Written by Isobel Carr, multi-published author of Georgian-set historical romances. Published in The Regency Reader, June 2013. Reproduced with permission.
Several years ago I made a Regency paper doll for the Beau Monde’s annual Regency writer conference. I’ve recently uploaded her to my website, where she can be downloaded for free.
One of the reasons I chose to make her is that paper dolls were a popular period toy during the Regency. Most examples I’ve seen came in a box, often with a small book that tells a story. The story is usually one of improvement (little girls learning to be demure and ladylike, little boys learning to be brave). But other examples are a simple sheet of paper which might have been printed in a magazine or sold as a broadsheet. The oldest examples in museums are French and date to the 1780s.
An English example marked “Pub. Dec 20 1791 by J. Wallis No 16 Ludgate Street”:
Some of the first mass produced ones were made in London in 1810 by S&J Fuller. Little Henry was off to a series of adventures that included being a drummer boy, a sailor, an urchin and what look to me like a chimney sweep (not an adventure I would want to have had!). Little Fanny doesn’t get “adventures” per her packaging; she merely gets a “history” in which she can be a darling of the rich, a beggar girl, and several iterations of country girl (basket of eggs, etc.). Like so many books they were quickly plagiarized. By 1812 a knock off version Little Henry was being printed in America by J. Belcher of Boston.
Little Henry, 1810:
Little Fanny, 1810:
Other popular styles included fairytales and historical lessons. Some came with backdrops or were meant to be used in small paper theatres to act out plays.
Cinderella, c. 1814
This example is English, and was produced shortly after George IV was crowned; it’s a collection of kings with short lessons about them:
I hope you enjoyed seeing these historic examples and I hope you (or your children) enjoy playing with Harriet!