Dolls are among the oldest toys known to mankind. The earliest documented dolls go back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, some as early as 2000 BC.


Roman rag doll

In this overview, I am going to focus on the official dolls that were issued for the Historical Girls and compare them to their real-life counterparts.


Kaya, 1764 – buckskin doll and cradleboard

In Kaya´s story, the doll actually belongs to her sister, Speaking Rain.


This is an antique Nez Perce buckskin doll. Note the way the face has been inked! Other antique Native American rag dolls (from various tribes) had the faces embroidered or beaded on.

Another antique Nez Perce doll, this one has hair made from horsehair, although the head is unusually small.

Kaya could also have made a cornhusk doll for herself or her sister.


The early European settlers learned this skill from the Native Americans.


Felicity and Elizabeth, 1774 – fashion dolls (Susannah Maria Augusta Eliza Lucy Louise and Charlotte)




Felicity first admires this doll and the dress she is wearing in the milliner´s shop (and later gets both for Christmas).

Dressmakers used dolls like this, wearing small-scale copies of the latest fashions that were easier to send across often large distances, to get news about what stylish ladies in the capitals of society were wearing and show it to their customers who could then have a model made to their measurements.

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Here are two examples of 18th century fashion dolls, so-called “Queen Anne” dolls.  These dolls have been made since approx.1700.

They were more often used as ornaments for adults rather than as playthings for children, although contemporary portraits do show little girls holding Queen Anne dolls.


Felicity´s best friend Elizabeth was given a fashion doll as well.

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The first version of Felicity´s doll seems to have been modeled after a Penny Wooden doll, rather than a Queen Anne, though.

These were produced mostly in Germany and are also known as “Dutch” dolls (a mispronunciation of “deutsch”, “German”). While they were mass-produced and sold for the eponymous penny in the early 19th century, and are actually too late for our Colonial girls, like Queen Anne dolls, they are handmade and stylized, so it is at least conceivable for Felicity to have a doll with a similar look to her first one . Penny Woodens were popular until well into the 20th century.


This Bangwell Put, the oldest surviving rag doll in North America. This doll was made for a little girl, born blind in 1765, which probably explains the emphasis on the hands rather than the face.

The doll in black is a modern replica based on a rag doll from 1795- by the doll artist who actually made the Queen Anne replica dolls for the Felicity movie.


Caroline, 1812 – no official doll has yet been issued for Caroline, but the Penny Wooden dolls would fit the timeline.

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These specific Penny Woodens are also known as “Groednertal” dolls, from their provenience, or “Tuck Comb” dolls, from their hairstyle and would be contemporary for Caroline.

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Josefina, 1824 – rag doll (Nina)

In the story, Josefina´s Mamá made this doll, named Niña (girl), to be passed down in a beautiful new dress to each of the sisters on her eighth Christmas.


In Josefina´s Craft Book, it was shown how to make a cornhusk doll.


An early American rag doll that resembles the rag doll patterns that were first printed in the 1830’s. She measures 7″ and is made with a rolled cotton body without arms or legs…it is the most simple of forms so that a child could easily make her own doll with small pieces of fabric. Her head is stuffed stockinet with a pinched nose, silk hair and a net cap that was fashionable at the time. Source


Kirsten, 1853 – rag doll (Sari)


Kirsten brought her rag doll, Sari, with her when the family emigrated from Sweden. When she has to leave her in storage for the first time after their arrival, she makes a replacement “Little Sari” from an outgrown stocking stuffed with milkweed floss. She could have looked like this antique sock doll…

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A 19th century rag doll, the face was probably originally drawn on. Note the resemblance to Kirsten´s work dress!!


In Kirsten´s Craft Book, it was shown how to make a pioneer era yarn doll like the one that Kirsten gives to her Native friend, Singing Bird.

Dolls like this were also made from strips of fabric, as shown in this modern kit.


