American corn husk doll

Hopi Kachina dolls are effigies made of cottonwood that embody the characteristics of the ceremonial Kachina, the masked spirits of the Hopi Native American tribe. Kachina dolls are objects meant to be treasured and studied, in order to learn the characteristics of each Kachina. Inuit dolls are made out of soapstone and bone, materials common to the Inuit people. Many are clothed with animal fur or skin. Their clothing articulates the traditional style of dress necessary to survive cold winters, wind, and snow. The tea dolls of the Innu people were filled with tea for young girls to carry on long journeys. Apple dolls are traditional North American dolls with a head made from dried apples. In Inca mythology Sara Mama was the goddess of grain. She was associated with maize that grew in multiples or were similarly strange. These strange plants were sometimes dressed as dolls of Sara Mama. Corn husk dolls are traditional Native American dolls made out of the dried leaves or husk of a corncob.[8] Traditionally they do not have a face. The making of corn husk dolls was adopted by early European settlers in the USA.[9] Early settlers also made rag dolls and carved wooden dolls, called Pennywoods.[10] La última muñeca, or "the last doll", is a tradition of the Quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in parts of Latin America. During this ritual the quinceañera relinquishes a doll from her childhood to signify that she is no longer in need of such a toy.[11] In the United States, dollmaking became an industry in the 1860s, after the Civil War.[12]

A set of Russian Matryoshka dolls taken apart

Matryoshka dolls are traditional Russian dolls. They consist of a set of hollow wooden figures which open up and nest inside each other. The first set was carved in 1890.[13] Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed in a sarafan, a long and shapeless traditional Russian peasant jumper dress. The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby made from a single piece of wood. The painting of each doll can be elaborate. The dolls often follow a theme. Aside from the typical traditional peasant girls, the themes vary from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders.

In Germany clay dolls have been documented as far back as the 13th century, and wooded doll making from the 15th century.[14] Beginning about the 15th century, increasingly elaborate dolls were made for Nativity scene displays, chiefly in Italy.[15] Dolls with detailed, fashionable clothes were sold in France in the 16th century, though their bodies were often crudely constructed.[16] The German and Dutch peg wooden dolls were cheap and simply made, and were popular toys for poorer children in Europe going back to the 16th century.[17] Wood continued to be the dominant material for dolls in Europe until the 19th century.[18] Through the 18th and 19th centuries wood was increasingly combined with other materials, like leather, wax and porcelain and the bodies made more articulate.[18] It is unknown when dolls' glass eyes first appeared, but brown was the dominant eye color for dolls up until the Victorian era when blue eyes became more popular, inspired by Queen Victoria.[19]

Industrial era

During the 19th century dolls' heads were often made of porcelain and combined with a body of leather, cloth, wood, or composite materials, like papier-mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials.[20][21] With the advent of polymer and plastic materials in the 20th century, doll making largely shifted to these materials. The low cost, ease of manufacture and durability of plastic materials meant new types of dolls could be mass produced at a lower price. The earliest materials were rubber and celluloid. From the mid-20th century soft vinyl became the dominant material, in particular for childrens dolls.[22][23] Beginning in the 20th century, both porcelain and plastic dolls are made directly for the adult collectors market. Synthetic resins like polyurethane resemble porcelain in texture and are used for collectible dolls.

A German bisque doll from around 1900

Colloquially the terms porcelain doll, bisque doll and china doll are sometimes used interchangeably. But collectors make a distinction between china dolls, made of glazed porcelain, and bisque dolls, made of unglazed bisque porcelain. A typical antique china doll has a white glazed porcelain head with painted molded hair and a body made of cloth or leather. The name comes from china being used to refer to the material porcelain. They were mass produced in Germany, peaking in popularity between 1840 and 1890, and selling in the millions.[24][25][26] Parian dolls were also made in Germany, from around 1860 to 1880. They are made of white porcelain similar to china dolls but the head is not dipped in glaze and has a matte finish.[27] Bisque dolls are characterized by their realistic, skin-like matte finish. They had their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1900 with French and German dolls. Antique German and French bisque dolls from the 19th century were often made as children's playthings, but contemporary bisque dolls are predominantly made directly for the collectors market.[26][20][28]

