I consider paper dolls part of the doll collecting hobby but of course, they are also collected by lovers of ephemera and they can be part of a more specific collection revolving around a theme.
What to Buy?
Paper dolls are very fragile so collecting vintage ones can be quite an expensive hobby, especially if you would like to have dolls in mint uncut condition. It’s amazing that it is even possible to buy paper dolls that are 50 or more years old that are still like new. You might get lucky and be able to purchase old shop stock or some that have been preserved in a collection.
If you are not so fussy or just not as rich, like us, there are a couple of other options. You can often find dolls in played with condition online. The quality can vary from very good to absolutely terrible with damaged dolls and missing pieces. Naomi has bought several lots of vintage paper dolls. One lot which we wrote about a year or so back was a mixed batch, the dolls and outfits were all mixed up and as the seller had more than one lot for sale some pieces from her set ended up in one of the other lots we think. On the other hand, another seller who she bought a mixed lot from just recently took the trouble to separate each doll and her outfits into different bags.
Another option is to buy reproductions. There are several eBay sellers and small publishing houses now reprinting classic paper dolls books from publishers like Saalfield, Merrill, Whitman, etc. Some of them are exactly the same as the originals, some are slightly different sizes. Some publishers have compilation books featuring dolls and clothes from more than one issue. Modern printing techniques make these a very affordable option especially if you want to play with them. There are also publishers who create brand new paper doll books in the style of the older ones. If you have vintage dolls the reproduction books are also very handy for identifying dolls and clothing.
As with any collecting hobby, it is worthwhile to do a bit of research so that you know what you are buying and if you are getting value for money. There are some websites where you can download free paper dolls and others where you can buy them on a DVD. I imagine that these are sets that are out of copyright, it’s worth checking them out. If you can find paper dolls that you like for nothing you will save money which you can use to buy the harder to find ones.
Storage and Display
If you have your paper dolls on your computer or disk, storage and display may not be an issue for you but if you have vintage or reproduction books they need to be stored safely. Naomi and I currently have our paper dolls in individual zip lock bags stored in a couple of boxes but this is not ideal. We’d like to have them a bit more accessible and of course, we would like to preserve them from further damage. The Original Paper Doll Artists Guild has a website which has a lot of useful advice about starting a paper doll collection and how to preserve, store and display your collection. I’ll put a link to their site at the end of this post. It is now pretty easy to find archival quality photo albums with acid-free paper or polypropylene protectors and these are as good for paper dolls as they are for your photos. They will be protected from damp, too much light and paper loving pests like insects or mice.
To Cut or Not to Cut
It is fun to play paper dolls but even I am not sure if I should cut out vintage ones. Naomi and I have tried clothes on our used ones but many of them are too fragile to be handled much. This is where the reproduction ones are handy you can store your vintage dolls and cut the reproductions. Or if you have them stored on a computer you can print them and not worry too much if they get a bit worn over time. We are also considering scanning and printing copies of dolls we can’t get reproductions of for our own personal use.
Some people enjoy their paper dolls as an art form and use them to create collages or illustrate stories or articles. They are great if you have an interest in the styles and fashions of different eras or are a movie buff as there are many paper doll books featuring celebrities. You can learn about some of the well-known designers of paper dolls such as Queen Holden or use them to identify your vintage Barbie fashions.