Antique Spotlight – Dolls vs. Other Amusements

Antique Spotlight – Dolls vs. Other Amusements
This is the fourth in a series of antique spotlights focusing on dolls. Each article will feature a museum to visit that currently has dolls on display!

Despite adults believing that dolls were a favorite toy among girls, one contemporary survey showed that less than 25% of girls said dolls were their "favorite toy." Few diaries of the time even mention dolls. In 1896, TR Crosswell asked almost 2000 children to specify their play preferences. While 621 girls said they owned dolls, only 233 considered dolls their favorite pastime. In fact, many girls said they preferred to play outdoors, neglecting their dolls.

In spite of the possibility that girls might not play with their dolls as much as adults believed, the doll industry flourished in the Victorian era. Short stories about dolls began to appear, as well as miniature books "for dolls" and books written "by dolls." Adults continued to encourage doll play as a way to learn middle-class
social conventions.

Boys and Dolls

Gender played a distinct roll in how children interacted with their dolls. Girls usually related to their dolls as mothers, but boys' dollplay was different.

Although dollplay is most closely associated with little girls, one contemporary study suggested that 76% of boys played with dolls through age 12. However, gender did play a distinct role in how children interacted with their dolls. Girls often assumed the roll of mother or friend. Boys, however, would pretend to be the doll's doctor, preacher, or undertaker.

One boy pretended he was his doll's dentist. Another shot his full of holes with a bow and arrow, so he could dress the doll's "wounds." More violent doll play among boys acted out crucifixions and executions.


Now through January 11, 2009, the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton, Ohio will be featuring their collection of antique dolls. The Keller Gallery exhibit “A Doll’s World” includes 115 dolls from the museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibit also includes 19th century French fashion dolls, apple face dolls, tiny miniature dolls, and the Dionne Quintuplets – as babies and as toddlers! Visitors will also be able to view 20th century icons like Cabbage Patch Kids, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Shirley Temple, and Chatty Baby, as well as Madame Alexander dolls representing Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, and all of the characters from The Sound of Music.

The Museum’s collection contains dolls of all shapes and sizes. Dolls made of porcelain, bisque, cloth, wood, poured wax, paper mache, and composite materials will be included. The oldest doll featured is from the 1840s.

For more information about the history of dolls and play, check out these books! I used both recently to create a doll exhibit at my museum.

You Should Also Read:
Antique Spotlight -- Early American Dolls
Antique Spotlight -- Dolls in the Victorian Age
Antique Spotlight -- Limoges China

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