Up through the middle of the 19th century, European dolls were predminantly made to represent grown-ups. Child-like dolls and the later ubiquitous baby doll did not appear until around 1850.[26][29] But by the late century baby and child-like dolls had overtaken the market.[26] Realistic, lifelike wax dolls were popular in Victorian England.[30]

Paper doll portraying actress Norma Talmadge and some of her film costumes, 1919

Paper dolls are cut out of paper, with separate clothes that are usually held onto the dolls by folding tabs. They often reflect contemporary styles, and 19th century ballerina paper dolls were among the earliest celebrity dolls. The 1930s Shirley Temple doll sold millions and were one of the most successful celebrity dolls. Small celluloid Kewpie dolls, based on illustrations by Rose O'Neill, were popular in the early 20th century. Madame Alexander created the first collectible doll based on a licensed character – Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind.[31]

Contemporary dollhouses have their roots in European baby house display cases from the 17th century. Early dollhouses were all handmade, but following the Industrial Revolution and World War II, they were increasingly mass produced and became more affordable. Children's dollhouses have during the 20th century been made of tin litho, plastic, and wood. Contemporary houses for adult collectors are typically made of wood.

The earliest modern stuffed toys were made in 1880. They differ from earlier rag dolls in that they are made of plush furlike fabric and commonly portray animals rather than humans.[32] Teddy bears first appeared in 1902-1903.[32][33]

Various antique to modern black dolls

Black dolls have been designed to resemble dark-skinned persons varying from stereotypical to more accurate portrayals. Rag dolls made by American slaves served as playthings for slave children. Golliwogg was a children's book rag doll character in the late 19th century which was widely reproduced as a toy. The doll has very black skin, eyes rimmed in white, clown lips, and frizzy hair, and has been described as an anti-black caricature.[34] Early mass-produced black dolls were typically dark versions of their white counterparts. The earliest American black dolls with realistic African facial features were made in the 1960s.

The first Barbie fashion doll from 1959

Fashion dolls are primarily designed to be dressed to reflect fashion trends and are usually modeled after teen girls or adult women. The earliest fashion dolls were French bisque dolls from the mid-19th century. Contemporary fashion dolls are typically made of vinyl. Barbie from the American toy company Mattel dominated the market from her inception in 1959.[35] Bratz was the first doll to challenge Barbie's dominance, reaching forty percent of the market in 2006.[36]

Plastic action figures, often representing superheroes, are particularly popular among boys.[37] Fashion dolls and action figures are often part of a media franchise which may include films, TV, video games and other related merchandise. Bobblehead dolls are collectible plastic dolls with heads connected to the body by a spring or hook[38] in such a way that the head bobbles. They often portray baseball players or other athletes.

A reborn doll, customized to realistically portray a human baby

With the introduction of computers and the Internet, virtual and online dolls appeared. These are often similar to traditional paper dolls and enable users to design virtual dolls and drag and drop clothes onto dolls or images of actual people to play dress up. These include KiSS, Stardoll and Dollz.

Also with the advent of the Internet, collectible dolls are customized and sold or displayed online. Reborn dolls are vinyl dolls that has been customized to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. They are often sold online through sites like eBay.[39][40] Asian ball-jointed dolls (BJDs) are cast in synthetic resin in a style that has been described as both realistic and influenced by anime.[41][42][43] Asian BJDs and Asian fashion dolls like Pullip and Blythe are often customized and photographed. The photos are shared in online communities.[44][45]

Uses, appearances and issues

A girl with a doll

Since ancient times, dolls have played a central role in magic and religious rituals, or used as representations of a deity. Dolls have also traditionally been toys for children. Dolls are also collected by adults, for their nostalgic value, beauty, historical importance or financial value.[46] Antique dolls which were originally made as children's playthings have become collector's items. Nineteenth-century bisque dolls made by French manufacturers such as Bru and Jumeau may be worth almost $22,000 today.[47]

