Whether you love them or hate them, antique dolls are an iconic part of human history and have been ubiquitous children’s toys for as long as we can remember. In fact, dolls have been crafted for hundreds of years. There are indications that ancient cultures used them for religious and cultural purposes, and people have been found buried with them in ancient Greece.
There are a great number of antique and collectible dolls on the market and in impressive collections today. If you have come across an antique doll, it is common to want to know how to identify antique dolls. Perhaps you have found some markings, but you want to know how to identify doll markings.
Today, we will help you answer common questions including “how can you tell if a doll is antique?”, “how do I know if my old dolls are valuable?”, and “how do I identify my doll?”. We will list some of the most common manufacturers, provide tips on how to identify and antique doll, and include a quick valuation guide as well as a number of useful resources.
Antique Dolls: Background
Dolls have been important items for religious and cultural reasons for hundreds of years. Historians believe the first known dolls date back to ancient Egyptian times when they were simple wooden carvings. There were also carved wooden, stone, clay, ivory and textile dolls from ancient Japan and the Roman Empire, dating to around 800 BC.
Dolls became more sophisticated by 200 BC when models with moving limbs and clothes that could be changed were found by archaeologists in ancient Greece. These were most commonly found buried with children in tombs, dressed in miniature dolls’ clothing.
Hollow wooden Matryoshka dolls were first made in Russia and life-like clay dolls were made in Germany and France during the 13th century. By the 17th century dolls were becoming popular amongst all echelons of society, and among many different ages. This was when dolls began to be manufactured for the aristocracy as luxury toys, particularly in France and Britain. The poor continued to craft their own dolls from pegs, rags, and even the husks of corn or apple cores.
In the 19th century porcelain dolls with shiny glaze and bisque porcelain dolls with a matte finish were produced. Up until this time dolls had tended to be miniature adults in form, but now they were widely made in the form of children. French and German bisque dolls were incredibly popular for a long period such as the famous Bebe doll from France.
Celluloid became more popular as a material as doll-making commercialised. It was less breakable and lighter than porcelain but got replaced quite quickly when plastic came onto the scene and iconic modern dolls such as Barbie dolls were released in the 50s and 60s.
Antique Doll Identification
First up, how can you tell if a doll is antique? There are several giveaways that help you to identify whether a doll is antique, i.e. older than 100 years. Those which are between 40 and 100 years old are considered as vintage, while newer dolls are classed as retro.
We’ll go through the different identification features step-by-step, and then provide you with a guide to the different kinds of antique dolls you are likely to find.
1. Maker’s Or Manufacturer’s Mark
If you can find a maker or manufacturer mark on your antique doll then identification will be considerably easier. Often you can locate the maker’s mark on the back of the doll’s head or neck beneath the hair (if the doll has any). Otherwise the manufacturer’s mark may be positioned elsewhere such as on its back, feet, or hands.
In some cases the mark is only found on the clothes but be aware that if the doll’s clothes have been updated at any point over the years the clothes could be more modern or produced by a different company, so this could be misleading.
Usually the mark is a stamp, indentation, or embossment, or even a tag which consists of the maker’s brand name, and the size of the doll. It could also include letters and numbers and the company’s logo. The country of location was printed on products after 1890 according to the McKinley Tariff Act, so if you find the country of origin you know your doll was produced after 1890.
Most Common Antique Doll Makers: Identification Chart
There have been a great many doll manufacturers over the years. If you’re wondering how to identify antique German dolls or how to identify Japanese dolls, we have an extra section at the end of this chart specific to those countries. Here, we have included a chart of common antique doll makers along with notes about the maker’s marks and a link to their brand page from Doll Reference.
|Maker/Manufacturer||Location of Maker’s Mark||Notes|
|Jumeau||On the back||Tick marks, blue stamp, Bebe dolls|
|Rose O’Neill||Soles of feet||Brand name: O’Neill, Kewpie dolls|
|Bru Jne & Cie||Head or shoulder||Letters E or SGDG and the word “Paris”, logo: dot inside a circle, Bebe dolls|
|German Manufacturers (Find a complete list of German doll makers here)|
|Kestner||Back of head||Porcelain and bisque dolls, JDK followed by other words|
|Armand Marseille||Back of head||Often letters “AM” followed by numbers|
|Kammer & Reinhardt||Back of head||Mark may appear with Simon & Halbig marks who often made doll heads for other manufacturers|
|Simon & Halbig||Back of head||Big supplier of doll heads|
|Heubach||Various locations||Many dolls with closed mouths, sunrise symbol with letters GH and company name within square or quadrant|
|Japanese Manufacturers* (Find a complete list of Japanese doll makers here.)|
|Froebel-Kan||Head||Bisque heads, triangle logo with diamond inside, company name and “Tokyo”|
|Aiba Kintoro Marugane||Various locations||Japanese symbol inside a circle with “Made in Nippon” beneath, celluloid dolls|
|Yamato Importing Company||Sockets or shoulders||Letters FY and word Nippon|
* Note: Japanese manufacturers printed their dolls with “Made in Nippon” before 1921 and “Made in Japan” after 1921.
How Do I Identify My Doll Markings?
