Before the 20th century, most dolls were made of porcelain or papier mache and were extremely fragile. Plastic changed the nature of doll making, and the toys became more huggable and less breakable. Plastic is easy to mould and decorate beautifully. Understanding the changes in plastic dolls over the years helps collectors to choose valuable pieces.
Overview of Plastic Dolls
Vintage hard plastic dolls were made of celluloid, which was both flammable and easily crushed. New plastics were developed during the Second World War, which were the preferred material for manufacturing dolls in the late 1940s. They made the production process less labour-intensive and expensive. Technology changed rapidly in that time period, and the hard plastic used to manufacture dolls was overtaken by the newer and cheaper process of producing softer vinyl dolls.
Features of Early Plastic Dolls
Doll companies quickly made large batches of affordable plastic dolls with basic designs. These models did not have refined features and often had visible seams. More expensive plastic dolls were made from hard plastic and vinyl with more realistic features, such as eyes that could open and close, and joints at the shoulders, wrists, and hips.
Identifying the Era of Plastic Dolls by Their Hair
Early doll hair was made from mohair, but this was replaced by wigs made from synthetic materials, such as nylon. Strands were machine-sewn to a net to create a wig that was glued to the doll's head. Some synthetic hair was permanently set as curly or straight, but nylon and had the advantage of being settable by water. This made the dolls popular, as little girls could style the hair themselves.
Identifying Modern Plastic Dolls
Modern hard plastic dolls are made from vinyl plastic. They are not soft and huggable baby dolls like those made from soft vinyl, but a formulation that is closer to the hard plastics of much earlier models. Companies producing modern hard plastic dolls include Silkstone "Barbie", Madame Alexander Dolls, and Tonner Dolls.