Papier Mache Dolls - An Introduction:
Papier (or Paper) Mache dolls were introduced in Germany in the early 1800s. Prior to then, most dolls were carved out of wood; a few were molded (simply) in wax. Papier Mache was a good material to make doll heads from because it could be molded and painted. Molding allowed more realistic doll features than carving, and the dolls were lighter than carved wood. Papier Mache was the preferred material by German doll makers until the mid 1800s when China Dolls were introduced.
What is Papier Mache?:
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Papier Mache is a French term meaning "literally, chewed paper; a light strong molding material of wastepaper pulped with glue and other additives." This substance can be placed in molds to create doll heads.
Dates of Production of Paper Mache Dolls:
Although very early (pre-1800) Papier Mache dolls have been found, they are relatively rare. In the early 1800s the German doll industry discovered Papier Mache dolls, and by the 1830s and 1840s, they were the most popular material for dollmaking. Papier Mache dolls were also made in France and the United states in the 1800s. Although production of the dolls greatly declined when china dolls became common, they were made throughout the 1800s, and doll some artists today still work with it.
Sizes and Characteristics of Paper Mache Dolls:
Papier Mache dolls don't tend to be very tiny because it is a coarse material--the smallest antique ones that you tend to find are 8 to 10 inches; the vast majority are larger. Most antique Papier Mache dolls are between 12 and 28 inches; larger ones do exist, in fact I have a 30" Papier Mache by the American firm Grenier in my collection.
Companies That Produced Paper Mache Dolls:
Many of the major makers of china and later bisque dolls in the 1800s also made Papier Mache dolls including Kestner; however it is usually very difficult to identify an early or mid-1800s Papier Mache dolls as to its exact maker because nearly all were unmarked. However, in the United States its often easy to identify a Grenier Papier Mache doll because many had labels on the torso that still exist today.
Types of Paper Mache Dolls:
Some of the earliest commonly found Papier Mache dolls are called Milliner's Models today. These dolls were made from approximately 1840 through 1860, and are often found in smaller sizes (9 to 15 inches) and with wooden limbs. Many German dollmakers made Papier Maches that greatly resembled China dolls. Some fashion dolls from the mid-1800s were made in France (predecessors to the later French bisque and china dolls). Later, some German Papier Mache dolls resembled their bisque sisters.
What Caused The Demise Of Paper Mache Dolls?:
As I've mentioned above, when German china dolls displaced Papier Mache dolls as the doll of choice for children and manufacturers, production of Papier Mache dolls plummeted, and it plummeted further when bisque dolls came into favor. In the history of dolls, it is common to see this sort of displacement of one material for making doll heads by another when technology and tastes change.
Market Prices for Paper Mache Dolls:
Very early Papier Maches, Papier Maches with rare molded hairstyles, early French Fashion dolls made of Papier Mache and some rarer and fancier Milliners Models can bring prices of several thousand dollars at auction. More common mid-1800s Papier Maches, Greniers, and late 1800s/early 1900s Papier Maches generally are valued at several hundred dollars. Prices vary greatly based on the condition of the dolls.