Once you’ve located the markings on your antique doll, how can you find out more about the doll’s origins? First of all, you can try to search for the maker’s mark online – simply type in what you see whether it’s a brand name, serial number or logo. You can even try Google Lens by taking a photo of the manufacturer’s mark, activating Google Lens and retrieving similar images published online.
Next, try doll reference books such as Antique Trader’s Doll Makers and Marks: a Guide to Identification or online reference sites such as Doll Reference. This is a great resource where you can search for your particular doll by material, type, country, and maker. You can search for doll identification numbers and antique doll serial numbers.
You could consider taking detailed photos of the doll and sending them to an online doll appraiser or antique doll expert. If you like to do thing in person, you can try taking the doll along to an antiques store or an antique doll show. Bear in mind that these appraisal services may cost.
Alternatively, doll enthusiast forums can be helpful. Here, you can post images and information about your doll and the community may be able to help you identify your doll and learn more about its origins and value. For example, you can try sites like Antique Dolls Collectors.
You may also have some luck with a doll identification app such as Doll Finder. But what about dolls without a maker’s mark? Here’s how to identify a doll with no markings using other clues…
2. Body Materials
Identifying the type of material the doll is made from can help you narrow it down to a certain time period. If you are wondering how to identify antique bisque dolls or how to identify antique porcelain dolls then taking a close look at certain details will help.
- Porcelain – porcelain dolls were popular in Europe in the middle of the 1800s and the manufacture of these spread to China and Japan between 1840 and 1880. Small lines and cracks and a cold, hard texture are signs of porcelain.
- Chinese porcelain – glazed and shiny finish
- French and German porcelain – unglazed matte finish
- Bisque – bisque is often referred to as porcelain because it is a kind of porcelain, but there are some differences. For example if it appears like the skin of the doll has pores which collect a good deal of dust and dirt over time, it is made from bisque. Small lines and cracks and a cold, hard texture are also signs of bisque porcelain.
- Wood – some of the oldest manufactured dolls were carved from wood. These came primarily from England from around 1680 up to the early 1800s. You may find this kind of doll being listed as a Queen Anne doll. Older dolls with porcelain or bisque heads may have wooden arms and legs too.
- Leather – leather is another old material used for the oldest manufactured dolls. Usually it was used only for the bodies, arms and legs. Often older antique bisque dolls had leather bodies.
- Textile – cloth or textiles dolls were a newer creation and favoured particularly in the 1920s and 30s. However, older dolls may have cloth bodies with bisque or porcelain heads attached.
This is a tricky one if the doll’s clothes have been replaced since manufacture. But as a general rule you are looking for faded clothes with an antique aesthetic, for example clothes that were popular during the period of manufacturer.
Velcro fastenings are a giveaway clue to more modern clothes and potentially a more modern doll because Velcro was not around 100 years ago. The materials will also be authentic to the time period. Cotton, linen or silk were most often used on older dolls, and polyester was not used.
Most of the older antique dolls’ hair was painted on by hand with realistic 2D brushstrokes to represent curls or neat partings. Antique German dolls often have wigs which may be made from real human hair. Goat hair was also used for this purpose. Wigs were mostly glued onto the jead rather than rooted – if the hair is rooted it is not likely to be an antique doll.
Common hair colors were brown, blonde or black. Red hair was very rare.
The oldest antique dolls, those manufactured before 1870, often had eyes which were painted onto the head. Commonly these eyes were a light blue shade, brown or simply black. Stationary glass eyes became more popular after 1870 and around the beginning of the 1900s. After this, eyes became rounder and often looked sideways giving the viewer a cheeky side-eye. Often these newer eyes could swivel, or the eyelids could be opened and shut.
If the body of the doll is textile or leather, it will probably still be stuffed with the original stuffing unless it has been opened up and restored during its lifetime. The oldest antique dolls were filled with sawdust or horsehair and gave the dolls a hard and unyielding texture. Possibly not designed to hug!
Newer stuffing ingredients may include shredded cloth or cotton wool. Polyester stuffing is a giveaway of a modern doll, or one which has been restored.
Antique Doll Valuation
You may be looking to identify your antique doll so you can sell it, or you may be simply curious about how valuable an antique heirloom is. Perhaps you want to form a doll collection and would like to gauge how much it might cost. You’re probably wondering “are antique dolls worth anything?” and “how do I know if my old dolls are valuable?”.
Thr best way to find out how much your antique doll is worth is to search for the same kind of doll via an online antiques marketplace. Some good resources include:
- eBay – the antique dolls section of eBay is a great resource for valuing your own antique doll as well as finding antique dolls for sale. You can filter by material, brand, doll gender, condition, and more. Sellers are offering everything from antique dolls for the 1800s to antique dolls from the 1920s under this category.
- Etsy – Etsy is a great marketplace for old dolls worth money. It includes a great range of unusual vintage and antique dolls as well as doll parts and clothing from all over the world.
- Auction houses including C & T Auctioneers and Theriaults which specialise in antique dolls are prime spots to find valuable antique dolls for sale.
- Collectors Weekly – the Antique and Collectible Dolls section of Collectors weekly supplies a great amount of information and current listings. You can refine your search by clicking on “Related Categories” to find the specific type of doll you are interested in.