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Celluloid dolls were child playthings created from cheap synthetic plastic from the mid 1800s until the 1940s. They were produced as an unbreakable alternative to the extremely fragile China, wax, and bisque dolls. Kewpies, baby dolls, and French high fashion Colette dolls were all made of celluloid. Mass produced throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States, these inexpensive dolls became very popular. Today it is rare to find celluloid dolls in excellent condition, which makes them a valuable antique and collector's item.
Some of the earliest celluloid dolls were made by the Rheinische Gummi and Celluloid Fabrik Co. in Mannheim, Germany. The company's first dolls had cloth bodies with celluloid heads, arms, and legs. These dolls were the most delicate, and those that still exist are very valuable. In the early 1900s, celluloid was improved upon, and companies began making the dolls completely from celluloid. Many had limbs that could be moved and eyes that opened and shut.
Celluloid dolls were made in many different sizes. Some were as small as 1 inch (2.5 cm), while some Japanese dolls came as large as 30 inches (76 cm). Most were on the smaller side, however, since celluloid was very lightweight, and larger dolls were harder to make.
In the 1940s, the United States banned the use of celluloid for toys because it was found to be highly flammable. Celluloid was still used, however, in many European countries, and some dolls were still being manufactured in Eastern Europe into the 1990s. British companies also created a cellulose acetate doll that was safer and less flammable.
The dolls were not very durable and would deteriorate when exposed to humidity or moisture. They would often crack in high humidity and would yellow as they aged. Dolls also dented and broke quite easily.
For these reasons, many celluloid dolls did not survive the test of time, although they can still be found. Aspiring doll collectors can usually locate these dolls at a reasonable price. Rarer dolls in very fine condition can be much more expensive.
Vintage celluloid dolls need special care. They should be kept away from direct sunlight and should be stored or displayed in an area with low moisture. Cleaning these dolls is nearly impossible because they cannot come in contact with water. Dolls that have become damaged are difficult to repair, and this also greatly decreases their value.
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