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Dolls: History and Glossary of Doll Terms

Dolls have been a part of our lives since prehistoric times. Used to depict religious figures or used as playthings, early dolls were probably made from primitive materials such as clay, fur, or wood. None have survived from prehistoric times although a fragment of an alabaster doll with movable arms from the Babylonian period has been  recovered.

Dolls constructed of flat pieces of painted wood with hair made of strings of clay or wooden beads have often been found in Egyptian graves dating back to 2000 BC. Egyptian tombs of wealthy families have included pottery dolls leading some to believe that they were highly cherished possessions.

Dolls were also buried in Greek and Roman children's graves. Girls from Greece and Rome dedicated their wooden dolls to goddesses after they were too "grown-up" to play with them anymore.

Most dolls that were found in children's tombs were very simple creations, often made from such materials as clay, rags, wood, or bone. Some of the more unique dolls were made of  ivory and wax. The main goal was to make the doll as "lifelike" as possible, which lead to the creation of dolls with movable limbs and removable garments and date back to 600 B.C.

Following this era, Europe became a major hub for doll production and were primarily made of wood. Primitive wooden stump dolls from 16th and 17th century England number less than 30 today. The Grodnertal area of Germany produced many wooden peg dolls, a type of doll that has very simple peg joints and resembles a clothespin.

An alternative to wood was developed in the 1800s called Composition. Composition is a collective term for mixtures of pulped wood or paper that were used to make doll heads and bodies. These mixtures were molded under pressure, creating a durable doll that could be mass produced. Manufacturers closely guarded the recipes for their mixtures, sometimes using strange ingredients like ash or eggshells. Papier-mache, a type of composition, was one of the most popular mixtures. 

In addition to wooden dolls, wax dolls were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Munich was a major manufacturing center for wax dolls, but some of the most distinctive wax dolls were created in England between 1850 and 1930. Wax modelers would model a doll head in wax or clay, and then use plaster to create a mold from the head. Melted wax would then be poured into the cast. The wax for the head would be very thin, no more than 3 mm. One of the first dolls that portrayed a baby was made in England from wax at the beginning of the 19th century.

Porcelain became popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Porcelain is made by firing special clays in a kiln at more than 2372 degrees Fahrenheit. Only a few clays can withstand firing at such high temperatures. Porcelain is used generically to refer to both china and bisque dolls. China is glazed, whereas bisque is unglazed. Germany, France, and Denmark started creating china heads for dolls in the 1840s. China heads were replaced by heads made of bisque in the 1860s. Bisque, which is fired twice with color added to it after the first firing looked more like skin than china did.

The French "Bebe" was popular in the 1880s, and it has become a highly sought after doll today. The Bebe, first made in the 1850s was unique from its predecessors because it depicted a young girl. Until then, most dolls were representations of adults. Although the French dolls were unrivaled in their artistry, German bisque dolls became quite popular because they were not as expensive. Kammer & Reinhardt introduced a bisque character doll in the 1900s starting a trend of creating realistic looking dolls.

For centuries, rag dolls were made by mothers for their children. Rag dolls refer generically to dolls made of any fabric. Cloth dolls refer to a subset of rag dolls made of linen or cotton. Commercially produced rag dolls were first introduced in the 1850s by English and American manufacturers. Although not as sophisticated as dolls made from other materials, rag dolls were well-loved, often as a child's first toy.

Doll making did not become an industry in the United States until after the Civil War in the 1860s. Doll production was concentrated in New England, with dolls made from a variety of materials such as leather, rubber, papier-mache, and cloth. Celluloid was developed in New Jersey in the late 1860s and was used to manufacture dolls until the mid-1950s. German, French, American and Japanese factories churned out cheaply produced celluloid dolls in mass quantities. However, celluloid fell out of favour because of its extreme flammability and propensity to fade in bright light.

After World War II doll makers experimented with plastics and hard plastic dolls were manufactured in the 1940s. They resembled composition dolls but they were much more durable. Other materials used in doll manufacturing included rubber, foam rubber and vinyl in the 1950s and 1960s. Vinyl changed doll making, allowing doll makers to root hair into the head rather than using wigs or painting the hair. Although most dolls are now mass-manufactured using these modern materials, many modern doll makers are using the traditional materials of the past.

