Say hello to John and Betty – Celluloid Babies

Yesterday Naomi made the long trip from Oatlands to Geeveston to bring me the dolls she had bought at the garage sale last week. She also brought a box of Barbie clothes for me to photograph which is going to be a lot of fun but I’ll write more about that later as I haven’t looked at them myself yet.

Three dolls arrived and in this post I’m going to tell you about two of them who are made of celluloid, the first celluloid dolls I’ve owned and also two of the eldest as they are a similar age to our composition Shirley Temple. Naomi transported them wrapped up in towels. It was a warm day and it is a two-hour drive from her place to mine and she was concerned that they would be exposed to too much light. In the meantime I had prepared a space in the doll room where they would be safe. Three modern porcelain dolls were transferred to another area and Pedigree Penny was banished to the top of the cabinet with some smaller more fragile dolls to make room for the new arrivals who will live in the TV cabinet with Shirley, Sweet Sue and my two big Italian dolls.


Younger readers may not be too sure what celluloid is. I won’t go into it in a lot of detail but basically it is an early form of plastic made from nitrocellulose, camphor and alcohol. It was used to make a variety of objects, household items, decorations and of course dolls. It fell out of favour when modern plastics were invented as it is very fragile and highly flammable. I read that Britain actually banned the sale of celluloid dolls in the 1960s due to their flammability. If you would like to learn a bit more about celluloid here are a couple of interesting links. By the way Celluloid was originally a brand name for the material but it became the generic term for the whole group of these plastics.

Princess Elizabeth

When Naomi sent me photos of the dolls she had bought last week I knew I had seen photos of similar dolls online. Surprisingly none of my doll books have anything about them although they were fairly common dolls in their era. The lady who Naomi bought them from is a collector and she told Naomi that the little girl doll was Princess Elizabeth. My searching on that name revealed that she was made by British company Palitoy. A Google search revealed several entries for Princess Elizabeth but most of them turned out to be links to sales on eBay or other sites. However, I do know that these dolls were made in the 1930s. The young Princess Elizabeth was a popular celebrity of her day and several companies made Princess Elizabeth dolls. I don’t think Palitoy’s version looks particularly like her but it probably wasn’t meant to. The dolls have the Palitoy mark on their backs, a circle with the word Castelloid and a number in the middle and the Palitoy name underneath. The number I think denotes the size of the doll. Princess Elizabeth is about twenty inches tall  but she has straight legs not the bent baby legs. She is a strung doll and is rather loose so I don’t think I’ll risk standing her up until I have a suitable doll stand. She is so light she seems to weigh almost nothing. She has a little dent in her nose as you can see in the photos but her worst damage that I can see is that she has two large cracks and a small hole in the back of her head. Fortunately these don’t show unless you turn her around. I have not been game to completely undress her yet so I don’t know if there are other issues. Princess Elizabeth is wearing 00 sized baby clothes, her dress is pinned at the back for a better fit but the outfit does not look too modern for her. I need to clean her face and limbs but before I do that I will do a bit of reading to see how to attempt it. At the moment I’m thinking just to wipe her with  a damp cloth dipped in dishwashing liquid or woolwash but I won’t even do that till I have checked.

Princess Elizabeth lying down.
Princess Elizabeth made by Palitoy in the 1930s.
Princess Elizabeth made by Palitoy in the 1930s.
Palitoy Mark on her back.

Baby John

When I saw his picture I thought that John might be Little John by the Japanese company Seguchi but now I’m not so sure as the markings he has are not mentioned in the description of those dolls. He has a tiny mark on his back. A diamond with a sunburst inside and made in Japan underneath. I have found several other dolls with this mark online but no mention of maker. I have seen similar dolls with different marks so perhaps pre war Japan was a bit like Hong Kong in the sixties with many factories using the same molds to create knock offs of popular dolls.  This doll is certainly from the same era, 1920s-30s. I’m still going to call him John though.

John is in good condition for his age. He has rather crudely painted eyes but no chips in the paint I can see. He is not dented but he does have crack in his head under his bonnet. He has marks on his nose and one hand where it looks as if the celluloid has flaked away and someone has glued it back on. It looks worse in photos than in real life. John is about twenty inches tall and the modern OO sized baby clothes he is wearing are a good fit. A bit big but in that “you’ll grow into it” way. Under his pants he has a huge nappy done up with a safety-pin. I remember this well from my childhood dolls and also because mum used exactly the same safety pins on us. Obviously I don’t remember my own nappy wearing days but I do remember watching mum pinning nappies on other babies and wondering how she didn’t hurt them.

John is a strung doll. His limbs move easily and he doesn’t feel too loose. I can hear something rattling inside him but I’m not going to investigate. If he is treated gently he will be fine.

Twenty inch celluloid baby doll . Sunburst in diamond mark and made in Japan on back.
Twenty inch celluloid baby doll . Sunburst in diamond mark and made in Japan on back.


Both Princess Elizabeth ( I haven’t decided whether she will be nicknamed Betty or the Queen’s childhood nickname of Lisbet yet) and John need their clothes washed and as I have a bag of clothes from the op shop to do I may do that this week. I like their outfits even though they are modern but later I may get them something more appropriate to children of their era. I hope you have enjoyed meeting these special dolls. In a future post you will meet the other Garage sale doll who is a 1960s vinyl doll. She needs a bit of a clean up and a new outfit first.

The Celluloid babies in the TV Unit


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