Dolls have traditionally been made as crude, rudimentay playthings as well as with elaborate, artful design.[48] They have been created as folk art in cultures around the globe, and in the 20th century, art dolls began to be seen as high art. Artist Hans Bellmer made surrealistic dolls that had interchangeable limbs in 1930s and 1940s Germany as opposition to the Nazi party's idolization of a perfect Aryan body.[46] East Village artist Greer Lankton became famous in the 1980s for her theatrical window displays of drug addicted, anorexic and mutant dolls.[49]

Lifelike or anatomically correct dolls are used by health professionals, medical schools and social workers to train doctors and nurses in various health procedures or investigate cases of sexual abuse of children. Artists sometimes use jointed wooden mannequins in drawing the human figure.

In Western society, a gender difference in the selection of toys has been observed and studied. Action figures that represent traditional masculine traits are popular with boys, who are more likely to choose toys that have some link to tools, transportation, garages, machines and military equipment. Dolls for girls tend to represent feminine traits and come with such accessories as clothing, kitchen appliances, utensils, furniture and jewelry.[50][51][52]

Pediophobia is a fear of dolls or similar objects.[53][54] Psychologist Ernst Jentsch theorized that uncanny feelings arise when there is an intellectual uncertainty about whether an object is alive or not. Sigmund Freud further developed on these theories.[55] Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori expanded on these theories to develop the uncanny valley hypothesis. If an object is obviously enough non-human, its human characteristics will stand out, and be endearing. However, if that object reaches a certain threshold of human-like appearance, its non-human characteristics will stand out, and be disturbing.[56]

Doll hospitals

Rag doll characters Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, illustrated by Johnny Gruelle, 1920

A doll hospital is a workshop that specializes in the restoration or repair of dolls.[57] Doll hospitals can be found in countries around the world.[58] One of the oldest doll hospitals was established in Lisbon, Portugal in 1830,[58] and another in Melbourne, reputedly the first such establishment in Australia, was founded in 1888.[57] There is a Doll Doctors Association in the United States.[59] Henri Launay, who has been repairing dolls at his shop in northeast Paris for 43 years, says he has restored over 30,000 dolls in the course of his career. Most of the clients are not children, but adults in their 50s and 60s.[47] Some doll brands, such as American Girl and Madame Alexander also offer doll hospital services for their own dolls.

Dolls and children's tales

Many books deal with dolls tales like Wilhelmina. The adventures of a dutch doll. By Nora Pitt-Taylor, pictured by Gladys Hall.[60] Rag dolls have featured in a number of children's stories, like the 19th century character Golliwogg in The Adventures of two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg by Bertha Upton and Florence K. Upton[61] and Raggedy Ann in the books by Johnny Gruelle, first published in 1918. The Lonely Doll is a 1957 children's book by Canadian Dare Wright. The story, told through text and photographs, is about a doll named Edith and two teddy bears.