Antique: Object of an earlier period, valued for its workmanship, beauty, or age.

Applied Ears: Ears made separately from the dolls head and applied later.

Bald Head: Dolls head with no crown opening, usually covered by a wig or painted hair.

Ball-jointed Body: A dolls body usually made of composition or papier-mache with wooden balls acting as the joints.

Bebe: French child doll with a dolly face.

Belton-type: A bald head with one to three small holes for attaching a wig to the dolls head.

Bent-limb Baby Body: A five piece composition doll body with chubby torso and curved arms and legs.

Biscaloid: Ceramic or composition type material for making dolls. Also known as imitation bisque.

Biskoline: Celluloid type material for making dolls.

Bisque: Unglazed porcelain usually flesh tinted.

Breather: A doll with open nostrils.

Brevete (or Bte): Found on French dolls to indicate that the patent is registered.

Character Doll: Dolls with bisque or composition heads that are made to look lifelike. Infants through to young ladies are normally found.

China: Glazed porcelain.

Child Dolls: Dolls that represents a child with a typical dolly face.

Composition: A doll material consisting of things such as wood pulp, glue, sawdust, rags etc.

Contemporary Clothes: Clothes not original to the doll, but dating from around the same period.

Crown Opening: The opening in the top of certain dolls heads.

DEP: Abbreviation mark used on some German and French dolls claiming registration.

D.R.G.M: Abbreviation used on some German dolls indicating a registered design or patent.

Doll: A child's toy, puppet etc. made to resemble a human being.

Dolly Face: Typical face used on bisque dolls before 1910 when the character face was developed. Dolly faces were also used after 1910.

Embossed Mark: Raised letters, numbers or names found on the backs of dolls heads or bodies. 

Feathered Eyebrows: Eyebrows painted with tiny brush strokes to give a realistic look to the doll.

Fixed Eyes: Dolls eyes that do not move or sleep.

Flange Neck: Contains holes on a ridge at the base of the dolls neck for sewing the head to a cloth body.

Flapper Dolls: Dolls from the 1920's with a bobbed wig or moulded hair and slim arms and legs.

Flirting Eyes: Dolls eyes that move from side to side.

Frozen Charlotte: A doll moulded all in one piece including the arms and legs.

Ges. (Gesch): A mark used on some German dolls to indicate the design is registered or patented.

Googly Eyes: Normally large round dolls eyes looking to the side.

Hard Plastic: used for making dolls after 1948.

Incised Mark: Impressed letters, numbers or names found on the backs of dolls heads or bodies.

Intaglio Eyes: Painted dolls eyes with sunken pupil and iris.

Kid Body: Dolls body normally made from white or pink leather.

Lady Dolls: Dolls with an adult face and body.

Mohair: Goats hair widely used for making dolls wigs.

Moulded Hair: Hair marks that are actually part of the mould and not just painted onto the dolls head.

Open-Mouth: An actual opening in the bisque between the lips.

Open/Closed Mouth: A dolls mouth made to appear open, but no actual opening in the bisque.

Original Clothes: Clothes that have always belonged to the doll.

Painted Bisque: Bisque that has been covered with a flesh coloured paint and has not been baked in. Will easily rub or wash off.

Paperweight Eyes: Realistic looking blown glass dolls eyes.

Papier-mache: A material consisting of paper pulp, glue, clay or flour.

Pink Bisque: A later pre-coloured pink bisque dating around 1920.

S.G.D.G: Mark found on French dolls to indicate that the patent is registered "without guarantee of the government".

Shoulder Head: Shoulder and head all in one piece.

Socket Head: Dolls head and neck that fit into an opening in the shoulder plate or body.

Solid-dome Head: Dolls head with no crown opening.

Stationary Eyes: Dolls eyes that do not move or sleep.

Stone Bisque: Lesser quality coarse white bisque.

Toddler Body: Normally a chubby ball-jointed composition dolls body with chunky short thighs and a diagonal hip joint.

Topsy-Turvy: Doll with two heads, one normally concealed beneath a skirt.

Vinyl: Soft plastic material used for making dolls after the 1950’s.

Wax-Over: A doll with a head and/or limbs made of composition or papier-mache and covered with a layer of wax to give a more lifelike finish.

Weighted Eyes: Dolls eyes which can be made to close (sleep) by means of a weight attached to the eyes.