Another way to make a rag doll:


Cecile and Marie-Grace, 1853

No dolls were produced for the NOLA girls, but seeing that they were better off than Kirsten´s pioneer family, they might have had bought rather than home-made dolls.

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 Izannah Walker operated a cottage industry making pressed cloth dolls in a time when most women couldn’t own property or vote.  She first patented her dollmaking process in 1873, but she may have been making dolls as early as 1840. Her dolls have the look of primitive folk portraits from the mid 1800s. There is not much information about Izannah until later in life, when she is listed as a dollmaker living in Central Falls, Rhode Island as of 1865.

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Jenny Lind china head doll, ca. 1850.

Porcelain or China dolls were made by various, mostly German companies from 1836 to the 1940s.  Glazed porcelain China head dolls (unglazed porcelain dolls are referred to as Parian dolls) are usually found on a wood, cloth or kid body with some dolls having partial China limbs as well.  Most China dolls found, have molded painted hair (and can be dated by their hairstyle), but some have a wig over a solid bald dome head.  China head dolls range in size from a tiny 3 inches to a big and very heavy 40 inches tall. Both China dolls and Parian dolls were made of white porcelain, one glazed, the other unglazed.

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Composition doll, ca. 1830 – 1860. Composition is a material composed of sawdust, glue, and other materials such as cornstarch, resin and wood flour.

Papier mache doll, c. 1840. Papier or paper mache is another  composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste. The earliest papier mache dolls go back to the 1760s and were individually handmade, by the mid 1800s pressure mold processes made it possible for dolls to be mass produced.

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The earliest wax dolls found by collectors tend to be the poured wax dolls made in England from 1840 through the remainder of the 19th century, although pressed wax dolls were made before this time for the very wealthy. The poured wax dolls were made by pouring liquid into warm molds, and then, the hair, and glass eyes were set in the head. Poured wax dolls were mostly made in home-based businesses, and making wax dolls was very hazardous–if a doll maker wasn’t seriously burned by the hot wax, he could have his lungs harmed by the sawdust used to stuff bodies, or, he could be poisoned by the lead used to color the wax! In 1873, Lewis Caroll wrote a charming letter to a little girl that reveals the problems with wax dolls…

All of these dolls usually have cloth or wooden bodies with a head or shoulderhead and sometimes partial limbs of the material chosen.

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Carved wooden shoulderhead dolls, ca. 1850 and 1860


The famous Hitty 

Hitty was (probably home-) carved in imitation of these (more expensive) dolls. Hitty FAQ Lovely site on antique dolls.


Addy, 1864 – rag doll (Ida Bean)


Momma’s Christmas gift to Addy is this darling rag doll she names “Ida Bean” because she really is full of beans.

A great resource for antique black cloth dolls is the Hatch collection.

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Circa 1870 (source)

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This homemade cloth doll with papers saying he was made for a boy named Tucker by his mother for his birth 1863. The doll was made by a slave and she apparently used scraps of old material to create a gentleman doll dressed in fine clothes and give to her son … to see that he could be anything he wanted to be in life and be a business man not a slave. Source 


Topsy-turvy dolls came up some time in the mid-19th century and are probably the inspiration for the name of the character “Topsy” from the highly popular “Uncle Tom´s Cabin” (1853).

The exact origins of those “upside-down dolls” are not known but what is certain is that they were invented by slaves on the plantations and usually contrasted a black and a white doll – just as the novel contrasted the black girl, Topsy, and the white girl, Eva. Post-slavery, commercially-produced Topsy-Turvy’s heads often share the same ethnicity, black. Black and White Topsy-Turvy dolls began to be mass manufactured after 1900. Source Later dolls also contrasted different storybook characters.

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Another early 19th century Topsy-Turvy doll.

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And a few more civil war era rag dolls. The one in the large checkered dress used to belong to the father of Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women”.

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Even for home-made dolls with hand-drawn faces, the faces could be very detailed.

