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Monday, 14 September 2015

The History of Little Fanny - the first ever dressing doll

I've used 'The History of Little Fanny' in the second of my 'Charity School' series because it was published just in time for little Lucy to be given it as a gift by her father, when he returned from war and tracked her down.
I've long been a collector of dolls, including paper dolls, and I was delighted to discover this first ever cut-out-and-dress doll as early as 1810!  It differs from later dolls in the tradition, in that the head is slotted into whole body costumes, rather than being a doll in undergarments with other clothes folded on top, but it was quite revolutionary for its time.    The history itself is terribly pi and moralising, and not especially realistic, and in 'Ophelia's Opportunity', Lucy loves the doll and decides to make up her own stories that are better than the one told.
Little Fanny is a disobedient child who runs away from her nurse and gets lost, and ends up as a street urchin because she cannot find her way home, then manages to learn to work and through her industry eventually gets a job delivering a parcel to her own home, which she does not realise at first is her own home [a singularly moronic child is Fanny] but her mother recognises her and is happy to have her back, which Fanny thought would never happen.  The clothes show her riches-to-rags and back again story, and I have to say that even dressed as an urchin, Fanny is better dressed than many of the real urchins one sees over and over on cartoons of the period.

Fanny's face, one rich and one poor costume
Fanny's rich coat and day dress
Fanny's costume at the bottom of the heap and then with enough to have shoes and stockings, plus the triangles for mounting the head. 
And here's a shot of some of the very sickly prose which is the right way up on my computer and firmly turns round when uploaded here.  Sorry about that, some of the other pics are not as I saved them either. 
Little Fanny was followed two years later by Little Henry in America; and by the 1820's sets of dressing dolls were produced in Europe quite regularly, but as they are ephemera, I have been unable as yet to glean many details.  Fanny really is the first paper doll in the sense we think of them nowadays, as a plaything for a child.  Eighteenth century France had dolls called pantins which were much like jumping jacks, and were designed to entertain adults.  One might easily hypothesise that fashion plate figures were cut out to play with, and in 'Elinor's Endowment' I have the children do just that, to use as actresses and actors on their Lilliputian Theatre, but Fanny appears to be the first custom-made doll who can change her costume.
And thank goodness that the idea stuck, despite the story!

My copy of 'The History of Little Fanny' is a British Museum facsimile. It's possible to pick them up on Ebay occasionally as they are out of print. 

Ophelia's Opportunity is out on Kindle and will shortly be in paperback HERE


  1. Love her clothes and especially her little red cloak - a very hot item in the early 19th century!

  2. lovely, aren't they? but I must say not what I'd expect for having been reduced to absolute destitution!

  3. I have a copy that I think was republished by Scholastic Press - the book is at home and I haven't looked at it for some time. Dee Hendrickson had a copy of Cinderella as paper doll from the same period. . Little Fanny is a cautionary tale The idea that the mother would allow the child to think she had been lost and deserted is chilling Fanny was never out of the sight of the people Mama had take her in and put her to work.

  4. Somehow I missed that - possibly because the idea was too horrendous for me to pick up on it!
    Cinderella must be a good one, and I just found some pictures here which goes to prove you need the right question to ask to get the answer. That one is 1814, which means, alas, I can't use it in my Charity School books as yet as I'm in 1810... however what a lovely toy when it is pubished! thanks for letting me know about that.

  5. Though it looks as though S&J Fuller did produce other paper dolls as early as 1810

  6. Little red what does that remind me of? Another moronic little girl too stupid to realise that her grandmamma bore a distinct resemblance to a wolf!


  7. the red cloak goes back to the earliest Red Riding hood stories in the 14th century or earlier, and has a lot of darker overtones in the early versions. Red, of course, is a colour that is difficult to produce and so is high status [one of the reasons I raise an eyebrow at the attire of the beggar maid]. Red cloth was smuggled from France during the Napoleonic wars and most of it ended up as hunting pinks.

  8. How thrilling that the first ever cut-out-and-dress doll is from 1810. Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. I was pretty excited! I still have all my own cut out dolls from the 1960s and early 70s, mostly in a pretty worn state because I played with them such a lot. In fact my first novel [age 7] was based around my set of Brownies with international uniforms. I wonder if it's still in the box?