Dolls are an intriguing invention that has enjoyed centuries of popularity and value. The earliest documentation of dolls dates back to the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilization periods. Still, modern doll manufacturing commenced in the 15th century in Germany with the prominence of industrialization and the introduction of new materials. The appearance, elements, and manufacturing procedures of dolls have changed considerably over the centuries.
Today, many people are involved in collecting old dolls, including antique ones. This practice became substantially popular from the 20th century onwards. Influential figures fond of collecting dolls include Johnny Depp, Demi Moore, and Sophie Ellis Bextor. Many doll collectors believe that dolls are charming and full of personality.
The prominence of doll collections has yielded an ample market where people can trade and purchase dolls.
This guide sets off by explaining the difference between antique and vintage dolls. It’ll also steer you in how to identify and evaluate the price of valuable antique dolls. If you’re looking to start a collection yourself, you’ll benefit from the buyer’s guide.
Antique Dolls vs. Vintage Dolls — How Do I Discern One From The Other?
It’s fairly common to stumble upon “vintage dolls’’ when searching for “antique dolls” and vice versa. However, these terms mean different things.
Antique objects are typically older than 100 years. A doll is considered antique if it was manufactured before 1922. Depending on the manufacturing period, they’re made of older materials, including wood, bisque, porcelain, or wax.
Vintage dolls are of relatively recent times between antiquity and the contemporary era. Doll collectors regard dolls produced between 1925 and 1981 as vintage, i.e., older than 40 years but younger than 100 years. During the vintage period, dolls became a household item with popular brand names.
Antique and vintage dolls are precious collectibles, and their values rely on various factors, such as the doll type.
Antique dolls: Dolls older than 100 years old (Manufactured before 1922).
Vintage dolls: Dolls older than 40 years but younger than 100 years (Manufactured between 1925 and 1981).
Antique Dolls Identification Guide
A Short History of Antique Dolls
Historical documentation of doll making dates as far back as the times of the early Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. But we have a more in-depth understanding of the ancient doll-making procedures that began in the 15th century.
Wooden dolls were manufactured from the 15th century to the 17th century. However, finding dolls produced in this period is quite rare. Wax dolls graced the doll world towards the end of the 17th century and are commonly regarded as valuable antique objects.
About a century later, humanity witnessed the invention of celluloid dolls in the 1870s. This new material replaced the more fragile porcelain dolls, which gained popularity in Europe in the mid-1800s. The reign of celluloid dolls was cut short by composition dolls, which were later dethroned by vinyl and hard plastic dolls in the 1900s.
Bisque doll production started in France and Germany in the 1850s but spread to other regions, including the United States, in the early 1900s.
Note: Bisque and porcelain dolls are among the most prominent and varied antique dolls in the market today. Contemporary doll makers have reproduced several replicas of these antique dolls.
How to Identify Antique Dolls
Authentic and replicated antique dolls exist side-by-side in the antique doll market. Hence, it’s crucial to learn how to distinguish genuine antique dolls from fakes.
Expert doll collectors can spot these differences to an extent. Yet, swindlers may easily mislead newbies at antique doll collections.
You can identify antique dolls through the:
- manufacturer’s mark
- materials used
- doll’s body
- doll’s hair
- doll’s eyes
- doll’s clothing
Let’s take a closer look at each feature and how they influence identification.
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Identifying Antique Dolls Through The Manufacturer’s Mark
Examining an antique doll’s manufacturer’s mark is one of the easiest ways to identify an antique doll. The manufacturer’s mark may comprise letters, numbers, a name, a word or phrase, or any mix of these components.
On most occasions, you can find a manufacturer mark on the posterior of the doll’s head or neck. The doll maker can also place their mark between the doll’s shoulder blades, on the clothing tags, or on the lowermost portion of its feet. You may also locate the marking under the doll’s wig if it has one.
Exporters had to mark all foreign goods coming to the US with their country of origin according to the 1890 McKinley Tariff Act. Thus, if you find a doll marked with its country name, it was likely manufactured post-1890.
