Sunday, January 22, 2012

Celluloid dolls

Doll manufacturers are always open to using the latest materials in the construction of their dolls, and, in the early age of plastics, celluloid was no exception.

Celluloid is a plastic-like compound made from nitrocellulose and camphor. It's the earliest known plastic compound, invented in 1855. It did not gain widespread use, however, until the 1860s and one of its first uses was in the manufacture of billiard balls. It was often used to replace ivory in the manufacture of hair combs, buttons, buckles, men's collars, jewelry and other household items. It's most popular use was in the creation of photographic film. Of course, it was eventually used to make dolls.

Up until the time celluloid was used to make dolls, they were more frequently made of bisque, wood, glazed china, kid leather, composition, or fabric.  In the 1860s, the first celluloid dolls were made by the Hyatt Brothers of New Jersey using a blow mold process.

Celluloid dolls found most often nowadays were made from the 1930s to the early 1960s, as celluloid is highly flammable and deteriorates quickly. It's rare for a celluloid doll made in the 1870s  to have survived to our modern era, but what a fantastic find if you have one!

I have two celluloid dolls in my collection. The first is a 6-inch Petitcollin doll in her French regional costume. For such a small doll, great care has been given to her face paint. She has delicately painted eyes and lips, and the eyes are dotted with red dots. The red dots painted on dolls' eyes help to prevent them from looking "cross eyed" from a distance. (This trick has also been used by myself and others in stage makeup.) She is stamped Made in France on her leg, and on the inside of her skirt, she has a tag marked Kimport Dolls, Independence, MO.  Mademoiselle Petitcollin is quite light and fragile and she was most likely made in the 1950s. At one time she had a head scarf and carried a basket of flowers.

My other celluloid doll is a 17-inch German turtle mark doll. The turtle insignia is the mark of the Schildkr√∂t (Rheinische Gummi und Celluloid Fabrik Co) company, which was in operation for over 100 years. She is a strung, socket head doll with an open pate and glass eyes, and I believe she dates from the 1950s (she may be older than that.)  She is not without her "issues." She is missing most of her eyelashes and she has one lazy eye, but in spite of her flaws, she is an adorable girl. She has the turtle mark on her back with the number T44.  She's on my list of dolls next to be repaired and restored. Her wig and clothes do not appear to be original to her, although they fit her well, and her cryer no longer works, but I find her to be a charming example of a celluloid doll.


At one time, celluloid dolls were considered to be "cheap." They were mass-produced and are susceptible to going up in flames if not treated properly. Carnival dolls were often made of celluloid and these can be found in abundance on auction sites, but some celluloid dolls are valuable due to the quality of their design and manufacture.

As a side note, if you collect celluloid dolls, be sure to store them properly. Keep them out of direct sunlight and in a dry area. Do not expose them to water. They also dent easily due to the delicate nature of celluloid, so treat them with care.

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