A doll is an object that represents a baby or other human being, but includes likenesses of animals and imaginary creatures. Dolls have been around since the dawn of human civilization, and have been fashioned from a vast array of materials, ranging from stone, clay, wood, bone, cloth and paper, to porcelain, china, rubber and plastic.
While dolls have traditionally been toys for children, they are also collected by adults, for their nostalgic value, beauty, historical importance or financial value. In ancient times, dolls were used as representations of a deity, and played a central role in religious ceremonies and rituals. Lifelike or anatomically correct dolls are used by health professionals, medical schools and social workers to train doctors and nurses in various health procedures or investigate cases of sexual abuse of children. Artists sometimes use jointed wooden mannequins in drawing the human figure. Action figures representing superheroes and their predecessors, action dolls, are particularly popular among boys. Baby dolls, paper dolls, talking dolls, fashion dolls - the list is almost endless.
Europe later became the center of dollmaking. In the United States, dollmaking became an industry in the 1860s, after the Civil War. The development of plastics after World War II led to the manufacture of new types of dolls and brought down their price.
Today, the Internet has introduced virtual dolls which can be designed, dressed up, and played with on web sites such as Stardoll, which has 17 million members.
Dolls have featured in modern art and fine art photography, notably in surrealist works. The "evil doll" has been a feature of horror literature, horror films and animation since the 1950s.
Within western society, a gender difference in the selection of toys has been observed and studied. Action figures are particular popular with boys because they represent traditional masculine traits and are closed associated with the public sphere which is represented by items such as tools, transportation, garages, machines, and military equipment. Toys generically referred to as dolls are seen as representing the feminine traits and the private sphere which contains items such as kitchen appliances, utensils,furniture, clothes and jewelry
Antique dolls have become collector's items. Nineteenth-century bisque dolls made by French manufacturers such as Bru and Jumeau may be worth almost $22,000 today. Sporting event give-away bobblehead dolls and action figures from McFarlane Toys have also become popular collector's items.