Half Penny Dolls have been around for many generations. They probably got their name from the inexpensive nature of the materials used to make them: bits of wire, wool, and rope.
Half Penny Dolls are not to be confused with Penny Dolls, which are wooden carved dolls, also known as Peg Dolls or Dutch Dolls.
Half Penny dolls are made by bending wire into a body shape, then wrapping string around the limbs. The body is wrapped with wool or cloth. A head is formed from a ball of wool or a wooden bead.
The Half Penny doll may have originated when a mother busy with her spinning or knitting, and needing a distraction for a demanding child, took some pieces of wool and fashioned them into a small toy. The dolls became very popular among girls because they were simple enough for them to make themselves and they provided hours of entertainment just in the process of making and dressing the dolls.
In 2003, Salley Mayvor reintroduced the world to Half Penny Dolls with her book Felt Wee Folk (C&T Publishing). In her book, Ella Salley demonstrates how to make dolls out of pipe cleaners and dress them up in silk flower petals, wool felt, and acorn hats.
Recently, at a family reunion, we had a doll-making workshop. Various nieces, sisters, cousins, and aunts, ages seven to fifty, spent the day making half-penny dolls. With a few pipe cleaners, scraps of cloth, wooden beads, and crocheted cotton, we had a complete doll factory in the dining room. Imaginations blossomed as the girls drew designs for their dolls and the adults helped them make those designs come to life. In addition to small dolls to remember, memories were created that day.