A Brief History of Paper Dolls
Paper dolls are some of the simplest and most accessible toys ever created. Closely aligned with fashion plates, paper dolls have had a lasting appeal for over 200 years. The first commercially manufactured paper dolls originated in England in the early 1800s, and two of the earliest printed sets were “The History of Little Fanny” and "The History and Adventures of Little Henry."
Magazines for women and young ladies emerged as a perfect vehicle for distributing paper dolls in the early 1900s. The Ladies' Home Journal included the "Lettie Lane Paper Family" to encourage young readers to take an interest in their mothers' magazines, and perhaps to foster future subscribers (and fashionistas). Our own collection includes a number of charming pieces from the "Lettie Lane" family.
Marketers quickly found that paper dolls were a perfect venue for advertising, even when the products were unrelated or inappropriate, such as coffee, bread, and even tobacco. In the 1940s and 1950s, movie and television tie-ins along with celebrity paper dolls appeared on the scene. Though the look of the dolls themselves changed, fashion and style was often still the focus, as you'll see when you browse through our collection.
Our holdings here at the Wilmette Historical Museum include paper dolls from the early 1900s to the 1980s. Click through the images below to see a small selection of our paper dolls!