Dolls have been made to capitalize on celebrity success at least since the 1830s, when paper dolls resembling renowned Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni were first produced. However, it was during the late 19th century, at the height of the Victorian Era, when the trend really took off.
During this time, dolls were made to commemorate major figures in European royalty—like Queen Victoria herself. Victoria’s likenesses often wore elaborate outfits designed to imitate her famous wedding attire or mourning clothes. In the United States, war heroes like William Thomas Sampson, presidents like William McKinley, and first ladies like Mary Lincoln Todd inspired their own dolls.
But the scene changed entirely when the Ideal Toy Company launched its Shirley Temple model in 1934, unwittingly creating a full-fledged industry of dolls modeled after celebrities. By 1938, more than six million dolls resembling the child actress had sold. Though movie stars became the favorite inspiration for celebrity dolls, the 1930s also marked the birth of the famous Dionne Quintuplets, who were reborn in doll form in 1936.
After Barbie grew to dominate the market in the 1960s, the ubiquitous teen model Twiggy became Mattel’s first foray into the Barbie-sized celebrity realm. In the 1970s, new dolls were made to imitate stars like Sonny and Cher, Farrah Fawcett and other Charlie’s Angels, Diana Ross, and Dolly Parton. Yet the best-selling celebrity dolls in history didn’t debut until 1997: The Spice Girls dolls skyrocketed to the number-one position with more than eleven million of the figures sold.