Paper Dolls

by Richard McKinstry

Genealogical research reveals that the ancestor of today's paper dolls were pantins, first popular in France during the mid-1700s. Pantins were cardboard human figures whose limbs came detached, later to be fastened to the torso with string. Children and adults would then make them dance or otherwise perform. Louis XV banned them, according to his edict, because he was afraid that women, "under the lively influence of this continual jumping, were in danger of bringing children into the world with twisted limbs like the pantins." In time, paper dolls developed as a way for children to amuse themselves and for grownups to discover what the current fashion trends were. Many were handmade; others came from commercial printers. During America's Gilded Age, paper doll production markedly increased, and such firms as McLoughlin Bros., Dennison Manufacturing Company, and F.A. Stokes Company created countless paper doll figures. In the late twentieth century, paper dolls were customarily made to portray public figures, especially movie and television stars and other people in public life.

This article first appeared in Ephemera News or The Ephemera Journal, publications of The Ephemera Society of America, Inc.

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