Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Antique Paper Dolls

I see old, tatty stationery boxes all the time while antiquing, and I've discovered they're always worth opening, as sometimes there is something fabulous stored inside them. They were just natural places for children to stash their treasured possessions. Once, I found such a box contained a vintage 1960s troll and her extensive wardrobe. This time, the stationery box was even older (1920s) and quite dirty. Really, it was just filthy, and almost too much for even me to touch...

...but I did, and was I ever glad! Inside...treasures! Three antique paper dolls, complete with outfits, hats, accessories, and even some original pattern pieces.


The dolls were made by Dennison, a manufacturer primarily of paper party goods, decorations, and supplies. The jointed dolls are made from heavy card stock, and most of the clothes are of crepe paper, which Dennison used for many of its holiday decorations.
Some of the crepe paper clothes came printed with clothing designs, but other items looked as if they were cut and assembled by the child owner. The discovery of some hat pattern pieces in the bottom of the box confirmed this suspicion, and the patterns also gave the names of the dolls: Eleanor (the big sister), Betty, and Bobbie, the little brother.

From left to right: Eleanor, 10 inches; Betty, 8; and Bobbie, 7.

The dolls are marked "Dennison U.S.A." on the back.

 The hat patterns.

The hat patterns unfolded.

Here's Eleanor's wardrobe:

Eleanor in a pre-printed hat and coat.

 I love this flapper headdress!

 Eleanor in a child-made dress and hat.

Here's Betty's wardrobe:

Betty in a pink dress like her big sister's.

 My favorite outfit, made of fragile crepe.

Bobbie's wardrobe was not as extensive as those of his sisters, but he had a few interesting pieces, including a pirate costume and a bathing suit. 

Bobbie in his ruffly green suit.

Bobbie in his Halloween pirate costume. Arrgh!

When I packed the dollies back into their box, I noticed some writing on the cover. After some gentle brushing away of dust, the words became clearer:

"Margaret Johnston   
321 E. Liberty St."

It was very moving to consider these words, and try to picture the little girl who wrote them, and who loved these paper dolls so much, she saved them for almost 90 years...thank you Margaret Johnston!


  1. What an absolutely wonderful find!

  2. These are absolutely the best. What an incredible find. I will have to check back and see if Linda has anything to say about these.

  3. Fantastic! I have seen many Dennison dolls, and have a few in my collection, but these particular faces are new to me. I've never seen a Dennison boy doll with jointed limbs. You struck gold. And yes, always open the mystery box at a flea market!

  4. Wow: I'd no idea they were so special! Linda, if they're something you need, we can talk! :0)

  5. Another awesome find!
    I have a question,if the hat has been cut off a page does it mean the dolls were cut off and jointed at home or were they manufactured jointed with only the clothes needing to be cut out?
    :) Maricha

  6. Hi! Nope, the dolls were manufactured jointed and came separately in the packages. Glad you like them!

  7. What an amazing find Tracy! Those faces are so precious!~Michelle:)

  8. Thanks for the information .I thought only those jumping jack paper dolls ever came jointed not the dolls you dress.

  9. Hi Tracy,

    I'm a writer for working on a story about paper dolls: would you be interested in letting us use one or two of your photos for the post? I am happy to provide full credit to you...

    Let me know what you think!


    1. Hi Hunter,

      Sure, as long as they're credited you're very welcome to use the pictures in your article.

      Could you let me know when the issue comes out so I can look for it? Thanks!