Composition Dolls

posted by Karen Hood
Sunday, July 5, 2009

Composition dolls began to replace porcelain and bisque dolls in the American market during the early part of the twentieth century. This transition took place because of two different factors. First, because of World War I, Americans stopped buying imported German dolls, which enabled composition dolls to make their entrance. Second, composition dolls became preferable because they were much less expensive and much less likely to break than bisque dolls.

Therefore, composition dolls became very popular in America starting in the 1920s. In the late 1940s, the development of hard plastic as a doll manufacturing material began to phase out the composition dolls. Hard plastic eventually pushed composition dolls out of the market in the 1950s, simply because hard plastic was even more durable than composition.

Composition dolls were made of a mixture of wood pulp and glue, which was formed using molds and allowed to harden. Composition dolls were then painted with a thick layer of flesh-colored paint. On top of the flesh paint went painted features, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, and lips; and blush on the cheeks, the backs of the hands, elbows, and knees. On top of all of the paint went a layer of sealant or varnish to protect the painted features and seal the composition.

Composition dolls were much more durable than their predecessors, meaning that they could withstand much more playwear. Composition dolls sometimes had molded hair, which meant that the head mold was simply shaped and painted to resemble hair; other composition dolls had glued-on wigs made of mohair. Composition dolls were dressed in stylish outfits that often showed an impressive degree of detail. Most composition dolls were created in the image of babies or small children. Certain storybook characters, such as Scarlett O’Hara and the characters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, were also sold, and Shirley Temple dolls were particularly popular.

Although composition dolls are not as fragile as bisque dolls, they still show age and playwear. Composition dolls tend to crack or break with excessive use. Also, over time and under changing conditions, such as humidity and temperature, the outer layer of paint can develop fine surface cracks, called crazing. Crazing can occur only in certain areas, or it can spread to every part of the doll’s body. In extreme cases, the paint can flake off, baring the composition underneath.

Because of the vulnerability of the materials, composition dolls require special care in order to preserve their beauty. Composition dolls should never be stored in a place that suffers extreme temperatures or carries a danger of flooding. Care should also be taken to pack composition dolls with tissue paper. Composition dolls should never be encased in plastic, since the inability of plastic to breathe will result in retained moisture and possibly mold damage or rot.

by Katharine Swan
Source: WiseGeek



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