Composition Dolls

Composition dolls were produced in America during the first half of the 20th century. They were thought to be more durable than earlier German and French bisque dolls. Germany had previously been the most popular doll-manufacturing country. However, relations with Germany during that time period were not good and imports ceased. This gave American doll manufacturers the opportunity to come to the forefront of the doll making business. Composition dolls were produced up until 1950 when more durable materials, such as hard plastic were introduced in the doll world.

What is a composition doll?

Most composition dolls were made from of a mixture of wood pulp and glue, which was formed using molds and allowed to harden. The dolls were then painted with a thick layer of flesh-colored paint. On top of the flesh paint were painted features, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, nose dots, eye dots and lips; and blush on the cheeks, hands, feet, elbows, and knees. A layer of sealant or varnish was painted over this to protect the features and seal the composition. Each doll manufacturer kept their exact composition "recipe" a secret. 

Composition was used to make doll bodies for dolls with bisque heads for many years, from approximately the late 1870s, long before it was widely used to make doll heads. Since the material a doll head is made from determines the type of doll, only dolls with heads made of composition are referred to as composition dolls.

When were composition dolls made?

Composition dolls were made from approximately 1909 through the early 1950s.

Earliest composition dolls were made from a glue-based composition that was very heavy and dense. It consisted of glue, glycerin, zinc oxide, and Japanese wax. The color of the material varied from gray to white to brown. The method for making these dolls was very time-consuming and was called the "cold-press method".  By 1918, a new method was in use that used ground up sawdust, known as wood flour. The new process was called the “hot press method” and made for a much lighter weight doll. Composition mixture was pressed into hot molds and dried very quickly, reducing production time. This method allowed composition dolls to be produced in great quantities.

Composition dolls became very popular in America starting in the 1920s and continuing for more than two decades. By the late 1940s, the development of hard plastic dolls began to reduce the use of composition. Hard plastic eventually pushed composition out of the market in the 1950s, simply because hard plastic was even more durable.

Who made composition dolls?

A large number of doll companies made composition dolls. Composition dolls were made by: American, English, French, German and Japanese doll companies. By far, American manufacturers produced the most.  The invention of the new “unbreakable” material for doll heads and the lack of goods being imported from Germany during World War I, helped to make America the primary doll-making country of the 20th Century.

Certain companies were especially known for the quality and innovation of these dolls, including Madame Alexander, Effanbee, American Character, Horsman, Ideal and others. Many other companies would then copy their designs and sell unmarked dolls. Many dolls that are found today are unmarked.

What types of dolls were made of composition?

Nearly every type of doll was made of composition, but the most popular styles tended to be Mama Dolls, baby dolls, and especially after Shirley Temple, little girls and even teenagers. Mama dolls were toddler dolls with a mama crier. Dolls with all-composition bodies were jointed at the neck, hips and shoulders. Very large dolls were generally not made of all-composition because they would be far too heavy for a little girl to play with. Large Mama Dolls, for instance, might have a head and limbs of composition but a torso of cloth.

 Pre-1920's composition dolls had painted eyes and molded hair. After the 1920's, these dolls began to have sleep eyes and wigs made from human hair or mohair. The first sleep eyes were made of tin.  Later glassene (glass-like) sleep eyes were made of celluloid and many times have shattered and become cloudy over the years. By the 1940’s these eyes were replaced with plastic eyes that have held up better without shattering. Some sleep eyes, moved from side-to-side as the doll was turned from left to right. These were called “flirty eyes”.

What are the cracks or lines often found on composition dolls?

Composition dolls are especially prone to fine cracks, called crazing. The crazing is caused by changes in moisture and temperature. Because so many of these dolls have crazed over the years, light crazing on a composition doll is acceptable to collectors. However, lifting of the composition or cracking of the dolls will decrease their value significantly. Dolls with deep cracks and heavy lifting will eventually become worse because their composition is exposed to humidity and continually expands and contracts.


Mertz, Ursula R., Collector’s Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950; (1999)


Some of my Composition Dolls

 photo DSCN4767_zps863d4161.jpg

 photo DSCN4768_zps2b7df3ad.jpg

 photo DSCN4776_zps66739b34.jpg

 photo DSCN4790_zps04b0a44f.jpg

 photo DSCN4822_zps9db59534.jpg

 photo DSCN4772_zps99a83db1.jpg

 photo DSCN4781_zps1592f645.jpg

 photo DSCN4783_zps4c6e57c6.jpg

 photo DSCN4786_zps2ebcc985.jpg

 photo DSCN4826_zpsef21f107.jpg

 photo P1011130_zpsd67ebaf0.jpg

 photo P1010120_zps4e416b9d.jpg

 photo P1011412_zps98e2e984.jpg

 photo P1011221_zps88495842.jpg

 photo P1011452_zps232f0f83.jpg

 photo P1011490_zps40c330ea.jpg

Script embedded in HTML

Website Builder