Half Penny Dolls have been around for many generations. They probably were named for the inexpensive nature of the materials used to make them–bits of wire, wool, and string.
Half Penny Dolls should not be confused with Penny Dolls, which are dolls carved from wood, also known as Peg Dolls or Dutch Dolls.
Half Penny Dolls are made by bending wire into a body shape, then wrapping the limbs with string. The body is wrapped with wool or fabric. A head is formed from a ball of wool or a wooden bead.
It is possible that the Half Penny Doll originated when a mother busy with her spinning or weaving, and needing a distraction for a demanding child, grabbed a few bits of wool and formed it into a little toy. The dolls became very popular with young girls because they were simple enough for children to make themselves, and provided hours of entertainment just in the process of making and dressing the dolls.
In 2003, Salley Mayvor re-introduced the world to Half Penny Dolls with her book Felt Wee Folk (C&T Publishing). In her book, Salley demonstrates making dolls with pipe cleaners, and dressing them with silk flower petals, wool felt, and acorn hats.
Recently, at a family gathering, we had a doll making workshop. Several nieces, sisters, cousins and aunts, ages seven to fifty, spent the day making half penny dolls. With a few pipe cleaners, scraps of fabric, wooden beads, and crochet cotton, we had a complete doll making factory in the dining room. Imagination blossomed as little girls drew out designs for their dolls and the adults helped them make those design come to life. As well as tiny dolls for keepsakes, memories were created that day.