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Other dolls available in the late 19th century were the aforementioned china, wood, composition and wax dolls.

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1865 fashion dolls

French and German bisque dolls were produced since the 1840s but began taking over the market after 1860, and their production continued until after World War I.

Bisque is unglazed porcelain with a matte finish, giving it a realistic skin-like texture. It is usually tinted or painted a realistic skin color (as opposed to the Parian dolls, who are made of white porcelain, even though their cheeks may be tinted a bit.)

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These dolls wore wigs, typically made from mohair or human hair (another difference to the Parians, who had molded hair). The bisque head is attached to a body made of cloth or leather, or a jointed body made of wood, papier-mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials. Doll bodies are only rarely made entirely of bisque because of its fragility and weight.

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Between approximately 1860 and 1890 most bisque dolls were fashion dolls, made to represent grown up women (although their faces appear rather childlike to a modern viewer). Bébés, or dolls made to represent children, were quite revolutionary for their time (starting with some representations about 1850, but not really heating up and hitting their zenith until the late 1800s).



Very early bisque bebe

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French Bebes, ca.1880s

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Eventually, Bébés would overtake fashion dolls in popularity, and would lead to their demise. French Bébés, made by the master doll makers Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, Rohmer and others would have their ascendancy from the 1860s to the 1880s, followed by the German doll makers, who basically took over the industry with their quality, but lower priced products in the 1890s.

Which takes us right to…

Samantha, 1904 – porcelain doll (Clara)

Nellie, 1904 -porcelain doll (Lydia)

Lydia, the doll in blue, is originally Samantha´s and named after her mother. The doll is quite expensive and Samantha earns the money to buy her with chores, but later gives her to Nellie as a farewell present. Samantha later gets the Nutcracker doll for Christmas. There were two versions of the Nutcracker doll, with the first one perhaps looking a bit more like an authentic turn of the century doll.






By now, wax dolls which had been so common in the early and mid Victorian years were scarcely made, as manufactures realised the benefits of china, though makers such as Pierotti did continue the tradition for a couple more decades. This was really the era of the bisque doll. Source

In 1905, the first Bleuette dolls were given free to those who had placed an order for a year’s subscription to the French magazine La Semaine de Suzette before its first publication. The magazine had patterns and crafts for Bleuette in every issue. Bleuette was produced until 1957 in bisque and composition, and is very popular with collectors today, although she was unknown in the US at the time. Magazines such as The Ladies Home Journal offered similar schemes with Daisy (Lettie Lane´s doll) in 1911.

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While many people still made their own rag dolls, since the 1880s, manufactured ones had become popular, as had lithographed cut-and-sew cloth panels.

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. Teddy bears first appeared in 1902-1903.


Margarete Steiff had been making stuffed toys since 1880, by 1892, the original elephants were joined by monkeys, donkeys, horses, camels, pigs, mice, dogs, cats, rabbits and giraffes. By 1903, the company had a booming European trade and began to explore the export markets. Thoughout this period dolls remained a popular Steiff product. Most Steiff doll heads are made of felt (beginning about 1894) or velvet, but some rubber heads are known. Bodies were of felt stuffed with cork dust. Steiff made a mulitude of character dolls, including ethnic models such as Eskimo and Chinese dolls as well as children, cowboys and sailors.

Golliwogg was a children’s book rag doll character in the late 19th century which was widely reproduced as a toy (but is considered a racist caricature now).

First created in 1863, celluloid was a popular material to make items as diverse as jewelry and dolls from the 1870s through the 1930s. One of the first synthetic plastics ever created, it is a plastic created from wood products that includes cellulose nitrate and camphor. Celluloid, however, was not the perfect plastic, since it is flammable and deteriorates easily if exposed to moisture, and can be prone to cracking and yellowing with certain formulations.


Early dolls had a celluloid head and limbs or partial limbs with a cloth stuffed body, this celluloid material is rather fragile.  About 1908 the material improved and the dolls were then made entirely of celluloid, and were now more durable


These dolls are typical for the so-called “Betty Boop” types made in the 1920s.

