WASHINGTON — Author Mary Young, businesswoman Joyce McClelland and publisher Jim Lillemoe all have one thing in common. They play with paper dolls.
"Don't say that," says Lillemoe in mock horror. "Just say I collect them." Lillemoe also profitably makes and sells them as owner of B. Shackman, a New York company that publishes paper dolls and other paper items.
Once the province of the pre-teen set, paper dolls have become an adult pleasure, and a small but growing nucleus of hard-core collectors is stirring entrepreneurial interest in their production in the United States.
Joyce McClelland of Sharon, Mass., makes no apologies for her paper doll habit. "There are times when I come home after a busy day at work, spread my paper dolls out on the floor and play with them. I'm in control," she says.
There is a real wave of interest in paper dolls now, and publishers are riding it, according to Stanley Appelbaum, editor-in-chief of Dover Publication Inc., New York. "We are constantly commissioning more paper dolls," he says.
About a dozen of the 250 books Dover publishes annually are paper doll books, Appelbaum says. "It's not a lot, but we are very serious about it."
One of the hottest sellers are the high-fashion paper dolls, like New York paper doll artist Tom Tierney's books of 1920s designer clothes by Elsa Schiaparelli and Paul Poiret.
Also enjoying a great deal of popularity are infant dolls, replete with snugglies and carriages; fairy tale characters, like paper doll artist Helen Page's "beauty and the beast" series, or cuddly animal characters, like Albert Kitten. Michigan paper doll artist Judy M. Johnson has supplied Albert with a sailor suit, a green and white seersucker playsuit, a natty gray and burgundy double-breasted wool jacket, gray flannels and matching visored cap and, for those formal occasions, a top hat and tails.
"I find this a very honorable profession," says Tierney, whose dolls run the political and celebrity gamut, from Pope John Paul II to Golda Meir, Lillian Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Pocahontas and Gertrude Stein.
"One of Gertrude Stein's accessories is Alice B. Toklas," Stein's longtime companion and sidekick, Tierney says with a laugh.
A fashion illustrator for 35 years, Tierney began dabbling in dolls 10 years ago when a set of movie star paper dolls he had drawn for his mother, who was proudly showing off her son's handiwork at a Christmas party, caught a party guest's eye. That guest, a literary agent, got Tierney a contract for his first book of dolls, "Thirty from the '30s." It's been one paper doll after another ever since.
Publishers, paper doll artists and collectors overwhelmingly agree that adults make up the main market for these fanciful paper creations.
"My stuff is really for adults," Tierney says, although he has done a teen-age rock star and a Barbie collection.
It is ironic that Tierney should do Barbie paper dolls, since he believes that Barbie, that busty, pink-plastic princess yearned for by little girls everywhere, killed paper dolls.
"All the kids were buying Barbie and her clothes," he says, and paper dolls became pretty much passe. "Then, frankly, they tried to update paper dolls with a punch-out format. But part of the fun of paper dolling is cutting them out," he says. "Half the people who buy my books buy one book to keep and one to cut up.
"Paper dolls get really personal," Tierney says. "You've cut it out, and the doll is there in its underwear, and you just develop a proprietary interest in it."
Paper dolls were in their heyday from the '30s to the '60s, says Linda Rosenkrantz, a syndicated columnist who writes about antiques and collectibles. "For the girls, their popularity had to do with the clothes, the glamour stuff, evening dresses and furs and ice skates and accessories--of getting a glamorous idea of what it is to be a woman."
Old paper dolls, especially those of the movie stars, are particularly collectible now, and some come with big price tags.
Rosenkrantz rattles off a few choice items: An Elizabeth Taylor dated 1953 goes for about $55; Linda Darnell, 1953, for $45; child star Jane Withers, 1938, for $65 (cut-out); Rock Hudson, 1957, for $20, and a 1940 set of paper dolls depicting the cast of "Gone With the Wind" for upwards of $400. Most of the prices quoted are for uncut doll sets, she says, noting that the value of cut sets often drops by half.
Lillemoe paid $500 for an uncut set of quintuplets drawn by Queen Holden, a popular paper doll artist best-known for her infant and toddler designs.
Susan Lihn, who owns a vintage clothing and specialty shop in Washington, recently purchased several sets of old cut and mounted movie star paper dolls for her store "because they were too fabulous to pass up. The clothes were just so hot," she says.
One set, of 1940s starlet Diana Lynn, she of the blond mane and figure to die for and with the clothes to show it off, makes Lihn's Marilyn Monroe paper doll look tame.