Antique Doll Maker’s Mark Types
There are various antique doll manufacturer’s mark types which may not be found in the “usual places”.
Some of these unique antique doll manufacturer’s mark types include:
- The Rose O’Neill Kewpie: Antique dolls with this marking type possess a clear “O’Neill” mark on the lowermost aspect of their feet
- Madame Alexander Dolls: This mark variety is found on doll’s clothing tags
- The French Poupee: French poupee dolls may possess tick marks and a blue Jumeau stamp on their back
Antique Doll Identification Through Antique Doll Markings
You can identify a doll manufacturer’s mark through the following methods:
- Research the antique doll manufacturer’s mark: You can study an antique doll maker’s mark in various doll reference books. Search for a comprehensive doll markings reference guide to help you determine an antique doll’s authenticity.
- Consult and send images of the mark to an experienced antique dolls appraiser
- Take the doll to an antique doll show
- Confer with a trustworthy antique doll dealer
Prominent Antique Doll Manufacturers
Numerous doll makers are associated with antique dolls. The most recognized doll manufacturers among doll collectors include:
- The Armand Marseille Doll Company: Armand Marseille dolls are prominent in the antique market. They were manufactured from 1885 to 1930 in Germany and are notable for their bisque heads.
- The Alexander Doll Company: Bertha Alexander and her sisters established this corporation in 1923. Madame Alexander’s dolls were outstanding for the striking fashion they represented.
- The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company: This doll-making enterprise was founded in 1907. It primarily manufactured “non-fragile” composition dolls, including its character dolls.
Identifying Antique Dolls Through The Materials Used
You may estimate an antique doll’s age through its constituent materials if the makers’ mark isn’t available. This method could also hint at the doll manufacturer.
Antique dolls are typically composed of papier mâché, wax, china porcelain, bisque, wood, or cloth. Among these materials, bisque and porcelain dolls are the most popular.
Porcelain dolls were prevalent in Europe during the mid-1800s. Their heads, hands, and feet were made from Chinese porcelain (china) and glazed to appear glossy from 1840 to 1880.
The production of bisque dolls began in France and Germany in the 1850s. Their heads were also manufactured from porcelain, like the older porcelain dolls. However, the bisque dolls’ porcelain heads weren’t glazed, giving them a matte appearance.
Based on porcelain materials, dolls may be classified into the following:
- Chinese Porcelain Dolls: These are the oldest and rarest dolls comprising porcelain. Although their bodies were wooden, they had porcelain heads and shoulders.
- Bisque Dolls: The first bisque dolls were composed of a bisque head and a leather or cloth body. They also featured hair, mouths, and molded eyes.
- Parian Dolls: Parian dolls were a later type of bisque dolls. They comprised plain white porcelain and were intended for display rather than for playing.
Identifying Antique Dolls Through The Doll’s Body
A doll’s body is a quite helpful method to determine its age. Relatively older antique dolls usually possess porcelain, bisque (unglazed porcelain), or wooden bodies. Antique dolls from later periods feature stuffed bodies comprised of cloth.
Identifying Antique Dolls Through The Doll’s Hair
Antique dolls from different periods feature a variety of hairstyles and hair compositions. One of the earliest dolls, the china head doll, had molded or painted hair with a typical center-parting. However, the 19th-century dolls possessed rooted hair instead of the painted equivalent.
Rooted hair is similar to actual hair and occasionally consists of human hair or mohair.
Identifying Antique Dolls Through The Doll’s Eyes
A doll’s eyes are also a great indicator of its age. Older dolls had eyes painted on them. Meanwhile, other antique dolls featured immovable glass eyes. These dolls preceded the ones with eyes that opened and closed when the handler rocked them.
Identifying Antique Dolls Through the Doll’s Clothing
Doll clothing has evolved considerably over the centuries. Dolls made in the 19th and early 20th centuries wore leather clothes. However, more recent dolls have synthetic Victorian-style clothes.