In the 1920s and 1930s  Japan cornered the market in mass production.   In the 1940s the USA outlawed the use of celluloid for dolls, however, other countries continued to use the material as late as the 1950s. Celluloid dolls were plentiful, since celluloid was easily molded and generally inexpensive, the vast majority were produced from 1900 through the 1940s.

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Nearly every type of doll has been made in celluloid – Kewpies, French Fashion dolls, baby dolls, national costume dolls, and many others. By the late 1930s and 1940s, however, most of the celluloid-made dolls were cheaply made as either carnival prizes or National Costume Dolls.


Rebecca, 1914 – no doll was made for Rebecca, but both Russian nesting dolls and Kewpie dolls are mentioned in her stories.


The very first set of nesting dolls.

Nesting dolls, or Matryoshka dolls are traditional Russian dolls, consisting of a set of hollow wooden figures which open up and nest inside each other. They typically portray traditional peasants and the first set was carved and painted in 1890.


Kewpie is a brand of dolls and figurines that were initially conceived as comic strip characters by artist and writer Rose O’Neill. The illustrated cartoons, appearing as baby cupid characters, began to gain popularity after the publication of O’Neill’s comic strips in 1909, and O’Neill began to illustrate and sell paper doll versions of the Kewpies. The characters were first produced as bisque dolls in Waltershausen, Germany beginning in 1912, and became extremely popular in the early twentieth century. Composition versions were introduced in the 1920s and celluloid versions were manufactured in the following decades. In 1949, Effanbee created the first hard plastic versions of the dolls, and soft rubber and vinyl versions were produced by Cameo Co. and Jesco between the 1960s and 1990s.

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Two 1915 -1925 Anns

Raggedy Ann was created by Johnny Gruelle in 1915 as a doll, and was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories. Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls have been continuously made by various companies since.


1940s Ann and Andy, and a 1960s – 1980s Ann


Googlies, 1912

The very first Googly dolls (also referred to as Googlies) were produced from about 1912 onward, and were mostly made by German doll companies. Most bisque antique Googly dolls were made from 1915 through 1925. However, even today, dolls with oversized, side-glancing eyes can be referred to as Googlies.


The Campbell Kids were first used as part of an advertisement for the Campbell Soup Company in 1904. The kids were created by Grace Drayton, a popular illustrator of the day, who also created the Dolly Dingle paper dolls. Campbell Kids were originally drawn as average boys and girls, but they later were dressed for special activities like sailing or football or working as police officers. The kids were used in magazine and newspaper ads until about 1951. They appeared again in ads in 1966; and in 1983 they were redesigned with a slimmer, more contemporary look. Dolls were produced from ca. 1914, and were very popular in the 1940s.


In 1910, Kathe Kruse made her first dolls. They sold like hot cakes and soon after, she received a commission for several hundred dolls to be shipped to America.

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Boudoir Dolls, Bed Dolls, Flapper Dolls or Sofa Dolls as they are referred to, were used to decorate “beds & sofas”, which is where they got their name. 

These dolls were not meant to be played with, but to be displayed or as decoration, which today we have replaced with a mountain of pillows. Made from about 1915 to the 1930s, these dolls usually have cloth bodies with elongated legs, heads can be of various materials; composition, mask faced, often with painted facial features, some have partial composition limbs which will help with dating.  Clothing can be very elaborate, high quality material, (it’s the clothing that matters the most on these dolls – if the clothing is missing they lose about half of their value) and many have high heel feet. 

