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A doll is an object that represents a baby or other human being. Dolls have been around since the dawn of human civilization, and have been fashioned from a vast array of materials, ranging from stone, clay, wood, bone, cloth and paper, to porcelain, china, rubber and plastic.
A porcelain doll from the Czech Republic

While dolls have traditionally been toys for children, they are also collected by adults, for their nostalgic value, beauty, historical importance or financial value. In ancient times, dolls were used as representations of a deity, and played a central role in religious ceremonies and rituals. Lifelike or anatomically correct dolls are used by health professionals, medical schools and social workers to train doctors and nurses in various health procedures or investigate cases of sexual abuse of children. Artists sometimes use jointed wooden mannequins in drawing the human figure. Action figures representing superheroes and their predecessors, action dolls, are particularly popular among boys. Baby dolls, paper dolls, talking dolls, fashion dolls - the list is almost endless.


Porcelain dolls from the 1870s
Archaeological evidence places dolls as foremost candidate for oldest known toy, having been found in Egyptian tombsmarker which date to as early as 2000 BCE. In Egypt, as well as Greece and Rome, it was common to find them in the graves of children. Most were made of wood, although pottery dolls were buried with children from wealthier families. Dolls with movable limbs and removable clothing date back to 200 BCE.

Roman doll-makers continued to use technology developed by the Egyptians and Greeks, but in line with the artistic sensibilities of their culture, they were constantly trying to make dolls more elegant and beautiful. One doll, found near Pratimarker in Rome, was made of ivory and lay beside her owner who had died at the age of eighteen. Next to the doll was a small box, also made of ivory, containing tiny combs and a silver mirror. The doll had rings on her fingers and held a tiny key, which unlocked the box. Like children today, the younger members of Roman civilization would have dressed and undressed their dolls, and decorated their hair and fingers according to the latest fashions.

Europe later became the center of dollmaking. In the United States, dollmaking became an industry in the 1860s, after the Civil War. The development of plastics after World War II led to the manufacture of new types of dolls and brought down their price.

Today, the Internet has introduced virtual dolls which can be designed, dressed up, and played with on web sites such as Stardoll, which has 17 million members.

Dolls over the ages have been made from every conceivable material: bisque, celluloid, china, clay, cloth, corn husks, paper, plastic, polymer clay, porcelain, resin, rubber, vinyl, wax, wood, bone, ivory, papier-mâché, leather and more.

Gender differences

In Western society, a gender difference in the selection of toys has been observed and studied. Action figures that represent traditional masculine traits are popular with boys, who are more likely to choose toys that have some link to tools, transportation, garages, machines and military equipment. Dolls for girls tend to represent feminine traits and come with such accessories as clothing, kitchen appliances, utensils, furniture and jewelry

Doll hospitals

Repair and restoration of antique and other dolls is carried out at doll hospitals, many of which have been operating for decades.Henri Launay, who has been repairing dolls at his shop in northeast Paris for 43 years, says he has restored over 30,000 dolls in the course of his career. Most of the clients are not children, but adults in their 50s and 60s.

Collectors' items

Antique dolls have become collector's items. Nineteenth-century bisque dolls made by French manufacturers such as Bru and Jumeau may be worth almost $22,000 today.

Dolls as art

Dolls have always been created as folk art in cultures around the globe, and in the 20th century, dolls began to be accepted as high art. Artist Hans Bellmer made surrealistic dolls that had interchangeable limbs in 1930s and 1940s Germanymarker as opposition to the Nazi party's idolization of a perfect Aryan body. East Village artist Greer Lankton became famous in the 1980s for her theatrical window displays of drug addicted, anorexic and mutant dolls.

Notable types of dolls

Festivals and exhibits

Doll museums and collections

See also


  1. It's a Doll's Life, Ariel Hirschfeld, Haaretz
  2. Old Soldiers Never Die, New York Times
  3. A History of Dolls
  4. Doll Hospital - Restoration and Repair
  5. Henri Launay, French doctor to dolls - International Herald Tribune
  6. Henri Launay, French doctor to dolls - International Herald Tribune
  7. It's a Doll's Life, Ariel Hirschfeld, Haaretz
  8. Greer Lankton

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