JT 01 - Celluloid doll

This celluloid doll is dressed with a hand made cotton cloth nappy held in place with two safety pins, frilled synthetic fabric nightie and has a pink quilted synthetic fabric bed jacket and hand-crocheted cotton bonnet.

Celluloid is one of the first synthetic plastics ever created. It is made from wood products that include cellulose nitrate and camphor. First created in 1863, it was a popular material to make items as diverse as jewellery and dolls from the 1870s through the 1930s. Celluloid is flammable, deteriorates easily if exposed to moisture and can be prone to cracking and yellowing.

Because celluloid dolls were flammable, fragile and crushable, they fell out of favour by the 1950s.


This doll was owned by Marie Ottilie Johannsen’s daughter Elsa who spent her early childhood years at Hermannsberg Mission from 1909 and Deep Well Station from 1915.

If you look closely you can see where the doll’s cracked head has been repaired and her arms taped to prevent splitting. She is a remarkable survivor from a harsh environment, yet ironically the arid Northern Territory climate will have contributed to the longevity of the celluloid.

You can find out more about Marie Johannsen in our HerStory archive.

Object ID: JT 01 - Celluloid doll

Date Made: circa 1910

Materials: Celluloid doll, cotton nappy, steel safety pins, synthetic fabric dressm bonnet and jacket, adhesive tape (unoriginal)