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THE SODA FOUNTAIN A Scoop of Pop Culture

Following the Paper Doll Trail The study of dolls is the study of mankind. Lord Thomas Babbington Macauley, 1800-1859 Some of the most wonderful childhood memories focus on figures of the imagination – the toys that offered hours of enjoyment and occasions for creative play. Adults are often inclined to collect the playthings they spent quality time with in their youth, so the pursuit of dolls and military miniatures are two of the most popular pastimes in the world. Given that this feature will deal with 2-dimensional dolls rather than their 3D counterparts think of it as Flat Stanley Ousts Monsters vs. Aliens. (See Repartee for Two: Rules of Engagement on page 16 for a look at the abovementioned “boy toys.”) Figures made of paper have existed in many cultures for centuries. Uncostumed examples were used during ancient Asian ritual ceremonies and jointed jumping-jack figures called “pantins” were all the rage in France during the mid-1700s. But, the early costumed paper dolls of Europe were a product of the fashion capitals of London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Providing adult entertainment for the wealthy, these hand-painted dolls not only showcased stylish apparel, but sometimes illustrated political and social personalities. (Beautiful vintage examples of this type can be found at The Winterthur Museum in Delaware, MD and the John Greene Chandler Memorial Museum in South Lancaster, MA.) Paper was a not a resource to be wasted during pioneer times, so few American children had the luxury of paper toys until mass manufacturing began in the 1800s. Although paper dolls were hugely popular in our country from the 1930s through the 1950s, they went out of vogue thereafter. These aesthetically-pleasing examples of ephemera have made a trendsetting comeback and are once again widely-collected and highlyprized. This may be attributed to the vast number of aging “Boomer Girls” who want to revisit the safe haven of their childhood, or perhaps this unanticipated revival typifies a new appreciation of the simpler things of life in confusing times. Garage sales and flea markets are scoured for fashionable finds; hobby groups and web sites are filled with chic antique chatter. There are even virtual paper doll sites – a wonderful way to lure a young lady of the new millennium to the collecting fold. The devotees at the upcoming Vegas Visions 2009 International Paper Doll Convention in Las Vegas would undoubtedly agree that there are as many types of collections as there are collectors, and, like most compilations, can have a specific focus or encompass an eclectic mix. Vintage, reproduction re-issues, and new-created dolls allow collectors to select the type and price that most suits their interest and budget. (See

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Paper Doll Particulars at right for collection categories and tips on care.) Documentary film maker, Andrea Niapas of Ligonier, feels paper dolls have great potential as the subject for a future film project. She explains, “When I think about Americana I think about apple pie, baseball and paper dolls. Yes, paper dolls! They have been cut out of books and magazines for generations. Great-grandmothers and greatgranddaughters can bond while they share and compare their thoughts on the people, historical events and trends in fashion their collections represent.” Joan DeRose and fellow collector Hazel Booher recently hosted Vintage Paper Dolls: Memories of Childhood Play and Records of Popular Culture at Redstone Highlands in Greensburg. (The “show and tell” presentation and tea luncheon was sponsored by the Westmoreland County Historical Society, which has been celebrating its 100 th anniversary during 2008/2009.) The historical and socio-cultural significance of paper dolls was discussed, as well as their status as iconic fashion statements. Each speaker gave an overview of her personal collection and related anecdotes about her displayed keepsakes. Sharing her learning and insights, Joan answered several questions about her fragile loves for the Laurel Mountain Post.

people in them are all created by manufacturers. As children we cut out the paper dolls, matched skirts with blouses, and dresses with purses, hats and jackets. We staged the fashion

LMP: Who tops the best-dressed list in your “gal pal” collection?

shows and played out other fantasies with paper movie and television stars, families and children. Keeping these memories of creative childhood play alive is a wonderful way for women of all ages to come together. I was so very happy to see a young woman of only 9 years old at the program and find that she loves to play with paper dolls. One of the much older ladies at the program brought in backgrounds of landscapes and home interiors cut out of very old magazines that she had used as stage sets for her paper doll shows. What wonderful memories were stirred, as I had done the very same thing! LMP: Do you feel, as some, that the original Barbie doll first seen in 1959 is responsible for the demise of the Golden Age of Paper Dolls (approx. 1930-1960)?

Joan DeRose and paper doll personal faves - Doris and Bonnie!

LMP: What are your thoughts on keeping the memories of creative childhood play alive? JD: I think the key word in your question is creative. So many of the toys on the market today require little imaginative creativity since the worlds and the

and includes clothes from layette to toddler. While I don’t remember my first year, I have wonderful photos picturing me and my family from that time. These little dolls add color and depth to those black and white images. Doris Day represented the aspirations (somewhat misguided as time would tell!) of many girls growing up in the 50s.

JD: That is certainly what many of the articles I have read mention as part of the beginning of the end for the age of paper dolls. I would say it also has to do with the mass production of many less expensive dolls and also of the growing attachment to television and all the technologies that followed. The few paper dolls produced today are reprints of old ones, artist-drawn dolls depicting celebrities or satiric renditions that make a social or political statement. They may be more sophisticated, but I think they have lost the simple charm that made them so appealing. LMP: Which paper dolls do you consider your “dream dolls?” JD: Nostalgia for the 40s and 50s is the main reason I collect paper dolls. So, my Bonnie’s First Year set, which was produced the year I was born, and my Doris Day dolls are among my very favorites. The set, consisting of six baby dolls at various stages of development, follows a child through her first year

JD: It’s really difficult for me to pick among all my movie star dolls, but I must say that Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor seem to have been given the best fashions to wear by the unnamed paper doll artists. I think the best-dressed dolls in my collection are the toddlers of paper doll artist Queen Holden. These darling children have complete and detailed outfits that are beautifully drawn and show the care with which mothers dressed their children in the 1930s. LMP: As the coordinator of the Museum Shop at Historic Hanna’s Town, do you plan to expand the selection of paper dolls available there? JD: Since the program Hazel and I presented as part of the WCHS lecture series, we have expanded our selection at the Museum Shop. We have always offered paper dolls of the Colonial era, including George Washington’s family. To complement the paper dolls of our first president, we have just added a book of paper dolls featuring the Obama Family. Our selection now includes Queen Holden paper dolls, reprints of Shirley Temple and reproductions of several movie star dolls (e.g. June Allyson, Grace Kelly) as well. ***** Indulge your passion for fashion and consider paper dolls as a collection possibility. These tender treasures are unlike some people we know – you can dress ‘em up and you can take ‘em out…over and over again! Visit Historic Hanna’s Town Museum Shop at 809 Forbes Trail Road in Greensburg. Hours of operation are WedSat 10 am-4pm and Sun 1pm-4pm. For more information call 724-836-1800 x 15 (or 724-836-1961 during shop hours). Perhaps you can buy a paper doll to call your own! To learn about Westmoreland County Historical Society and Historic Hanna’s Town visit or call 724-836-1800. – Story & Photos by Barbara M. Neill


Laurel Mountain Post July-August 2009  

A Magazine from the Heart of Western Pennsylvania

Laurel Mountain Post July-August 2009  

A Magazine from the Heart of Western Pennsylvania