Nitrated cellulose was first used for everyday objects in England in 1855 by Alexander Parkes. It was well liked because of its light weight and its hygienic qualities. Parkes, father of twenty children, who held eighty patents, discovered, by accident, that by addition of castor oil and camphor to nitrated cellulose, it would soften at a low temperature and could be molded. He won a medal of excellence of product or "parkesine" at the Great Expedition at the Crystal Palace in 1862. Parkesine was a failure, commercially, but was the beginning of the plastics industry.
The next development of celluloid came to America when a prize of $10,000.00 was offered to anyone who could come up with a substitute for ivory billiard balls. John Wesley Hyatt, Jr. did not win with his experiment with Parkesine, but he did establish the Albany Billiard Ball Co., Albany New York, who used a mixture of gum shellac and pulp to make balls which were coated with nitrocellulose and camphor in a plastic mass. He called his invention celluloid. Patents were issued to he and his brother in 1869.
The American brothers Hyatt formed Celluloid Novelty Co. and produced the first celluloid dolls. In Germany Rheinsche Gummi und Celluloidwarenfabrik entered doll making around 1873, starting to produce celluloid products in 1880. They began making parts, supplying heads to Kammer & Reinhart and Kestner, which carried the tortoise or tortoise in a diamond shape trademark of Schildkrot dolls, manufactured by Rheinische Gummi. They also produced all celluloid dolls, which were very fragile and flammable and often squashed by accident in too-enthusiastic play.
Other companies were formed in the East and America during the late 1890ís and early 1900ís. Celluloid products were made in England, France, Japan, Germany, Poland, Italy and the USA. Celluloid became more durable after 1905 and in 1910 due to better production methods. †††††††††
The early Schildkrot dolls, manufactured by the German company Rheinsche Gummi, were unmarked. After 1899 every doll had to have the firmís trademark on the body. Their trademark-a tortoise or a tortoise in a diamond- varied in design making it possible to date dolls fairly accurately. Even the tortoise design changed for time to time. They still make dolls today and the mark is again different. Recently Schildkrot dolls are very collectable. The large ones are relatively easy to find, but the smaller versions are more difficult because of the fragility.
The very earliest celluloid dolls resembled ivory or pale bisque they were copying. The dolls were heavier and glossier; the later ones lightweight, some with matte finishes and generally better flesh tones. They often have painted eyes-some of the better quality have glass eyes that can be stationary, open and close or even flirty. Kammer & Reinhart used flirty eyes in the 1920ís. Difficulty in getting glass eyes from Germany during World War I led to development of celluloid eyes. The dolls can have either molded hair or wigs of mohair or human hair.
The dime store (cheaper) dolls or those from Japan had molded hair. French used mohair on many of their dolls. They are usually jointed and some have celluloid heads on other type bodies.
Even though celluloid dolls and toys could be washed and did not shatter if dropped, as did their bisque counterparts, they proved to be fragile, fading and flammable. The heavier weight would crack and shatter under force while the thinner was quite crushable. Bright sunlight caused it to bleach and become brittle. Too much heat made it soften and warp. At 100 degrees C, it would decompose. Celluloid was most popular during the decade before World War I through the 1920ís. The 1930ís brought composition and more durable plastics. At that point the true celluloid had almost disappeared. Celluloid dolls were made illegal in the United States in the 1940ís because they burned or exploded near an open flame or heat. After fifty years of popularity celluloid evolved into another form to survive-generically, plastic.
There was a transition period during which time a material called Tortulon was used. The "transition celluloid" was a heavy early plastic, but still termed celluloid. Thus, the decline of celluloid and a "hello" to our plastic dolls of today.