Paper dolls have existed as long as there have been paper and creative people to apply images to it. In France in the mid-1700s, “pantins” were all the rage in high society and royal courts. This jointed jumping-jack figure, a cross between puppet and paper doll, was made to satirize nobility.
Paper dolls as we know them first appeared in the latter half of the 18th century. A set of rare hand-painted figures dated late in the 1780s can be found in the Winterthur Museum of Winterthur, Delaware. It shows coiffures and headdresses for sale at the shop of Denis-Antoine on Rue St. Jacques, Paris. In 1791, a London advertisement proclaimed a new invention called the “English Doll.” It was a young female figure with a wardrobe of underclothes, headdresses, corset and six complete outfits. At about three shillings for a complete doll and wardrobe–plus an envelope to store her in–dressmakers could afford to own several sets and distribute these dolls among their favorite customers. Dolls like these were also sold in Germany and France.
In 1810, the London firm of S. & J. Fuller & Company printed the first commercially popular paper doll, Little Fanny, with a 15-page book that included seven figures and five hats. Fanny’s head & neck were separate, and fitted into various outfits as the moral tale, The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures, was told. At five to eight shillings for each book, their primary audience included wealthy families.
The success of Little Fanny was followed two years later in America, when J. Belcher printed a paper doll with a similar moral tale, The History and Adventures of Little Henry. Within ten years, boxed sets of paper dolls were popular playthings for children in Europe and America.
For the full text of this article, visit The Art of Fashion Plates and Paperdolls in our History section
While there are several artists who have created paperdolls based on Jane Austen’s Characters, it is also possible to print your own Regency styled paperdolls right off the internet. One of these dolls, A Regency Lady of Quality was drawn by Helen Page in 1989. You can click on the photograph for all eight full colour, printable pages to cut and enjoy.
We also have a tiny Regency doll for you to dress at our giftshop. She is very sweet and only £3 – click here!
It would, of course, be impossible to forget to mention Tom Tierney’s wonderful collection of historical paperdolls. Many of his books feature Regency Fashions (also known as Empire in France and Federalist in the United States) Along with period fashions, the fashions of noted political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison and Napoleon Bonouparte can be found in his collections.
Laura Boyle has an extensive collection of historical paperdolls. She runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe.