Hearts Through History Romance Writers

A Papery Pastime

by | June 8, 2009 | 19 comments

In one of my current works in progress, the hero has a young daughter who adores paper dolls.

A paper doll is such a simple thing, when you think about it. A small, flat piece of paper, cut into the shape of a girl, a young lady or a gentleman, complete with an accompanying wardrobe of fashionable clothes. But oh, what joy to be able to change those clothes, to attend imaginary balls and soirées with them, go on carriage rides with them, and if you were lucky enough, witness their pretend marriage.

The first paper dolls were manufactured in the early 1800’s in London, and quickly spread to America. In 1859, Godey’s Lady’s Book printed a paper doll in black and white, and a page of costumes for children to color.

But paper dolls were not necessarily human figures. Often they were animals, pets such as cats and dogs, and sometimes circus animals such as dancing bears, monkeys, and elephants. Occasionally, vehicles such as cars, trains, carriages and even airplanes were included in a paper doll collection.

In Deceptive Hearts, the first of a five-book series, paper dolls play a vital role. One of the secondary characters designs them, and I’m hoping to spin that artistic talent off into one of the other books in the series.

For more information on paper dolls, visit here.


  1. Leigh Royals

    I loved paper dolls as a little girl. I had one that could dress for different eras in the 20th century. Then I would draw my own grecian inspired gowns and dress the. They wore out so quickly though.

  2. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Leigh, thanks for stopping by. I have to admit I still love paper dolls! I have a wonderful set of a Victorian family, complete with parents, son and daughter, and although I claim it's research, it's fun, too!

  3. Kathryn Albright

    Hi Cynthia,
    There is something so nostalgic about paper dolls. I had several when I was five and six years old. I hadn't realized that there were also paper animals, etc as you mentioned. How fun! The link you gave was very informative. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Regencyresearcher

    I have a copy of Little Fanny Paper doll of 1810. Scholastic Press republished the set in the late twentieth century. Dee Hendrickson has a copy of the Cinderella paper doll set.
    These are different from later paper dolls in that Fanny or Cinderella is just a head which is slotted into the costumes or scenes.
    Little Fanny is accompanied by a poem which tells the story of how Fanny, daughter of a fairly wealthy father ended selling fish and milk after she was disobedient and taken away. In the end she is restored to her family and dutifully studies her lessons rather than plays with a doll or admires her rich coat and muff.
    Each verse is accompanied by a change of costume for Fanny. The paper doll was just a means for passing on the lesson of obedience and attention to studies.
    Cinderella is not as didactic, of course. But it , too, has Cinderella's head being added to scenes. Instead of having clothes put on a paper doll, the head is put into the clothes.

  5. Jeannie Lin

    Fascinating! The paper dolls create such a delicate, innocent image. It's wonderful how something like this can give such authenticity to your historical worldbuilding.

  6. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Kathryn, yes, there were circus animals, though I was never lucky enough to own them. Still, in my story, the hero's best friend (who's an artist and will eventually have his own story) designs an entire circus set for the hero's daughter, his goddaughter. I even took it a step further and added a ringmaster and a "big top."

  7. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Regencyresearcher, what a fascinating story! I love it that there are stories attached to the paper dolls. In one set I have, the Victorian family goes on various outings and of course, has the appropriate clothing for each outing. Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing!

  8. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Jeannie, yes, it was fun to add something I loved as a child to my story, particularly since the guy who designed my set in the story is an artist, and I used the paper doll scene in this story to foreshadow his story.

  9. Gwynlyn MacKenzie

    Paper dolls were so much fun! The little tabs to hold the clothes on, and the fact you could make your own with paper, scissors, and a bit of imagination.

    Thanks for the memories, Cynthia

  10. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Gwyn, glad you enjoyed the memories. My daughter had some paper dolls about five years ago, and they had "stick on, peel off" clothes. Not as much fun, but just as enchanting. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. trudereads

    When I was a little girl I loved playing with paper dolls. I used to cut them out from magazines and make dresses and bag and shoes for them. This brings back nice memories…

  12. Nicole North

    Nice post, Cynthia! I loved paper dolls as a kid!

  13. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Trudereads, yes, I think making your own paper dolls was just as much fun as playing with them!

  14. Cynthia Owens

    Thanks, Nicole, I think just about every little girl played with paper dolls. It's an inexpensive way to stretch the imagination – and so much fun!

  15. Kathy Otten

    I was digging through the 'free' bin at the library after their annual book sale and I grabbed a couple of old fourth grade english books and a reader from 1886. Inside one of the books were some paper dolls which said Lyon Coffee on the back. I could just picture the little girl playing with them in class instead of doing her schoolwork.

  16. Susan Macatee

    Great post, Cynthia! I remember playing with paper dolls myself at one time.

    What a fun fact to include in your story!!

  17. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Kathy, what a great discovery! Your post reminded me of when I was in high school math class and would write stories instead of paying attention!

  18. Cynthia Owens

    Hi Susan, since Kieran is an artist who gave up his art after the horrors of the American Civil War, I needed something to ease him back into it, as well as foreshadow his story. And it was fun to delve into the history of the paper doll.

  19. Julie Robinson

    Sounds fascinating, Cynthia. My sis and I had paper dolls as kids, though we also had Barbie dolls.
    (just catching up on older emails and wanted to drop in a minutes)



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