Baby dolls have long been a popular choice as a toy for young children. Over the years, they have ranged from crude, homemade toys to beautifully crafted dolls made from bisque, composition, hard plastic, or modern vinyl.
When composition became a favored material for making dolls in the early 20th century, baby dolls were often made with composition heads, forearms, and lower legs, with a stuffed cloth body. Composition, a material made from wood pulp and glue, was popular because it did not break as easily as European bisque or porcelain dolls did. Therefore, composition was a practical material to use for toys that experienced a lot of play.
With the advent of hard plastic as a doll manufacturing material, the nature of baby dolls changed. One type that became popular was the drink-and-wet doll. These dolls had a hole in their mouth through which they could be "fed" water from a doll-sized bottle; the water would then leak out through a hole in the doll's rear end, requiring that the doll's caretaker change its diaper. Others had a voice box inside their torso, with a speaker visible on their stomach or back. These baby dolls could cry, call for "mama," or make various other baby-like sounds.
"Magic skin" was another popular material for making baby dolls in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The head was hard plastic, with a one-piece latex body that was made to simulate real skin and stuffed to feel like a real baby's body. However, the stuffing and the latex tended to produce a chemical reaction that resulted in the disintegration of the latex; as a result, few of these dolls have survived.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, vinyl was often used for baby dolls. Early ones had a hard plastic head with a one-piece stuffed vinyl body, much like the failed "magic skin" variety. Eventually, as vinyl replaced hard plastic, dolls were made entirely of hard and/or soft vinyl.
Baby dolls typically have one-piece legs that are crooked at the knee, indicating that the doll is a baby and not capable of walking. They tend to have molded hair, which means that the head is shaped and painted to represent hair. However, some vintage ones were given caracul wigs, which were short, soft, curly wigs that were glued onto the dolls' heads. Modern vinyl dolls can have rooted hair cut in short, baby-like styles. They also often have sleep eyes, which are weighted eyes that close when the doll is laid on its back.
These dolls tend to be dressed in onesies, long nightgowns or christening outfits, or rompers. They often wear bonnets or bows on their heads. Although they lack the high style of more grown-up dolls, the clothes that they wear can be just as beautiful, particularly when they are made with plenty of attention to detail, as many of the vintage outfits were.