They can be made of plastic, glass, cloth or even straw; their size can range from small to medium to life size. Some are woman, some are babies and some are adorable little girls forever frozen in time. No matter what the material, size or age, dolls have been a favorite of little girls (and many grown ups!) all over the world. They are often a young girl’s first taste of motherhood. Purchasing antique dolls can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but you should know a little about it before starting a collection.
Dolls have been around since the beginning of time in some form, but those that can be dated before 1930 are generally considered by collectors to be antiques. When shopping, the dolls you find will probably be European, Native American or American in origin. Dolls are classified by what type of material is used to make their head. You may find dolls with heads made of wood, porcelain, wax, papier-mâché, rubber, vinyl, plastic or china. That is because of the need to make the dolls as life-like as possible and the invention of different materials over time. Some older dolls will have the head, hands and feet made of the same material with its body made of stuffed cloth.
The first dolls were made with wood as it existed before any of the other materials and it was easy to carve and shape. But, just because a doll has a wooden head doesn’t necessarily mean it is old. Many folk artists still create dolls with wooden heads, so don’t pay a large price for a doll, believing it is old just because it is made of wood. Queen Anne dolls are among some of the “newer” wooden dolls. If you find one with blue eyes, it may have been made as late as the 1840’s. Also from the nineteenth century are the German peg woodens. These dolls have moving parts and are smaller with more delicate features and painted hair. In the nineteenth century, doll makers began experimenting with wax. It seemed to be a great material for making dolls because it was warm and colored close to human skin. But few of these dolls survived because the wax was fragile and easily destroyed. One beautiful characteristic of wax dolls is their hair, with each strand being inserted by hand. Papier-mâché dolls of older origin may be hard to find as well due to the fragility of the material despite being mass produced by many doll makers in Germany, France and the United States.
Porcelain dolls from Germany have always been a favorite of collectors. Although made in Germany, they are referred to as China dolls, perhaps because porcelain was invented by the Chinese. The dolls were highly prized for their almond eyes and bow mouths and later, their cherub-like baby faces. Most of the dolls had bodies that were often sold separately from the head. This was particularly helpful if a part was broken and needed to be replaced. So, it is possible to find the head of a doll made by one doll manufacturer and the body made by another. Porcelain dolls have molded painted hair that is usually wavy, but sometimes in an upsweep or bun. When purchasing porcelain dolls, cracks and black spots are not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, the porcelain used was often of poor quality, thus resulting in these blemishes. However, there were manufacturers such as Meissen and Royal Copenhagen in Germany that used better quality porcelain and they won’t show the age marks the others will. Among the most expensive dolls are the bisque French fashion dolls of the late nineteenth century. The bisque is unglazed porcelain and these dolls are elegant and very desirable. By the 1880’s, dolls made to resemble children rather than adult women became popular. These dolls gave way to the invention of the “baby doll” in the early 1900s. Baby dolls became the standard until the Barbie doll was introduced in the late 50’s.
American dolls were first made in 1850 by Izannah Walker in Rhode Island. These dolls were made of a knitted elastic fabric and are very hard to find today. Martha Chase produced dolls well into the 1930’s with painted heads, hands and feet and cloth bodies. Many of these dolls still exist today. Folk dolls are popular in the South and often made of scrap material. Some are carved from fruits, such as apples wood or even made of corn husks. Later America favorites include Raggedy Ann, which debuted in 1915 and the beloved Barbie, which debuted in 1959. Since the early 60’s, Barbie dolls have become an industry unto themselves. Although not technically considered an antique, some early Barbies are highly sought after by collectors and can be very high in price.
There are several things to take into consideration when purchasing an antique doll. First, you should look at the material it is made of and the condition of it. If you come across a doll made of papier-mâché and it is in great condition, it may be a good purchase, if priced reasonably. If you find a 1960’s Barbie in terrible condition, don’t waste your time purchasing it. Some signs on aging, such as lines or small cracks are acceptable, but it primarily depends on the doll’s age.
Remember too, when purchasing a doll, to take close note of the doll’s outfit, including any accessories. Dolls that appear to have their original outfits in good condition are more valuable. Some dolls have marks that will indicate who the maker is. You can familiarize yourself with these marks by doing research at the library or online. If you come across a bisque doll with her mouth closed, she will be more valuable than those with opened mouths.
Finally, use common sense when shopping. If you find a doll you think may be valuable at a thrift store or estate sale and the price is reasonable, take the risk. But if you are going to spend a considerable amount of money on a doll, make sure it is from a reputable source that you can trust. There are fakes that people try to sell, either because they are trying to swindle you or because they themselves have been swindled somewhere down the line and don’t know they are selling a fake. The best way to defend yourself against getting ripped off is to find out as much as you can about dolls before you begin collecting.