In 1925 Cooper-Hewitt added to its collection “Jenny Lind Paper Doll, and Ten Costumes Designed for her Operatic Roles” from an unknown designer and was featured in the 2005 "Faster, Cheaper, Newer, More: Revolutions of 1848" exhibition. Upon discovering it in the collection, I was immediately drawn to it because some of my favorite childhood toys were dolls. I enjoyed dressing my dolls in various outfits and pretending they were people I knew in real life or in my imagination. The Jenny Lind Paper Doll celebrates the career of famous Opera singer Johanna Maria Lind, better known as Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale.” Exploring the Jenny Lind Paper Doll has sparked my interest in learning more about the history of doll design and piqued my curiosity about its future.
Paper dolls have been popular toys for more than a hundred years. A paper doll is a two-dimensional figure drawn or printed on paper for which accompanying clothing has been made. By the mid-nineteenth century, around the height of Jenny Lind’s career, boxed paper doll sets of famous ballerinas, opera singers and historical figures were commonly produced in Europe and America. In the set for the Jenny Lind Paper Doll, ten costumes are kept in a cardboard container, allowing for easy access during playtime while showcasing the rosy-cheeked soprano and her operatic roles listed in German and English. The paper doll pieces were made using the process of lithograph on paper. Each costume is designed to be placed over the doll and tied with a green ribbon. The individual costume pieces include the doll arms making various gestures and stage props, such as sheets of music and a bouquet of flowers.
Over the last hundred years, doll designers have shifted to focusing on children’s interests and broadened doll design to include various materials, including plastic. Today, toy stores are filled with doll collections of animated characters, superheroes and television personalities. Paper dolls have been replaced with plastic dolls like Barbie, whose fashions are designed using realistic fabrics and featuring accessories that include jewelry, shoes, and handbags, which are sold separately.
What will the next hundred years of doll designs look like? It will be interesting to see how the doll market might be impacted by individuals having more accessibility to technology such as 3D printers and being able to easily create miniature figurines. While the materials and process of making dolls might change over time, what remains timeless is children’s interest in toy dolls. I look forward to observing how doll designers will find new inspiration as their users interests change and how accessibility to new materials and processes will impact their designs.