Dolls evoke a wide range of emotions in people, from those who find them endearing to others who find their realistic, miniature features disconcerting. Those who love them often end up collecting them for a variety of reasons.
Some collections are started somewhat by accident. People often keep the dolls they played with as a child for sentimental reasons. Then when a family member passes, they inherit their childhood dolls as well. Before they know it, these doll owners are deemed collectors by friends who give them their dolls, knowing they’ll have a good home.
Period dolls appeal to history buffs and may be collected for that reason. Some collectors seek out dolls all made in a certain decade; others don’t care so much about when the dolls were made, but more about the era they represent through their hairstyles and clothing.
Many collectors seek out dolls that were made in a certain country or by a specific manufacturer, while others’ collections are comprised of dolls that represent countries they have visited or have an interest in.
If you have inherited a few dolls, or an entire collection, you can learn more about them in a few different ways. The era in which a doll was made can range from antique to vintage to modern. People are often surprised to discover dolls from the modern period are just as valuable and collectible as antique dolls.
The type of material used to make the doll can be a clue as to when your doll was made, although some of the materials cross over several decades.
· Porcelain or bisque – Like many other household items, before unbreakable products were invented, dolls were made of porcelain. Oftentimes their arms, legs and head were porcelain and the bodies were stuffed fabric. Facial features were hand-painted on each doll, as was the hair in most cases. Porcelain was the most common material used in dolls until the 1870s, but it is still used today to create decorative dolls more than ones to be played with.
· Celluloid – Although it sounds space-age, celluloid actually became a popular doll-making material in the 1870s. While it could still be crushed or cracked, it was more durable than porcelain and was much less expensive to manufacture. This material was also very flammable.
· Composition – Composition dolls started being produced in 1910. The combination of glue and sawdust used to make this product was more affordable and easier to mold than celluloid. Dolls were often completely made of composition with jointed limbs, but larger ones can be found with composition arms, legs, and heads and fabric bodies, which helped reduce the weight of the dolls. This product was fairly susceptible to water damage.
· Vinyl – Still the most popular product used in doll-making today, vinyl dolls started making an appearance in the 1950s. They replaced the composition and hard plastic dolls, giving children a toy that was softer and more pleasant to touch. Unlike previous dolls that had to essentially wear wigs to have hair, vinyl dolls have hair inserted directly into their heads, making it less likely their hair would come off.
To identify a doll, start with labels in clothing or on shoes, or any packaging that might be with it. Next, look for marks on the head, neck, torso, or bottom of a foot for a manufacturer’s name or trademark. Some older dolls may have the country of origin stamped on them, and antique dolls may have a mold number you can look up in a collector’s book. If you can’t identify a doll on your own, seek out a collector who might have found a similar one with its packaging or original clothing intact.
It used to be that collectors sold dolls based on a value printed in a book or a prior sale, but because of the internet, values of dolls vary greatly today. Now value doesn’t just depend on the condition or age of the doll. Those sold online by sellers with a solid reputation earn more than those sold by an individual. The quality of the photos posted can also affect the price. Pure luck plays a role too, as online sales are often based on who happens to see what you’re selling and whether or not they’re interested.
Whether you made a conscious decision to become a doll collector or inherited a collection from a family member, it can be a fascinating hobby.