Who Would You Like to Be Today?

In the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, paper toys were very popular. They were cheap to make (thanks to advances in the automation of the paper-making industry) and they were plentiful.

Merchants often used paper toys as giveaways, while other paper toys could be purchased for pennies.

An ad in a 1908 issue of The Ladies Home Journal.


There were paper airplanes and spinning tops, paper dolls and paper furniture for paper houses.

But in 1905 something unusual happened in the paper toy industry. In November of that year, Tuck & Sons, the famous London-based printing house, released a new paper toy in America.

A winning jockey

The new toy was a paper half-mask children could wear. The masks were issued in a series format, with each series based on a theme, such as literary figures, historical people, or costumes from foreign lands.

A Dutch girl.

The masks were wildly popular for two reasons. First, the artwork was exceptional.


There were no cartoonish drawings here; each mask was beautifully detailed and life-like.

A woman motorist.

The second reason the masks were popular: Adults liked to wear them, too. In fact, adults bought and wore the masks more often than children did.

Carmen, from the opera series.

By the summer of 1906 Tuck was producing the masks in adult sizes, and they were selling like hotcakes.

Granny in her cap.

Hostesses handed them out at parties, and some adults fashioned new games to play in the evening while wearing the masks.

An old tramp.

Here’s an idea for a masked party for young adults that appeared in a 1908 issue of The Woman’s Home Companion:

Adults all across America had fun pretending to be someone other than who they really were!

Cousin Kate, the focus of the popular poem of the same name, by Christina Georgina Rosetti.

Isabella probably did not participate in the fun. In her 1902 novel Unto the End Isabella acknowledges the popularity of masked parties and full-costume masquerades, to the misfortune of one her characters, Grace Landis.

Several times in the story Grace has to find the balance between her father’s more worldly ways and her mother’s religious convictions (that, incidentally, align with Isabella’s). In one scene Grace tells her mother:

“Has [father] told you of the party which is to be at Mr. McAllison’s in a few weeks, where the people are all to dress in character, and wear masks? Some of the characters are what I am sure you would call ‘questionable,’ and as for masks, I did not know that refined society approved of them, but my father wants me to wear one.”

Amazingly, some of those one-hundred-year-old paper Tuck masks have survived, and they’re popular collectors’ items. You can find them for sale on retail websites like Etsy, as well as new masks that are fashioned along the same style as the Tuck originals.

You can see our previous post about paper dolls by clicking here.

Read our post about other paper toys by clicking here.

View more masks on Etsy by clicking here.





The Trouble with Paper Dolls

In Isabella’s book Ester Ried, Ester’s youngest sister Julia found herself in trouble, all because of paper dolls.

Ester had charged Julia with taking an important letter to the post-office. Julia obediently started out, immaculate in white apron and white stockings, but then she met temptation in the form of a little girl playing with her paper dolls.

Mascot Bread_Many Lands ed

While Julia was admiring them, the letter “had the meanness to slip out of her hand into the mud!”

Horrified, Julia and the little girl put their wise young heads together, and decided to give the muddy letter a thorough washing in the creek. But no sooner were they standing ankle deep in the mud, vigorously carrying their idea into effect, than “the vicious little letter hopped out of Julia’s hand, and sailed merrily away, downstream!”

Baby in Rocking Cradle

It’s understandable that Julia was a little bewitched by her friend’s paper dolls. Paper dolls were colorful and beautifully detailed little works of art, usually depicting handsome men, beautiful women, and charming children. Paper dolls of fairy tale characters were popular, too, like this set of Tom the Piper’s Son:

Tom Tom the Pipers Son

And this fanciful set from 1912 depicts characters from the story of Aladdin.

Aladdin fairy tale 1912

Because every respectable paper doll needed a suitable paper home in which to live, children could collect paper doll furniture pieces, too. Here’s a cabinet suitable for a paper doll’s fashionable drawing room:

Drawing room cabinet

Paper dolls even had lovely chairs and settees on which to sit.

Drawing room chairs


Drawing room settee
No paper doll drawing room would be complete without a grandfather clock and a decorative screen to block out cold drafts.

Grandfather clock

Drawing room screen

Here’s a paper doll house accessory that Isabella might have liked for herself: a pot of colorful pansies.


Pansies instructions

You can click on any of the paper doll images in this post to open a larger version to print and assemble for yourself.

And click here to see a previous post about paper dolls