A Short History of Dolls

December 26, 2012    |    By +
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Dolls have been around for millennia, with the first appearing a staggering 15,000 years ago. Since then, they have been, bought, collected and given as gifts to people of all ages for a variety of different cultural and customary reasons. Here is a short history of dolls, explaining some of the interesting and unusual traditions that have surrounded them along the years.

Ancient Times

Unbelievably, dolls have been around for almost as long as human civilization itself and have been used as playthings for the same amount of time. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that ancient Egyptian and Greek children were playing with dolls made from clay and wood over 4000 years ago. Archaeologists have also discovered that Roman children loved to dress their dolls up in the fashions of the time, much like children of today. Dolls were usually given to children as gifts by members of their family and Greek and Roman girls would keep the gifts until they got married, when they would dedicate the doll to a god or goddess of their choosing.

A Growing Tradition

In the past thousand years, dolls have developed from simple toys into the items of cultural importance they are today. Peg wooden dolls became a popular gift for poorer families to give their children in Germany and Holland during the 16th century. Dolls started to become gifts that were treasured and retained for a long time by their owners. Native American dolls called Kachina Dolls emerged in the 1860’s, they were meant to be extremely important personal possessions, looked after and studied by adults, not idols to worship or children’s toys. The Latin American tradition of Quinceañera also became popular around this time, where a girl is given “la última muñeca” or, “the last doll” on her 15th birthday to signify her transition from childhood to womanhood.

The Industrial Revolution

Dolls began to be mass-produced as a commercial industry and the first enthusiasts started their doll collections. The first dolls made of porcelain appeared in Germany and these, known as “China Dolls” became extremely popular, selling in their millions. The period also saw a shift from companies mainly producing dolls representing adults to a large number of dolls of children and babies. These became the gift of choice for small children across Europe. At the same time, realistic wax dolls became very popular presents in Victorian England.

The Modern Era

The 20th century saw a huge development in the culture and traditions surrounding dolls. Fashion dolls, which children could dress in the latest clothing styles, became a phenomenon. The first Barbie doll was produced in 1959 and instantly went to the top of every little girl’s Christmas list. Most were now made from either plastic or acrylic, making them cheaper and more durable. Some dolls now have their own franchises, providing fans with products such as clothing, stationary, films and video games which are now all given as gifts alongside the dolls themselves. The internet brought about a new era for dolls, with online dress-up games produced for children, where they can dress a character on-screen with a wide variety of different clothing.

Importance of Dolls as Gifts

As you can see, much of history of the doll is surrounded by the idea of giving them as gifts, from the traditional la última muñeca, which is presented to Latin American girls on their 15th birthday to the huge merchandise and gift market surrounding commercially successful doll franchises in the 21st century, dolls have always been related to as something special to share with loved ones and it’s probably this tradition that gives them such appeal as gifts.

A Girl For All Time provide award-winning dolls, novels and keepsake books that bring the past to life with cool fashions, exciting stories and original activities to share with friends and family.

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Kathryn D.W.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is the senior manager of content at Gifts.com. She was formerly the executive editor at Honolulu Magazine, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu. Her career has included staff positions at Country Living Gardener and Power & Motoryacht. Her latest book is "Hawaii's Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!"

Gwen P.
Gwen is the Editorial Curator at Gifts.com. In addition to writing blogs, she creates gift guides, curates the site, and produces content for our social media channels. As a freelance writer, she created blogs on fashion, art, travel, health and lifestyle. A talented jewelry designer, she's also a yogi and a hospital volunteer with her therapy dog, Lilo, a Pomeranian.