Antique Dolls Price Assessment Guide
Antique dolls have different values. Hence, it’s vital to learn how to evaluate the exact prices of antique dolls to avoid falling prey to fraudulent doll vendors.
Factors Determining Antique Dolls’ Cost
Several elements could either inflate or depreciate an antique doll’s value. Therefore, it’s best to consider these before buying an antique doll.
These factors include:
- The doll’s level of demand
- The doll’s age and historical significance
- The doll’s condition
- The manufacturer’s mark
- The doll’s size
- The doll’s quality
- Visual appeal
- Artistic touch and quality
- The doll’s body type
- Clothing and accessories
1. The Doll’s Level of Demand
A doll’s market demand significantly influences its price. Highly sought-after dolls tend to cost more than their counterparts with lower demand. Thus, be prepared to spend much if you’re interested in acquiring a highly sought-after antique doll.
Rarity is another critical factor to consider before purchasing an antique doll. Rarer dolls are usually more expensive than readily available ones. Still, this penchant doesn’t apply in some cases, as some readily available dolls—such as Jumeau and Bébé dolls—are still highly valuable.
3. The Doll’s Age and Historical Significance
Older antique dolls in good condition are likely to be more valuable than their equivalents from later periods. This tendency is rooted in the fact that age defines antique dolls. However, this rule doesn’t apply to every situation.
Similarly, dolls reminding people of a significant historical events tend to cost much more.
4. The Doll’s Condition
The better an antique doll’s condition, the greater its value. Dolls whose appearance is closer to the original condition are more valuable than dolls with nicks, cracks, burn marks and stains.
On the other hand, dolls that have been repaired or restored cost less than relatively intact ones.
5. The Manufacturer’s Mark
An antique doll maker’s mark is vital since it helps you identify dolls produced by a notable manufacturer. For instance, antique dolls with the prestigious mark “O’Neill” are highly valuable in the doll market.
6. The Doll’s Size
A doll’s price is often proportional to its size because larger dolls imply more materials and effort during production.
7. The Doll’s Quality
An antique doll’s price depends on its constituent material quality. Antique dolls composed of more valuable materials are typically more expensive.
8. Visual Appeal
As you may expect, eye-catching dolls are likely to be more valuable than relatively unattractive ones.
9. Artistic Touch and Workmanship
Dolls whose manufacturers devoted considerable time, effort, and artistic skills to give them an impressive finish tend to be more costly than plain ones.
10. The Doll’s Body Type
Antique dolls’ bodies are made up of different materials and possess various peculiarities. These features influence the doll’s price to an extent. For instance, dolls with stuffed bodies are more expensive than those with wooden bodies.
11. Clothing and Accessories
A doll’s price also hinges on its clothing style and material. Dolls with extra accessories and clothing items, such as jewelry, parasols, hats, and shoes, are usually more expensive.
Valuable Antique Doll Types
Numerous doll models and designs emerged before 1922. Yet, some antique doll types are regarded as more valuable collectibles.
This segment reveals the most adored dolls bycollectors and their estimated prices.
Some valuable antique dolls in no particular order include:
- French BeBe dolls
- Antique Kewpie dolls
- German dolly-faced dolls
- Half dolls
- Mama dolls
1. French BeBe Dolls
French-based antique doll makers modeled the French bébé dolls to look like children. These dolls had porcelain or bisque heads and featured sophisticated silk and velvet dresses. In addition, they possessed accessories, such as stockings, hats, purses, and shoes.
French bébé doll prices may fluctuate due to their condition and popularity. They may cost more than $4,000 on Ruby Lane, depending on their rarity.
2. Antique Kewpie Dolls
Kewpie dolls came into the doll world in 1912 and were designed after Rose O’Neill’s comic strip characters. They were in the form of baby cupid figures, as the model’s name suggests — a variant of the word “cupid.”
Rose O’Neill Kewpie dolls are composed of various materials. However, the most prized among antique doll collectors are made of bisque. The Kewpie dolls’ cost depends on their style. You may purchase some Kewpies at a price up to $400.
