History,  Research

Figures that dress and undress

Other than your hero/heroine, that is…

Fuller interior temple of fancy-thumb-450x321-20803Today I’m talking about paper dolls of the Regency period, but not the fashion figures that originated in France and were adopted by dressmakers and their clients, and their clients’ children in the 1790s. Paper dolls specifically for children were created and published by Samuel and Joseph Fuller in a series of  paper doll booklets–figures that dress and undress–and sold at their shop The Temple of Fancy on Rathbone Place in London. Attracting an upperclass clientele, the shop also sold prints and painting materials and supplies.

In mediocre rhyme, the books told an improving story with a hand-colored paper doll, outfits only, with a moveable head at the end of the book.  Hours of fun and instruction! Here’s an overview of The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures (1810) and you can play online paper dolls with Fanny here.

little_fanny_setI have seen a reproduction copy of Little Fanny and the storyline is depressingly moral. Little Fanny is far too interested in clothes and learns the virtues of plain living and hard work. Another title, Ellen, or, The Naughty Girl Reclaimed, pretty much speaks for itself.

But the boys. Oh, did the boys have fun. How about Frank Feignwell’s Attempts to Amuse His Friends on Twelfth-Night. You can dress and undress flamboyant young Frank here.

And then there’s The History and Adventures of Little Henry.

little_henry_setJust by looking at this you can see that Henry has a whale of a time, and you can view the book online here. First, he’s stolen by gypsies (moral lesson on inattentive nursemaid included) and becomes a beggar, then a chimney sweep, a drummer boy, and a sailor, rising through the ranks to return to England with fame and fortune. Huzzah!

So, yes. Boys can dress up and seek material success in life, but not girls. “The textual morals against love of clothing are gendered in problematic ways, with female characters mortified for this flaw more readily than male characters.” (A Story, Exemplified in a Series of Figures: Paper Doll versus Moral Tale in the Nineteenth Century by Hannah Field. More) And there’s also a great deal of self-satisfaction, one suspects, on the part of the well-heeled patrons of the Fullers’ shop, buying these idealized, smug stories for their own children.

For more online fun, Williamsburg has an online paper doll game and you can find downloadable Regency paper dolls, designed by a historian, at PaperThinPersonas.com.

Did you enjoy paper dolls as a child and/or with your own children?

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Angela Booth
8 years ago

I loved paper dolls. My ignored my “real” dolls in favor of the paper ones. I can’t remember much about them now, but they came in booklets, which included the dolls ready to be cut out, and their clothes and sundries. The clothes had tags so you could attach them to the dolls.

You could get the doll sets in various versions: color printed, or plain, ready to be colored. I preferred the plain booklets. I wore my colored pencils down quickly.

Re poor Fanny in The History of Little Fanny: Exemplified in a Series of Figures — typical. Girls have to be “trained”, boys can have all the fun they like. 🙂

Janet Mullany
8 years ago

I subscribed to a comic when I was a kid that always had a paper doll on the back page (the color signature). You were supposed to glue the main figure onto cardboard but I never had the patience so within a day or so everything would disintegrate. It didn’t matter since a replacement would be coming very soon!


[…] few days ago Janet talked about paper dolls of the Regency period, and today I’d like to add to that theme by talking about another kind of toy produced from […]

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