Paper doll collectors remain a cut above the rest of the antique world by creating new venues for their hobby, preserving valuable history and stimulating economic growth for a maturing cottage industry tied to creating and preserving these saucy, mesmerizing cut outs.
More than 200 paper doll collectors traded snippets of history and some perky stylish paper dolls dating from the early 1800s at the 2007 International Paper Doll Convention in San Antonio, Texas, August 30 to September 2.
Joyce McClelland, a paper doll collector and Texas convention organizer, said more people are collecting paper dolls because they are easy to store and seem to be increasing in value.
“I have drawers and closets stuffed full of paper dolls from just about every era,’’ said McClelland, a member of an elite group of 10,000 eclectic collectors nationwide who have recently seen paper doll values soar to more than $16,000 for an 1841 rare set of mythological deities.
Then there was the delicately hand drawn 1790 lady and gentleman that sold for $12,000 to a European museum. Even collectors of more contemporary paper dolls are finding soaring values. Magic Princess, for example, the first paper doll set that came with its own record, which allowed little girls to hear the voice of the paper doll, is valued now at $60. It cost $1.29 in 1964.
A year later, the Walt Disney and the Whitman Publishing Company produced the Cinderella paper doll set based on the French version of the story of a servant girl who escapes her cruel stepmother and stepsisters by marrying a prince. The wonderfully enchanting paper doll set is now worth about $30. It cost 59 cents in 1965.
Still, some of the most collectible paper dolls are vintage fashion pinups from World War II.
Veteran collector Letty Schwarz is proud of her 1940s paper doll sets of Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth now worth more than $500 each.
Schwarz, who lives about 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., used to keep her paper dolls under the bed until her impish brother destroyed her beloved Gone With The Wind paper dolls more than 50 years ago.
“I recovered from the carnage by finding an original Gone With The Wind set in the late 1960s, and that got me started collecting again,’’ said Schwarz, an avid collector of antique tall clocks from the 1800s.
Much of the brisk paper doll trade is triggered by a renewed interest in crafts and traditional toys.
“People are doing more crafts and working with paper which has sparked renewed interest in paper doll collecting,’’ said Wanda Murth, an elementary school art teacher from Homestead, Pa. “I have my students make their own paper dolls and they love it. Some of my students even created paper dolls to honor the New York City firemen killed when the World Trade Towers collapsed.’’
Deanna Williams, a retired college professor from Los Angeles, Calif., said paper dolls remain popular because they continue to evolve with contemporary subjects.
Williams, who owns thousands of rare vintage paper dolls, said the growth of Internet shopping has sparked more competitive bidding for rare, vintage paper dolls.
“I was just at an auction where one paper doll set from the 1800s sold for $20,000,’’ said Elaine Price, a veteran Ohio collector. Her 20-year-old collection features rare dressmaker paper dolls from the early 1700s where paper dolls were used to model dresses for European royalty.
In this age of virtual information and electronic toys it’s easy to forget that paper dolls were not always thought of as play toys. In ancient Japan, fishermen placed paper dolls on their boats for protection. If a storm developed, they threw the dolls into the water as substitutes for the lives on board. And in Mexico, the Otomi Indian tribe cut out paper dolls from bark paper. The dolls were embellished with vegetative motifs such as corn or beans, and then buried in the fields to ensure a good crop.
The first paper dolls manufactured as playthings were created in London in 1810. They were soon exported to other countries in Europe and the United States.
In western cultures, paper dolls began to appear as advances in printing processes and the availability of factory-made paper gave rise to magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830-1898) which featured illustrations of the newest fashions with drawings of figures in the latest gowns. Printed drawings supplanted the elegant doll-size mannequins used to spread fashion trends.
Finally, in May 1951, the cover of McCall’s Magazine pictured a young girl playing with her paper doll. Inside that issue, Betsy McCall, the fashion-forward five-year-old, came to life amid the pages of a paper wardrobe. In later issues, Betsy acquired an entire paper doll family that included her mother (who remained unnamed) her father, James; cousins, Barbara, Sandy and Linda; a friend named Jimmy Weeks and her most loyal friend, a dachshund named Nosy.
“I had so much fun playing with the Betsy McCall family but I simply wore them out and now I will have to try and find an original set or buy a recreation,’’ said Sara Burridge, a travel agent from Nashville, Tenn.
Increased demand has revived paper doll publishing. Popular publications like Paperdoll Review Magazine feature articles covering a wide range of paper doll topics such as movie stars, comics, war-time and antique paper dolls. Editors Jenny Taliadoros and Marilyn Henry ply the historical waters to give subscribers of the four issue magazine insightful news and tips about paper dolls of the past and present.
Taliadoros of Kingfield, Maine also works with a handful of talented artists to reproduce some of America’s most cherished paper dolls.
“We are making the old new again,’’ said Taliadoros, whose artist mother Judy M. Johnson has tactfully re-styled a gaggle of vintage Hollywood paper doll starlets like glamorous Liz Taylor or plucky Doris Day.
Tom Tierney, one of the industry’s most famous paper doll artists, has illustrated more than 400 paper dolls, including storybook characters and world leaders like Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth I. Peers describe Tierney as a “frustrated historian.’’
Between the 1920s and 1960s several publishers produced dolls of movie stars as well as fictional characters. Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio started with Little Mary Mix-up in 1922, illustrated by R.M. Brinkerhoff. They went on to publish the immensely popular Shirley Temple paper dolls throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Other well known paper doll companies include Dover Publishing and B. Shackman & Co.
Today, magazines like Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion feature a holiday-themed paper doll in every edition.
“I don’t think paper dolls have ever gone out of style,’’ said Gene Maiden, a dealer in antique prints for more than 30 years and a paper doll collector from southern California.
Susan Smith of San Diego said she saved her paper dolls, but lost her home in the recent California fires.
Smith, a retired legal secretary, said her paper doll collecting is an extension of her love for making scrapbooks.
When asked if she has a favorite among her paper dolls she balks.
“That’s like asking which is your favorite child,’’ Smith said. She then thinks for a moment and then picks Greer Garson.
“My dad served in Gen. Patton’s famed Third Army during World War II, so I really love all the paper dolls from the 1930s and 1940s,’’ said Smith, who plans to entice her grandchildren to play with paper dolls.
“It’s our duty to pass on the nostalgia.’’
Smith also plans to attend the 2008 paper doll convention scheduled for Aug. 6-10 in Parsippany, N.J.