Hard plastic dolls replaced composition in the late 1940s due to their durability and ability to create fine details. They were made in molds and often had visible seams. Most had sleeping eyes and wigs, and came in larger sizes. Hard plastic is more durable than previous materials, but can still crack or separate at the seams.
Hard plastic dolls were first made in the late 1940s. Composition has replaced hard plastic – the material that was previously made for making dolls. The hard plastic dolls were much stronger than the build dolls, making them more suitable for children to play. The hard plastic was also better at creating fine details, like the dimples on the fingers and toes.
Hard plastic dolls were created in molds; as a result, a line of mold is usually visible on the sides of each body part. The hollow torsos and heads were made in two pieces – front and back – which were later glued together. The earliest plastic dolls were strung, meaning their head, arms, and legs were connected to the body with a rubber band or bungee cord that was threaded through the hollow torso. Beginning in the early to mid-1950s, these dolls were marketed as “walkers” – dolls with an internal mechanism that turned their heads from side to side while their legs moved back and forth.
Early hard plastic dolls were molded from light flesh colored plastic, then painted a darker flesh tone. On top of the flesh paint, other painted features were added, such as blush on the cheeks, backs of the hands, and knees; painted eyelashes; rosebud red lips; and/or nail polish on the fingertips. Some dolls had painted eyes, but most had sleeping eyes: glass eyes that were weighted so that they closed when the doll was placed on her back and opened when the doll was placed in a sitting or standing position.
Some hard plastic dolls, such as baby dolls, had molded hair, which meant that the head was molded and painted to look like it had hair. Many other plastic dolls had wigs glued to their heads. Early wigs were made of mohair, while later wigs were made of saran, a type of plastic hair that could be brushed, washed, and curled using doll-sized rollers. In the mid-1950s, when vinyl was first used, some dolls had “skull caps”—hairpieces made of vinyl or soft plastic, rather similar to wigs except with rooted hair—that were glued to a female’s head. doll just like a wig. Later, some dolls had hard plastic bodies and vinyl heads with rooted hair.
Most early hard plastic dolls came in larger sizes, such as 14-inch, 17-inch, and 20-inch dolls. Hard plastic quickly became a popular material for 1950s eight-inch dolls; later, hard plastic was also used for some of the fashion dolls that became popular in the late 1950s and 1960s. The bodies were usually six-piece bodies: arms, legs, torso and head.
Because hard plastic is such a durable material, it’s much easier these days to find a hard plastic doll in good condition than it is to find a composition or porcelain doll with no chips, cracks, or breaks. However, these dolls are not without their problems. One of the most common problems is that hard plastic tends to separate at the seams of hollow pieces, such as the torso and head. Usually, such seam separations occur due to pressure on the seams; for example, dolls that are pulled too tightly may eventually show seam separations at the neck, and swivel dolls often have separations at the lower torso, where the walking mechanism is located. These dolls can also crack or break if dropped, but overall hard plastic is a much stronger material than those previously used to make dolls.