Game of the Month: Playing with Dolls

by Dagonell the Juggler

The illustration accompanying this article is a detail from Brueghel's "Children's Games" which was painted in 1560.

There have been dolls for as long as there have been children. We find wooden dolls with beaded strings of hair in Egyptian graves from the third millenium B.C. and passing references to little girls making doll clothes in Greek literature.

The oldest surviving examples of European dolls date from mid-fourteenth century in Nuremberg, Germany. The dolls are wooden and painted. The doll clothes match those of paintings from the same time period indicating that dolls were dressed in the daily clothes of the time. In the painting detail, it can be seen that the doll on the left is an identical match for the girl on the right.

One interesting detail of these dolls is that they have a hollow chest cavity. It's been speculated that this was for a small gift like a piece of candy or a coin when the doll is given as a present. Some dolls had the arms attached with pegs, allowing for some limited movement. Most were simply one piece of wood.

Nuremberg city records list not only individual doll-makers, but dollmaking guilds which regulated the manufacture and sale of dolls. This indicates that doll-making was not just something a father did for his daughter, but a thriving industry.

Part of the reason for this was the women's fashion industry. Fashion dolls were often exchanged by the queens of England and France from the 1300's on. Until the invention of colored printing plates in the 1700's, dolls were the means by which fashions, particularly the French fashions, were distributed, even to the American colonies. It should be noted that fashion dolls were exempt from embargoes throughout this entire time period, even during the various wars and conflicts of the period.

On the shelves behind the children can be seen another doll, a doll-sized crib with a baby doll within and several pieces of miniature furniture. Ironically, this may be the earliest known reference to doll furniture. The earliest known doll house was a gift to Albert V Duke of Bavaria, in the sixteenth century and it was intended as a opulent display piece. While other 'doll houses' as works of art are known of, dollhouses apparently didn't become popular as children's toys until the Victorian era.

Bibliography

Dolls' Clothes Pattern Book
1 Copyright (1987): Roselyn Gadia-SmitleA
y Publisher: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., NY

Bluebird Gardens Quilts and Collectibles -- History of Dolls

The Dolls House Emporium

E-bay library: Doll History