The world of antique dolls has fascinated many collectors for decades. Each doll has its unique history and represents the hallmarks of a particular period.
Another thing that makes them highly desirable is their exceptional craftsmanship and overall beauty. A lot of people view them as a perfect gift for their kids.
Even though we all appreciate their beauty, knowing how to date antique dolls is challenging.
But don’t be discouraged, as we are here to help!
In this article, we’ll provide all the information you need to determine if the doll you have is truly an antique or a replica.
What Dolls Are Considered an Antique?
The general rule is that any item over 100 years falls under the antique category. The same rule applies to dolls, meaning any doll manufactured before the 1920s is an antique doll.
Throughout history, dolls have been made from many different materials. So, examining the materials is one of the best ways to determine whether a doll is antique. Another great way is looking for the manufacturer’s mark. Let’s explain these characteristics in more detail.
Antique Dolls Types and Materials
Antique dolls were crafted from various materials, including wax, wood, paper, bisque, mâché, and cloth. Their bodies were typically fashioned from softer materials like kid leather or cloth, allowing greater flexibility and mobility.
Some of the most famous doll types include French bébé dolls, Chinese porcelain dolls, Bisque dolls, Parian dolls, German “dolly-faced” dolls, and mama dolls.
French Bébé Dolls
Let’s start with French bébé dolls. These dolls were designed to look like little kids and come with silk and velvet outfits, stockings, purses, shoes, hats, and more. Depending on rarity, you can find them on sites like Ruby Lane for over $4000.
Chinese Porcelain Dolls
Chinese porcelain dolls have wooden bodies and porcelain heads. Their value ranges from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on their condition and the details of their provenance.
We also have Bisque dolls with cloth or leather bodies and super detailed bisque heads with molded eyes, ears, and mouths. Bisque dolls, while super cool, were produced in huge quantities during their heyday, meaning they aren’t as rare or valuable as other types of antique dolls.
Moving on, we have Parian dolls. These dolls have a fabric body, and matte finish porcelain head, giving them a unique look that sets them apart from the glossy Chinese dolls. Parian dolls in good condition still fetch a decent penny, sometimes reaching a few thousand dollars depending on how rare and well-preserved they are.
German “Dolly-Faced” Dolls
Next up, we have the German “dolly-faced” dolls. These dolls were made in the 1870s and 1930s and had hand-sculpted, expressionless faces that gave them a unique charm. Dolls made by Kammer & Reinhardt and Simon & Halbig are considered the rarest and could cost anywhere from $1000 to $4000.
Finally, we have mama dolls. These dolls were extremely popular during the 1920s in the United States. They had soft bodies, a voice mechanism that said “mama” when turned upside down, and leg joints that allowed kids to “walk them.” While prices for mama dolls vary, you can find them on eBay for under $200, depending on the condition.
Evaluating Doll Bodies, Eyes, Hair, and Clothing
If you can’t find the manufacturer’s mark on your doll, evaluating your doll’s body, eyes, hair, and clothing may help identify its age.
Older dolls commonly featured porcelain, wooden or bisque bodies, while later dolls had cloth-stuffed bodies. Eyes painted on a doll can be a sign of old age, and artisans used glass eyes without movement before the introduction of movable eyes on rocking dolls.
The earliest China dolls’ heads usually had hair that was painted or molded. By the 1800s, dolls had rooted hair that looked more realistic and was often created with human hair.
Before the 1900s, doll clothing often consisted of leather, while modern doll clothing is made of synthetics and has a Victorian style.
Another tell-tale sign of a doll’s age is stains. Look for stains and discolorations on the clothing to determine its age. If the doll is stain- and discoloration-free, chances are it’s new and not an antique.
The maker’s mark is like the doll’s signature; you’ll find it in different places depending on the manufacturer’s preference.
So, if you are ready to play detective, start by turning the doll around and examining the back of its head or neck. That’s where manufacturers usually placed their mark, but it may also be hiding between the shoulder blades, on the bottom of the feet, or even on a tag sewn into the doll’s clothing.
If your doll has a wig, check underneath it too.
A maker’s mark can take many forms, from simple letters or numbers to a combination of both, a name, or even a word. So keep an eye out for unique characters or symbols that stand out.
And here’s a fun fact: thanks to the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, all imported goods had to be marked with the country of origin. So, if you spot a country name on the mark, you can be confident your doll is made after 1890.
The back of the head or neck is a common spot to search, but don’t be fooled – there are plenty of exceptions to this rule!
For instance, if you’re lucky enough to own a Rose O’Neill kewpie, you’ll want to check the bottom of its feet for an explicit “O’Neill” mark.
If you have a French Poupee, look for tick marks and the iconic blue Jumeau stamp on the doll’s back.
MadameAlexander dolls, on the other hand, were only marked on the tags of their clothing, so you’ll need to examine the clothing to identify them.
There are many ways to find more information about your doll’s maker’s mark. One option is to scour doll reference books and price guides. Another is to take it to an antique appraiser specializing in dolls or even send images to an online doll appraiser. Finally, you could take your doll to an exhibition if you’re adventurous.
Popular Dolls Manufacturers
Now, let’s honor some of the best manufacturers of antique dolls.
