Even though I was small for my age when growing up, I was nevertheless all boy! However, some of the other boys in the neighborhood might dispute that claim. True, I played baseball and cowboys and indians with the neighborhood gang, and Superman was my idol, but I also played with dolls. I grew up between two sisters – one a couple years older than me, and another a couple of years younger – so what did they expect? Then, after I grew up and married, we had two little girls. So playing with dolls has always come naturally for me.
Therefore, I was excited when the volunteer women from “The Friends of the Anderson House” in Lexington, Missouri brought some homemade rag dolls into the bookstore the other day, which I thought were really very cool. They were replicas of a type made during the Civil War.
Actually dolls are fascinating and very popular, even among us men. Doll collecting is the third-most popular hobby in world, behind stamps and coin collecting.
My childhood friend Jeanette Hobbs Melton is a doll collector herself and a recognized doll historian, who recently enlightened me somewhat to the history of the doll.
Dolls are no doubt as old as mankind, and I’m not sure that anyone can say when the first dolls appeared. Jeanette informed me that dolls probably originated at a time when primitive people believed that everything about them – even trees and stones – had indwelling spirits. It was the duty of their medicine men to capture those spirits and transform them into forms that everyone could see. Therefore, they worshiped idols. That is apparently where the word doll comes from – IDOL. In ancient times, dolls most likely served adults, more so than children, representing fertility figures, protectors against evil, or as participants in mystical and magical events. Dolls have appeared from every ancient civilization around the world.
Ceramic dolls, made by adults for children, began to appear though, as early as the Greek and Roman civilizations. When the Europeans first arrived in North America, they brought dolls along for the children to play with, but when they landed here, they were amazed to find Native American children playing with dolls of their own. Those early American dolls were not nearly as elegant as the ones we admire so much today; they were plain and simple in comparison.
Our grandmothers made homemade dolls out of whatever material was available. They might have made cloth dolls out of rags, socks or handkerchiefs – sometimes using small round black buttons for eyeballs, yarn for hair, and fruit or vegetable stains for complexion.
Other dolls down through history might have been made from cornhusks, clay, and sticks of wood, straw or paper. The men of the house sometimes carved doll heads of wood, or maybe grandma would crochet or embroider a doily doll. However they were made, or from whatever material, they were no doubt cherished and adored by children and adults alike.
Modern-day dolls, with neatly crafted faces and suitable attire, date from the 14th century; not surprisingly, they were a French idea. The 20th century saw a remarkable change as new material like plastics and vinyls became available. Specialty series became very popular such as the Kewpie Dolls, Raggedy Ann, the American Girl series, Barbie Dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids. They all became instant collector items. Betty grew up with Lovable Louise and Jennifer adored her Mrs. Beasley doll. My brother Raymond, who is a ventriloquist, even taught his Jerry Mahoney doll how to talk.
Reference: Doll historian Jeanette Melton.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.