  • Fraser, Antonia (1973). Dolls. Octopus books. ISBN 0706400569. 
  1. ^ Fraser 1973, p. 7
  2. ^ Fraser 1973, p. pp7
  3. ^ British museum exhibit
  4. ^ Fraser 1973, p. pp4-7
  5. ^ "Divination". Stephen Fry (presenter), John Lloyd (creator), Ian Lorimer (director). QI. BBC. No. 10, season D.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Digital collection - Corn Husk Doll". Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  9. ^ "The uses of corn in 1845". Eastern Illinois University. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  10. ^ Fraser 1973, p. 23
  11. ^ Girl Culture: an Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. ISBN 0-313-33908-2. P.495
  12. ^ A History of Dolls
  13. ^ Russian Life: Matryoshka - Soul of Russia
  14. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 13–14
  15. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 14–18
  16. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 18–19
  17. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 19–22
  18. ^ a b Fraser 1973, p. 26
  19. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 26–27
  20. ^ a b An Introduction to Bisque Dolls -
  21. ^ Glossary of Doll Collecting Terms - Composition -
  22. ^ Fraser 1973, pp. 81–83
  23. ^ Vinyl Dolls - An Introduction to Vinyl Dolls -
  24. ^ Coleman, Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., and Evelyn Jk. (1968). "China Head Dolls". The Collector's Encyclopaedia of Dolls Volume One. London: Robert Hale. pp. 118–134. ISBN 0709055986 
  25. ^ An Introduction to China Dolls -
  26. ^ a b c d A Brief History of Antique Dolls, Part II -
  27. ^ Krombholz, Mary Groham, German Parian Dolls, 2006, Reverie Publishing, pg. 7
  28. ^ Christopher, Catherine (1971). The complete book of doll making and collecting. Dover Publications. pp. 187–190. ISBN 0486220664. Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  29. ^ Fraser 1973, p. 45
  30. ^ Fraser 1973, p. pp39
  31. ^ "Most Popular Toys of the Last 100 Years: Madame Alexander Collectible Dolls". Forbes. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  32. ^ a b Gary S. Cross (1999). Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Harvard University Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 9780674503359. 
  33. ^ "Teddy Bears". Library Of Congress. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  34. ^ The Golliwog Caricature
  35. ^ "Volley of the Dolls". Wall Street Journal via Reading Eagle. July 19, 2003.,975790. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  36. ^ Margaret, Talbot (December 5, 2006). "Little hotties: Barbie's new rivals". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  37. ^ Old Soldiers Never Die, New York Times
  38. ^ Nodding Dogs
  39. ^ Walker,Rob (20 February 2005). "The Way We Live Now: Consumed: Hyperreality Hobbying". New York Times Company. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  40. ^ Montcombroux, Vieve. "Simply Irresistible: What is that elusive quality that makes reborns so hard to resist?". Doll Reader Magazine. June/July 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-17
  41. ^ Ohanesian, Liz (October 28, 2008). "Elfdoll: Don't Call It A Toy Company". LA Weekly. Retrieved December 26, 2008. "The shockingly realistic, remarkably flexible BJDs" 
  42. ^ Holton, Avery (July 18, 2004). "Anime Girls". Time.,9171,1101040726-665031,00.html. Retrieved December 26, 2008. "Japanese-made Super Dollfies ... with ... exaggerated features inspired by Japanese animation" 
  43. ^ Gonzalez, Lauren (June 2008). "The Future Looks Bright for Ball-jointed Dolls". Shojo Beat. p. 332. "Super Dollfie, like Narin and Narae, have a distinct anime look, with cool glassy expressions on their faces. Although highly customizable, the dolls are offered in a range of styles that stay true to a Japanese aesthetic." 
  44. ^ Galbraith, Patrick W. "Plastic fantastic: Japan's doll industry booming". Metropolis magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-22. "...the inclusion of ball joints, which make it possible to pose the dolls for pictures, a favorite pastime among users." 
  45. ^
  46. ^ a b It's a Doll's Life, Ariel Hirschfeld, Haaretz
  47. ^ a b Henri Launay, French doctor to dolls - International Herald Tribune
  48. ^ Fraser 1973, p. 10,46
  49. ^ Greer Lankton
  50. ^ Servin, A; G, Bohlin, L Berlin (1999). "Sex differences in 1-, 3-, and 5-year-olds' toy-choice in a structured play session". Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 40. 
  51. ^ Nelson, Anders (2005). "Children's Toy Collections in Sweden—A Less Gender-Typed Country?". Sex Roles (Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.) 52 (1/2). 
  52. ^ Sobieraj, S. "Taking control: Toy commercials and the social construction of patriarchy". Masculinities and violence (L. Bowker ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.. 
  53. ^ Mufson, Michael (2006). Coping with Anxiety and Phobias. Harvard Special Health Reports. Harvard Health Publications. 
  54. ^ Schulman, Michael (2006-10-30). "Worst nightmares: In all five boroughs, haunted houses contain local fears". The New Yorker 82 (35): 38. 
  55. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1919). "Das Unheimliche". 
  56. ^
  57. ^ a b Dolling out treatment Accessed 22-2-2010
  58. ^ a b Lisbon doll hospital treats owners' blues too Accessed 22-2-2010
  59. ^ Doll Doctor's Association Accessed 22-2-2010
  60. ^ Wilhelmina. The adventures of a dutch doll.
  61. ^ The Adventures of two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg.

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