Antique Spotlight: How To Identify And Value Your Antique Dolls!

The production of dolls dates back thousands of years, although these days it’s rare to find a doll that was crafted prior to 1850. Technically speaking, an “antique doll” is one that was made before 1930. Throughout the years, dolls have been used in religious ceremonies, as holiday decorations, and of course, as playthings. Dolls are treasured for their unique histories– no two dolls bear the same story. They’re also prized for their beauty and workmanship. Read on to learn more about the history of doll collecting and how to identify and price your own dolls…


A brief history of antique dolls…

In 18th and early 19th century England, dolls were made of wood by artisans who hand-painted their features and outfitted them with costumes. Labeled “Queen Anne” dolls, today these collectibles are rare indeed, and one in good-excellent condition could price somewhere between $1500-$15,000. Early American dolls produced during the same period were often made of rags or cloth, a sign of the simplicity that marked that era.

The early 19th century ushered in a period of papier-mâché doll-making across the U.S., Germany, and France. Dolls were mass-produced with molded painted hair, wooden limbs, and eyes that were painted on or made of glass. During this period Germany became a world leader in doll craftsmanship, to be overshadowed only briefly by France’s production of Bebe dolls featuring infant and childlike features in the early 1850s. During this time, wax dolls became fashionable, along with china and parian.

By the late 1800s, the French introduced bisque dolls with heads made from unglazed colored clay to more closely match human skin tone. German doll makers caught onto the trend and began producing fashion dolls along with the French. Dressed in exquisite costumes, these dolls typically belonged to girls from wealthy families and often arrived with a trunk full of accessories. By the 20th century, big name American doll manufactures such as Ideal, Vogue, Madame Alexander and Mattel arrived on the scene, bringing with them Shirley Temple dolls and Barbies.


Resources for Determining the Value of Your Doll…

The single most helpful thing you can do when researching the value of an antique doll is an Ebay search. Simply search for and follow recent auctions for dolls of the same (or similar) make/year/condition to get a feel for pricing and bidding dynamics. Prices can vary greatly depending on the condition of a doll and many other factors. If you’d like to do further investigating, head to Theriault’s website for information on recent auctions of antique dolls. Doll magazines, price guides, shows, and of course, appraisers are also valuable tools in determining how much your doll is worth.


How to Identify Your Doll…

Sometimes it takes little to no effort to identify a doll’s make and year of production. But often, a little bit of sleuthing is necessary! Before you do anything else, examine your doll in good light with a magnifying glass. Take notes on the material the doll is made of, size, and features like hair, eyes, and clothing. Keep an eye out for any special markings. Usually you can find clues about the manufacturer and age from markings on the doll’s torso, back of the head, or feet. Modern doll makers like Madame Alexander may print their names directly on the doll, but older dolls may bear letters and numbers or no markings at all.

If that’s the case, take a flip through a doll reference book or do a search online to see if you can find a visual match to your doll. If all else fails, a doll appraiser may be able to help you solve the mystery. Keep in mind that some dolls are never “fully” identified, instead listed as “English wax doll 1860s,” etc.

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