Armand Marseille dolls are some of the most common you’ll come across, with their bisque heads and German origins spanning from 1885 to 1930. These dolls’ prices range anywhere between $100 and 1000$, depending on the condition.
Meanwhile, the Alexander Doll Company, founded in 1923, produced the legendary Madame Alexander dolls known for their stylish outfits. Those legendary dolls may go up to $5000.
Jumeau dolls were crafted in France way back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Collectors highly seek after them; most fetch thousands of dollars.
Kammer & Reinhardt dolls, made in Germany in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were known for their lifelike expressions and delicate features, making them some of the most realistic dolls of their time. Some Kammer & Reinhardt dolls are so rare they’re like a unicorn in the collectors’ world, and they can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Values of Antique Dolls
Determining how much your dolls are worth is no easy task, but with a bit of knowledge and a lot of research, you’ll be able to figure it out.
Start by identifying what kind of doll you have. French and German bisque dolls usually sell for a lot of money, so if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’re in for a treat!
Once you’ve identified your doll, it’s time to open the books, or more accurately, the internet. A common way to find a doll’s value is by using pricing guides. These guides show how much a doll is worth today (price ranges). You’ll find them online by searching for a particular type or manufacturer.
Search for sold antique dolls on online marketplaces or live auctions if you want a more accurate value. In addition, check out sites like eBay to see what prices similar dolls sold in the past.
Several factors affect a doll’s value, including demand, age, uniqueness, appearance, decorations, proportions, durability, craftsmanship, aesthetics, style, physique, attire, and accessories. A doll in excellent condition with original textiles and decorations is presumably worth more than one that has undergone repairs or restorations.
Finding an Antique Doll
There are many sources for finding an antique doll.
One option is to search online auctions and sites, such as eBay and Ruby Lane. You may also visit a local antique store or doll show and fairs. You can find them through private dealers and collectors.
However, be cautious when searching online for antique dolls. Many fake or reproduction dolls are on the market, so it’s crucial to research and verify the seller before purchasing. It’s also important to be aware of the potential risks associated with buying items without seeing them. If it’s possible, inspect the doll in person before completing the transaction.
Once you acquire an antique doll for your collection: it’s essential to prevent further damage or deterioration. First, you should create a safe storage environment for your dolls, away from direct sunlight, extreme temperature or humidity, dust, pests, etc.
Keeping your dolls insured against loss or damage is also a good idea. Check with your insurance agent about coverage options for collectible items.
When touching your dolls, use clean hands and avoid unnecessarily touching their faces or other delicate parts. Finally, have your dolls professionally cleaned by someone specializing in antique restoration.
Antique Doll’s Accessories
Antique dolls are like mini fashion icons, and every fashion icon needs accessories to complete their look. There is no shortage of miniature accessories, from fancy hats to cute little shoes. And the best part? These accessories have been around for almost as long as dolls themselves.
Finding accessories from a hundred years ago is a treasure hunt, but you can still find many 19th-century items today.
These tiny toppers were often made from sumptuous silk and adorned with intricate ribbons, dainty lace, and stunning millinery flowers. And the male dolls’ hats were made from paper-mâché or natural felt.
But those tiny accessories aren’t just cute – they are also valuable. Collectors go wild for antique doll hats, and prices range from a hundred bucks to a whopping $500 or more.
To ensure your special purchase fits your doll’s head just right, measure the head’s circumference at its widest point and compare it to the measurements in the hat’s description. And if you are buying in person, don’t forget to bring a tape measure.
The shoes of dolls were often lost, which makes finding a pair all the more special. Luckily, the internet and some antique stores offer a selection of beautiful antique doll shoes made from soft leather, silk, and oilcloth. These shoes are miniature art pieces with silk flowers, delicate buckles, and ribbon ties.
Prices for antique doll shoes range from $100 to $400, depending on the shoes’ type and condition. However, buying shoes for an antique doll is tricky. If you don’t know your doll’s model or name, accurately measuring the length and width of the foot is very important.
Remember that foot shape varies, so it’s a good idea to examine photographs of the antique shoes to determine if they will fit your doll’s foot perfectly.
Doll stockings, or even longer stockings for that extra touch of elegance, come in various colors and materials, including hand-knitted lace, bright color, or even simple colors like black and white.
And let’s not forget antique shoe buckles. These tiny decorations add style and authenticity to your doll’s footwear. Whether you’re looking for stockings or shoe buckles, keep in mind the measurements of your doll’s feet and legs and check for any condition issues.
With prices ranging from about $20 to $100 for stocking and around $30 for buckles, you’ll have no problem giving your antique doll the finishing touch it deserves.
Fans, Purses, and Jewelry
Artisans crafted the fans with care and attention to detail back in the day. They were made from delicate materials like silk, lace, feathers, ivory, and wood. Of course, they’re a bit pricey, ranging from $200 to $300.
But that’s not all! You may also find some seriously stylish antique purses in many different materials and styles, from leather and metal mesh to beaded and fabric options. Some even have cool decorations and are fully functional. Again, depending on the condition, age, and materials used, prices range from around $20 to over 100$.
