Leave it to Karen: Paper Toys

Greeting cards, stamps, paper money, post cards, correspondence and stock certificates aren’t the only paper products appealing to collectors in today’s antiques market. Paper toys enjoy a unique place in toy history and in the hearts of a dedicated group of collectors. Although the hobby began with paper dolls, and they represent the largest segment of paper toys produced, a variety of subjects have been offered as paper toys including soldiers, doll houses, furniture, and vehicles.

American Paper Toy History
Widely accepted as the first set of paper toys produced commercially in America, “The History and Adventures of Little Henry, exemplified in a series of Figures” was published by J. Belcher of Boston, Mass., in 1812. The set was a toy book containing removable costumes and a removable head with neck tab that was inserted into the pocket at the back of each costume to form a paper doll. Most toy books of the period contained illustrations bound within the pages and did not feature cutout figures.
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D.A. Patcher & Co. released cardboard toys of remarkable quality during World War II through its “Bild-A-Set” line. Their Fast Freight set contains 217 pieces that could be assembled into a complete freight train set. You can find a complete set for $90-$100.
Photo courtesy Ron Bacon

The inspiration for future paper dolls was the 1854 boxed-set masterpiece, “Fanny Gray, A History of Her Life, Illustrated by Six Colored Figures.” Published by Crosby, Nichols & Co. of Boston, the set contained a booklet entitled, “Fanny Gray, a History of Her Life,” in which we learn Fanny’s remarkable story as told through verse. The publishers noted that they “have spared no expense upon any part of the work, being desirous to present a beautiful specimen of printing in color.”

Paper toy publication occurred in limited runs from a number of small companies in the early 1800s, until mass production arrived courtesy of the McLoughlin Bros. John McLoughlin began his publishing firm in 1828 printing children’s stories. His brother Edmund joined the partnership in 1857 and they published their first sets of paper toys. The early series offered a variety of 24 dolls and one set of paper soldiers for boys. The success of these initial offerings established the firm as the leading publisher of children’s paper toys – a distinction the company would maintain until its sale in 1920.
Leave to Karen-2 AT 4-23.jpgPaper toys include more options than just dolls. Here is Rigby’s “Easy to Build Models of Warplanes of the World.” It included 16 scale model airplanes, and 10 of them could actually fly. Expect to find this kit in the $95-$115 range.

Following McLoughlin’s lead, several companies mass-produced paper toys for the American market including Saalfield, Merrill and Whitman. Paper dolls became regular features in ladies’ magazines and enjoyed broad popularity courtesy of advertisers who used them to hawk everything from tobacco to baking powder. The success of character toys led to the production of character paper toys as well, and these are some of the most desirable pieces in the hobby today.

Collecting Paper Toys
Though paper toy collectors have adopted the Internet as a method of communication, they tend to prefer face-to-face contact when making significant additions to their collections. Leave to Karen-3 AT 4-23.jpgThe annual Paper Doll Convention and numerous luncheons held around the country are the most popular venues for enthusiasts.

One of the most popular paper doll manufacturers was Saalfield. Their Little Women paper doll book is an affordable favorite, $35.

The collecting community exchanges information through several newsletters (most published quarterly), which is no surprise considering its affinity for paper, but has also embraced online technologies to maximize contact. Many artists releasing new paper dolls are active on the Internet, and you can find links to their work on the Web site of the Original Paper Doll Artist’s Guild (www.opdag.com).

Jim Faraone, publisher of the quarterly newsletter Paper Doll Pal, shared some excellent collecting tips.

When making new additions to your collection, Faraone recommends seeking out complete sets in good condition whenever possible, “That’s the ideal way to go, but knowing how budgets can go at times, it’s best to get what you like no matter the completeness or condition of it.”
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Paper doll collectors have to compete with Dick Tracy fans for this Baby Sparkle Plenty paper dolls book. $50.

A stable hobby, the world of paper toys appears to be immune to the wild pricing fluctuations of hobbies that ebb and flow with the latest “hot” trends.

“The world of paper dolls is not a fast growing collectible,” Faraone explained. “There is a secondary market, but at times it doesn’t bring back in what you paid for the item. In today’s world, the (new) paper dolls are so over-produced that I don’t see any of these paper toys going up in value – even some companies like Dover have stopped producing paper dolls and paper toys. That’s why I always believe in collecting because you enjoy something and not collecting just to make a profit down the road. If a collectible goes up in the future, then you have a bonus, but if it doesn’t, you still win because you purchased something that you love.”

Leave to Karen-5 AT 4-23.jpgStill popular in the 1960s, paper dolls changed with the times and fashions. This 1964 set from Lowe, Sally and Jane, included a variety of “hair-dos” as well as clothes. Today, it’s valued at $40.

Networking with other collectors often leads to acquiring your most desired pieces, and paper toy collectors are very adept at blending new technology with proven collecting techniques.

“Searching the Internet for paper toys can be interesting, but sometimes going to a show and seeing the items in person is the best way to go,” Faraone advised. “Get out there and meet other collectors. At times that’s where your best finds come from. The best tip I have is to collect what you enjoy… what makes your heart sing… what gets you excited… and you’ll never go wrong.”

Stay Informed

Several informative newsletters serve the paper toy collecting community. Here is the contact information for some of the most popular.

Paper Doll Pal
Jim Faraone
19109 Silcott Springs Rd.
Purcellville, VA 20132
published quarterly

Paper Doll News
Emma Terry
P.O. Box 807
Vivian, LA 71082
published quarterly

Cornerstones: A Paper Doll Journal
Deanna Williams (editor)
733 de la Fuente
Monterey Park, CA 91754
published quarterly

Paperdoll Review
P.O. Box 14
Kingfield, ME 04947
(207) 265-2500

Original Paper Doll Artist’s Guild
An excellent website with links to a variety of paper doll artists and information.

Paper Doll Bulletin Board
A website intended as a message board for collectors.

Paper Toy Conventions

An ideal way to network with other paper toy collectors is to attend the annual convention or one of the many regional luncheons. Here are a few events happening in 2008:

2008 International Paper Doll Convention
August 6-10, 2008
Embassy Suites in Piscataway, NJ
For information, contact:
Linda Ocasio
96 Minell Place
Teaneck, NJ 07666
(201) 862-1597

Southeastern Paper Doll Collectors
10th Annual Paper Doll Party
April 12, 2008
Holiday Inn Express in Summerville SC
For information, contact:
Jean Sullivan
320 Shaftesbury Lane
Summerville SC 29485-8557
(843) 832-9649

The Heart Remembers,
May 3, 2008
Lubbock, TX
Evie Fullingim
4807-87th St.
Lubbock, TX 79424.
(806) 783-0230.
This new paper doll club will meet bi-monthly with the first meeting at the home of Evie Fullingim, at 2:30pm for tea, talk and optional trading.

Marian B. Howard, Those Fascinating Paper Dolls, (Dover Publications, 1980)

Lagretta Metzger Bajorek, America’s Early Advertising Paper Dolls, (Schiffer, 1999)

Karen O’Brien, O’Brien’s Collecting Toys 12th Edition, (Krause Publications, 2008)