3. German Dolly-Faced Dolls
These dolls were manufactured in Germany between the 1870s and 1930s. They were created from porcelain and bisque and hand-carved to possess faces devoid of expressions. Regardless, intact German dolly-faced dolls are quite scarce.
German dolly-faced dolls may cost between $100 and $200 or even higher on Ruby Lane.
4. Half Dolls
As their name implies, half dolls typically consist of a legless, upper half of a human figure. Their legless design allowed their owners to attach them to useful objects, such as whisk brooms, pincushions, and powder boxes. They were primarily produced in Germany between 1900 and the 1920s from porcelain and often sported a “Made in Germany” mark or were unmarked.
An appealing German half doll may be as expensive as $100–300 or more.
5. Mama Dolls
Mama dolls are antique talking dolls developed around 1915. They comprise a soft body with two unique mechanisms, including:
- A voice tool that uttered “mama”
- Leg joints that enabled children to walk the doll
Although antique mama dolls’ values may vary, you may buy them for close to $200 on eBay.
Antique Dolls Buyer’s Guide
Here, we’ll guide you on how and where to purchase valuable antique dolls at the right prices.
Useful Resources for Antique Doll Collectors
With the high number of fraudulent antique doll dealers, your best bet is to consult experienced doll collectors or join various reputable doll collector groups. You may also learn useful information about antique doll collections from several antique magazines. These measures will ensure you buy valuable antique dolls at optimal prices.
Here are some trustworthy antique doll collectors’ resources you could try:
- The National Antique Doll Dealers Association (NADDA): Established in 1986 to build trust between doll dealers, doll collectors, and the general public.
- Antique Doll Collector Magazine: This valuable magazine allows doll collectors to subscribe to its various doll collector-friendly articles or pay for its digital back issues.
- The United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc.: This non-profit multinational association serves as a forum for doll collectors.
Places to Buy Valuable Antique Dolls
Antique dolls are sold in numerous antique shops and outlets due to their reputation as precious collectibles.
When you’re considering buying antique dolls, here are some of your best options:
The Best for Antique and Vintage Dolls
eBay is a popular auction platform where doll collectors can purchase antique and vintage dolls. It allows potential purchasers to search for dolls based on their materials and brands. On the positive side, you may find dolls of various prices on the platform, allowing you to purchase antique dolls depending on your available finances.
The major drawbacks of eBay include the challenge of not knowing if the doll you’re purchasing is as it appears on the platform and the possibility of encountering fraudulent vendors on the site, as numerous claims suggest.
2. Ruby Lane
The Best Site for Collectible Dolls
Ruby Lane is a collectible purchasing marketplace for antique and vintage dolls. The outlet serves as a medium for doll collectors to meet doll dealers and strike a favorable trade deal.
3. Kathy Librathy
Kathy Librathy is an antique doll shop based in Brooklyn, New York. The company was founded in 2007, and it sells various antique doll types on Ruby Lane.
4. Ann Marie’s Antique Dolls
Ann Marie’s boasts a wide collection of antique and modern collectible dolls. Its headquarters is in Arizona, USA.
5. Other Mediums
You may also acquire decent antique dolls from live auctions and flea markets. However, live auctions may be a more expensive option due to the severe competition involved in their trade processes.
How can you tell if a doll is antique?
You may identify antique dolls through their manufacturer’s mark, materials, eyes, hair, and clothing.
How do I identify my doll markings?
You may identify your antique doll markings by studying a detailed doll markings reference guide like the one suggested in this guide.
What does an antique doll marked “H” represent?
Various antique doll manufacturers have an “H” sign in their mark. Some manufacturers with this symbol are Herman Hachmeister, Hamley Brothers, Hahn & Company, Hammer Munitionswerk, and Heinrich Handwerk.
Antique dolls are valuable collectibles serving various purposes for doll collectors. Don’t stall on identifying an antique doll through its manufacturer’s mark or other distinctive features to ensure you’re buying or selling the right item. Additionally, endeavor to follow proper price assessment protocols before purchasing an antique doll.