When we mention dolls, most people see them as nothing more than playthings. But throughout history, they have been everything but toys.
At first, dolls were used for religious and magic rituals. Their name stems from “eidolon” which is Greek for an idol. Even before polytheism, they were used by primitive societies on a day to day basis. When Christianity came around nothing really changed; dolls still played a part. Today, Jesus Crist is one of the most common and most popular dolls used in the world.
In this article, we will learn more about the history of European dolls and how they became a part of our global culture.
The surge of dolls in Europe
Like with most other items, there was a period during the Dark Ages when dolls were rather scarce. Although you can still find them in churches, they still weren’t popular items.
They experienced a real revolution during the 15th century. At this time, the Renaissance came around and lots of European countries had more money due to their colonies. The industry has also experienced a boom as fine craftsmanship became sought after.
Around the 1450s, first commercial dolls were created. They were meant to be used by children as toys. First products of this kind were rather crude; materials such as stone, wood, and bone were used. Of course, with the increase of foreign trade and bigger availability of luxury materials, the whole industry slowly started changing.
By 1700s, they become common in almost all households. Cloth dolls could be found almost anywhere while rich families had access to better, sturdier products. Everything changed with industrialization during the 19th century. For the first time ever, dolls could be mass-produced and countries such as England, France and Germany took full advantage of this trend. Porcelain, cloth, wax, and a mixture of wood were used as base materials.
Increase of high-quality craftsmanship
Slowly but surely companies started producing better and higher quality dolls. They were even regarded as high-tech at one point. The change came with pull dolls that allowed customers to control the doll’s eyes at will. There was a wire that went throughout the doll from neck to head and by pulling on this wire you could move its eyes. From this point onward, the industry has done its best to create interactive dolls such as this where you had much more freedom playing with them.
But even though they were primarily made for kids, they didn’t go unnoticed within scientific and crafting society. Doll makers were held in high regard as someone who could not only make esthetically pleasing items but could also add intricate mechanical systems.
At London’s Great Exhibition which was held in 1851, dolls took the center stage and from this point onward, they were regarded as premier items made not only for children but collectors as well.
The start of major innovations
Germans and French took the charge when it comes to the doll. German dolls, in particular, were known for their high degree of craftsmanship and intricate details. Companies Dressel and Schilling were among the top producers in the world and they relied heavily on porcelain as the main material. This is how “china dolls” came to be.
On the other hand, the French took a different approach. A company named Jumeau started making mechanical dolls that could talk while at the approximately same time Augusta Montana from England started creating miniatures of Queen Victoria’s children.
Big doll companies were vying for the European market and innovations were commonplace. In fact, due to such a big number of doll companies, we started seeing some new and intriguing approaches that shaped the doll world up to this day.
Seeing the success of dolls in Europe, the US started creating dolls of their own.
First American dolls were rather crude as craftsmen didn’t have as much skill or experience with a product. Furthermore, the materials used were rather rudimentary and artists had to rely on things such as cloth and wood.
In time, US people adapted to the market and started innovating themselves. So, we’ve seen the birth of celluloid dolls as well as rubber dolls.
Victorian lifestyle was a common topic for both American and European manufacturers. Most of the dolls were female dolls with lots of intricate details. Among other, clothing and hair were a constant source of inspiration. Doll companies did their best to replicate the style of the time with long skirts and dresses. Lace was also a very popular detail.
Dolls as collectibles
It was a matter of time until dolls became collectible items.
As previously mentioned, they had their big reveal during London’s Great Exhibition. But that wasn’t the main reason why they became popular as collectible items. Instead, diversity of styles approaches, and companies that made them were the reason why they became what they are today.
If you were rich at that time and you loved dolls, it wasn’t uncommon to buy products from various corners of Europe. In fact, some collectors were prepared to pay lots of money to get unique pieces. Naturally, dolls made in factories weren’t as popular but some of them still managed to achieve status symbol.
Today, dolls are regarded as one of the most popular collectibles in the world. There is nothing better than having a shelf full of dolls. They are definitely something that can be kept for future generations and no matter what, they don’t lose their value!