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Founded in 1918 in Turin, Italy by Elena Scavini (her nickname was Lenci), Ars Lenci, as the firm was called, excelled in pressed-felt dolls. Some were made of hollow cardboard that was covered by the dense cloth. Others were stuffed. All were crowned by heads of human hair or mohair and featured meticulously painted, expressive faces. In particular, the dolls were known for their pouty lips and sideways-glancing eyes.The Art Deco period was the heyday for Lenci. Between the wars, Lenci made numerous lines.  The Boudoir dolls are one of the most collectible types of Lenci dolls from this period. They were often modeled after famous celebrities, including Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich in 1926, Rudolph Valentino in 1927, and Louise Brooks in 1930. Marlene Dietrich was also a Lenci doll collector—she used several of them as props in her 1930 classic “The Blue Angel.”

Madame Alexander is a brand of American collectible dolls introduced in 1923. Madame Alexander first produced Lenci-type and other cloth dolls, then branched out into other materials. During the late 1930s, her dolls based on the British Princess Elizabeth were very popular.

In 1922, doll designers reached a new level of realism with the Bye-Lo baby, a doll crafted to look like a three-day-old newborn.


Kit and Ruthie, 1934 – Aviator rag doll (Amelia Earhart)

Kit´s doll was hand-made by her best friend Ruthie.


During the 1920’s and 1930’s, many artists and crafts people published books and patterns for making rag dolls.

One of them was Edith Flack Ackley,whose first book appeared in 1929. In 1934 Edith Flack Ackley released doll kits which included unbleached muslin with the doll pattern stamped on the fabric, along with instructions and patterns for the doll’s clothing. This doll was to have yarn hair and embroidered features. Kit´s aviator doll resembles an Edith Flack Ackley doll.


Other dolls that were popular in the 1930s:


Vogue Dolls imported Armand Marseille´s Just Me from Germany from 1925. The doll was very popular and inspired Effanbee´s Patsy doll, first sold in 1928. Patsy was one of the first dolls to have a manufactured wardrobe just for her but other manufacturers sold not only accessories but clothing as well. Patsy was made of all composition, her patent was hotly defended by Effanbee® and what was actually patented was a neck joint that allowed the doll to pose and stand-alone. Patsy was so popular she soon had several sisters in sizes from 5 ¾ inches to 29 inches, many factory variations and even a boyfriend, Skippy.

In 1932, Shirley Temple began her film career at the age of 4. Shirley Temple dolls were very popular in the 1930s and 1940s.


The Dionne Quintuplets, born in 1934, were the first quints to survive their infancy. They were also popular as doll characters.

While bisque dolls were still being made, most dolls were composition or hard plastic at the time.


The NancyAnn company produced their first storybook dolls in 1936. The first ones were made of bisque, after 1948, they were made of plastic.

These small dolls portrayed characters from fairy tales, nursery rhymes and children´s books.


The 1930s also saw the proliferation of drink and wet dolls such as Betsy-Wetsy and the Dy-Dee doll.


In 1925, Mary Hoyer started out business  as a yarn and craft shop. Mary designed knitted goods for infants and children and later added a slim doll that could model her clothes along with a pattern book, this doll was supplied through an agreement with Ideal. Around 1937 Mary commissioned a sculpt for her own doll, a composition doll, that was produced by the Fiberoid Doll Products Co. in New York, for the Hoyer company. After 1946 the Mary Hoyer dolls were made of hard plastic and could also be bought, dressed and sold by other doll makers, under different names. The Mary Hoyer type dolls were slightly older girls with a characteristic oval face.


Arranbee produced a similar doll called Debu´teen (from Debutante and teen), and Ideal produced their own Toni. These dolls were popular well into the 1950s. While they between 14″ and 18″ tall, smaller, similar dolls were offered as cheap Dress Me- /Souvenir- or Tourist dolls.




Molly and Emily, 1944 – nurse doll (Katharine)

Molly´s nurse doll was sent to her from England by her dad.


Miss Curity was a famous nurse character and advertising figure for band-aids and other first aid items in the 1940s and 1950s.


A 1940s nurse doll


1940s hard plastic nurse doll


Dressed dolls in the 1940s often had a military theme. Regional costumes were also popular.