doll

doll, small figure of a human being, usually used as a child's toy. The many types of dolls found among the relics of primitive peoples were cult objects. Egypt, Greece, and Rome have left well-preserved dolls of wood, clay, bone, ivory, and bronze that were used symbolically and probably also as childrens' playthings. Puppets with movable arms and legs were known in ancient Greece. Crèche dolls, some of them artistic masterpieces, were used in Roman Catholic lands in representations of the Nativity. From the 15th cent., fashion dolls were popular in Europe as gifts among monarchs and courtiers and were important in the spread of costume styles. Dolls brought to the American colonies exemplified the latest European fashions in dress and coiffure. By the 17th cent., play dolls were commonly used by both boys and girls. Sonneberg, Germany, was noted from the 17th cent. as a center for wooden dolls, and by the 19th cent. the town led also in the making of dolls' china heads. The doll industry in Paris developed dolls that could speak and close their eyes and specialized in high-fashion dolls. The use of papier-mâché early in the 19th cent. stimulated large-scale manufacture. Wood, china, and wax were also used at this time; hard rubber was introduced c.1850, and bisque c.1862. The colonial cornhusk man and the rag doll began as domestic products, but have developed into commercial popular products. Cutout paper dolls are probably derived form the animated cardboard pantins fashionable among French courtiers in the 18th cent. During the 20th cent. doll manufacturing in the United States developed into a huge industry. Dolls have served various functions throughout Asia and Africa. In Japan they are used mainly as ceremonial figures, and in India they are given to child brides. African girls are often given dolls upon reaching sexual maturity; they eventually give these dolls to their firstborn children.

See studies by R. S. Freeman (1972), C. Goodfellow (1986), M. Longenecker (1987), and M. O. Merrill (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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