By Nadine Stotts
Sweetwater County Historical Museum 

Artifact of the month: The papier mâché doll


December 6, 2017

This display of the month is a doll with a papier mâché head and leather body possibly from the 1870s-1890s.

She is wearing a red cotton dress and lying in a Victorian wicker doll carriage.

Papier mâché has its origins in China, where the invention of paper itself comes from. The interest of papier mâché spread from China to Japan and Persia.

It was used in mask making and festival activities and eventually spread around the world. Papier mâché dolls are made of paper pulp plus other substances. The earliest dolls were individually handmade. It was around 1810 that it was discovered that papier mâché dolls could be mass produced cheaply in molds by a pressure process.

These dolls have been around for hundreds of years.

In the world of dolls, the whole doll is defined by the material that the head is made of. This means that only the head has to be papier mâché for the doll to be considered a papier mâché doll and the body can be made of leather, cloth, wood or composition.

The wicker baby carriages of the 1880s and 1890s had their birth during the Civil War years. Wicker was both durable and lightweight and amplified the awareness of nature. There were many wicker companies in the 1880s who made carriages to transport babies and toddlers.

The Victorian woman was concerned with ventilation and hygiene and it was this passion for nature and the outdoors that really popularized their quest for carriages.

Little girls were given toy wicker carriages pretending to be like their mother. The foremost wicker supplier in America was Cyrus Wakefield who opened Wakefield Rattan Company in 1855. Even though foreign countries played a significant role in the history of wicker, the industry was born in America.

This particular doll and carriage belonged to Florence Gordon, who obtained it at the Barrett estate auction for 25 cents when she was a little girl. She kept it until her death and her son donated to the museum. Come by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum to see this doll.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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