Early Dolls: Wood, Papier-Mache & Peddlers

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Germany established its preeminence in the doll making industry. Carved wooden dolls were made in great numbers and bundled up by salesmen who peddled them all over Europe. Wooden dolls were also being made in England and France, and it is the English ones which are perhaps the best documented. These 18th century dolls usually had the head and torso carved of one piece, flat backs, on which the bark of the tree was sometimes left, and inset glass eyes. Eyebrows and eyelashes were painted with stylized dots.

A second type of early doll was made with a head of papier-mache, a composition material of paper pulp with a mixture of size (paste, oils, resins or other substances). These heads were molded, and a stuffed body was attached to the hollow shoulders. Wooden arms and legs were joined to the body, with strips of colored paper hiding the junction. These were sometimes called “Queen Adelaide” because of the hair style.

Another kind of doll popular in England during the 18th and early 19th centuries was the peddler. At this time peddlers, or “Notion Nannies”, were a common sight in England. They traveled around by foot bringing to villages various household goods as well as news and gossip from other places. The dolls, usually made of wood, were dressed as these women were, in cloak and bonnet, and aprons, over which they held a large tray filled with all kinds of merchandise in miniature. Today these peddler dolls serve as little documents of social history, telling us a great deal about the kinds of things of things used by housewives of long ago.