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What Are Paper Toys?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

Paper toys are typically toys made from paper products. Paper dolls, which consist of flat paper cut-outs, are a popular type of paper toy. Paper models, which involve folding paper into often complex three-dimensional shapes, are another type. Origami, the paper-folding art, may be used to create paper toys. Paper toys have probably existed for centuries, and their manufacture continues to this day.

Historians believe that Asian cultures have created paper figures since at least 900 CE. These figures are believed to have been of the three-dimensional type. Two-dimensional paper dolls seem to have first appeared in France in the 18th century. The mass manufacture of paper dolls is believed to have followed in the 1790s. These two-dimensional figures of young women generally came equipped with several paper cut-outs of various garments, made attachable to the doll by a system of tabs and slots.

Origami may be used to create paper toys.
Origami may be used to create paper toys.

Paper dolls were widely manufactured and considered very popular in the United States from about the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. The earliest paper doll figures were usually anonymous young women. Later, dolls were given names and personalities and some dolls were made in the likeness of royal figures and other contemporary celebrities.

Another type of paper toy, the paper model, gained popularity during World War II, when the supplies used to make most types of three-dimensional toys ran low due to rationing. During these years, toy manufacturers often offered paper airplane models, paper boat models, and other three-dimensional paper figures. In the United States, manufacturers are known to have capitalized on the popularity of paper dolls and other paper toys by including paper cut-outs in their advertisements, or offering free toys to customers who returned proof of purchase.

Paper boats are a simple and fun type of craft.
Paper boats are a simple and fun type of craft.

The construction of paper toys usually involves little more than folding, and perhaps cutting, one or more sheets of paper. The Japanese paper-folding art, origami, can be used to create paper toys. Origami typically offers the opportunity to construct a wide range of complex paper toys, including ten-pin bowling sets, jumping frogs, and building block towers.

Toys made out of paper generally continue to remain popular among collectors as well as children. Manufacturers continue to produce paper toys, many of them quite intricate in their construction. Paper-doll collecting is a recognized hobby, with conventions, auctions, and catalogs where enthusiasts can admire the collections of others and increase their own collections.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - I particularly like paper balloons, which you can make as origami, or just buy in Japanese stores. It's a little wax paper ball that inflates when you blow into the hole in the top and you can bat it around with your hands. It's a fairly traditional toy.

I guess the other traditional paper toy would be the kite, although I don't know how many people actually make them with paper these days.


@KoiwiGal - You can also get templates online and print out your own paper dolls, with clothes and things to change if you're inclined to do that. Or you can make your own paper toys with origami guides online. They won't have the same kind of collectible value that official paper dolls might have, but they would still be cute to put on a shelf with the other ones.

I was a bit of an origami fan when I was a kid though and made all kinds of different toys with them, for my friends and myself.


There are some awesome modern paper dolls out there that you can collect. Some of them are meant to be humorous, but you can get them for various characters on TV as well and they can be almost like works of art.

I don't have many, but I do have a few, because they are one of the cheaper options for collectibles and they tend to be fairly high quality.

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    • Origami may be used to create paper toys.
      By: amphotolt
      Origami may be used to create paper toys.
    • Paper boats are a simple and fun type of craft.
      By: Chepko Danil
      Paper boats are a simple and fun type of craft.