Lastly, antique jewelry is perfect for finishing your doll’s look. These tiny pieces were often made from glass beads, metal pieces, and even genuine gemstones. While prices vary depending on the materials and condition, adding a necklace or bracelet to your doll takes things up a notch.
Mini Household Items
You can create a whole tableau for your antique dolls by adding these tiny replicas of real-life objects or make your antique dollhouse feel like a real home with some fantastic household pieces.
First, you have adorable dishes, like the teacup sets that were very popular in the past. You may also find miniature versions of wardrobes, beds, sinks, bathtubs, mini books, and writing implements.
And, of course, no doll would be complete without some personal accessory like a hand mirror. Finding miniature items like musical instruments, candles, and doll carriages is a fun challenge.
Antique Doll Repairment
Missing arm, chipped noses, grayed clothing, drooping wigs. It’s a sad sight to see. But you have options on how to deal with it.
First, you must decide what to do with your beloved doll: repair, restore, or conserve.
Repairing means fixing a broken or damaged part. Think of it as putting a band-aid on a wound. It may involve gluing a broken arm back together or cleaning and restyling a wig.
Restoration, on the other hand, is a transformation. It means bringing the doll back to its original glory, including wigs, hair styling, clothing, and facial features. You can use original materials or mimic them as closely as possible. You’ll be amazed how a doll transforms from shabby to chic.
Lastly, conservation, or stabilization, means stopping a problem that has developed and preserving the current state of the doll. Those include taking care of insect infestations or preventing deterioration with special ingredients. You’re saving the day and preserving history at the same time.
Before You Decide on Repairment
When it comes to antique dolls, authenticity is the key. Any repair or alteration to the doll will significantly affect its value. So, before you whip out the glue gun, think carefully about the value of your doll and the repairs you are considering.
The general rule of thumb in doll restoration is to do nothing that will decrease its value or authenticity. Extensive repairs lower the doll’s worth by 25% to 50%. Of course, if it’s severely damaged, its value is already compromised. However, a doll with no repairs will always be more valuable than a repaired one.
If you plan to restore your antique doll simply for the love of it, then by all means, go for it. It’s your doll, and you can do whatever you want with it.
However, if you’re planning to sell your restored doll, it’s essential to research prices for similar dolls in the same condition. And remember, if you’re selling a repaired doll, you must disclose what was repaired or restored to a potential buyer.
Dressing up dolls can be a real problem for collectors when restoring the doll’s clothing. Many collectors prefer their dolls to be dressed in original clothing or at least in clothes that match the doll’s era. Even if its clothes are in tatters, they can still be worth more than a doll dressed in brand-new clothes that are historically inaccurate.
If you’re lucky enough to have an old doll with its original clothing, you’re sitting on a goldmine.
But you don’t have to give up if your doll’s clothing is beyond repair. Instead, hold onto those scraps of fabric, shoes, and other accessories. These items can provide valuable clues for finding the perfect replacement outfit matching the doll’s era and style.
Are you a DIY enthusiast looking to restore an antique doll? Before diving in, you should know a few things.
Make sure you can reverse any repair you make. Antique dolls are particularly vulnerable, and irreversible repairs can significantly decrease their value. Leaving this job to a professional is always a good idea because, without proper training, you’re more likely to make mistakes.
One of the biggest challenges with antique dolls is their extreme wear and tear. After all, these items are always more than a century old. You might find missing legs or arms, matted hair, or hidden damage inside the doll’s body or clothing. And don’t forget about the insects that can infest organic stuffing. Even the doll’s delicate features may be damaged, with wax head dolls responding poorly to heat and tiny cracks appearing in porcelain faces.
While you might be able to replace a wig, repair a limb, or clean the clothing, it’s necessary to proceed with caution. Make sure you know what materials you are working with, as some fabrics and wigs are delicate and can’t be washed or handled too roughly.
Wigs of mohair or human hair can fall apart, whereas wigs of composition fibers need even more exceptional care.
So, if you’re up for a challenge, proceed with care, and do your research before you start repairing.
Before you send off your beloved doll to a professional, call the repair business or email them with some photos and a description of your doll. Prices range depending on the materials, time, and techniques used, so getting a quote upfront is vital.
With so many repair companies, it’s a good idea to ask the right questions before deciding is a good idea.
Here are some examples:
- Do they specialize in any particular types of repairs?
- Do they work on dolls from different eras?
- Can they show you samples of their previous work?
- Do they offer any guarantee on their work?
Don’t take any chances with your precious dolls. Leave it in the hands of the experts that you trust.
To conclude, the best way to determine if your doll is an antique is to check the materials and see if there’s a manufacturer’s mark on it. If you’re still stumped, don’t hesitate to ask a professional for help. Antique dealers are always happy to share their expertise with fellow doll enthusiasts.
But let’s not stop at owning antique dolls. Take it to the next level by adding accessories to create a full-on time capsule.
Sometimes your dolls can suffer some wear and tear. Do not leave them sitting like that, but ensure you know of any potential risks before doing so!
And above all else, remember to have fun! Collecting antique dolls is truly a unique and rewarding experience, full of discovery and appreciation for the past.