Archive for June, 2009

Part one of this series covered early dolls–from the Queen Anne wood dolls through papier mache and wax dolls.  Now, we turn to some of the jewels of antique doll collecting–Chinas, Parians, French and German fashion dolls, and the French and German child dolls.  Although this is mostly a historical series, general price ranges have been included for many types of dolls.

China Dolls and Parians

china2.jpg (5809 bytes)The first first type of antique doll that is widely-known among non-doll collectors is the, the china doll, and her close cousin, the rarer parian. The china doll had her heyday between 1840 and 1880, before bisque dolls became preferred by children, although china dolls were still mass-produced as late as the 1920s. China dolls have heads of glazed porcelain, and parians have heads of unglazed porcelain, and the majority were produced in Germany from 1850 on. China dolls are often identified by their hairstyles–be it a covered wagon style (hair flat on top with sausage curls around the head, 1840s), an Alice in Wonderland (molded head band, 1850s) or the Dolly Madison (curls all over and a molded ribbon)–whatever was fashionable at a certain time. Most china dolls represented ladies, and were fashionably dressed in up-to-date fashions. After about 1880, china heads were often sold separately, leaving the doll owner to make her own doll body and costume. The more elaborate the hairstyle and decoration on a china or parian doll, generally the higher the value–from about $300 for a common 1860s Highland Mary, to several thousand for a rare, elaborately decorated parian with a swivel-head and glass eyes.

German and French Fashion Dolls

Finally, we come to the best known group of antique dolls–the German and French bisque dolls. These dolls were produced from the 1840s until after World War I, with the amount of production and number of manufacturers increasing significantly around 1860. The years from 1860 through 1890 were dominated by fashion dolls. These dolls were made to represent ladies, and they were dressed in exquisite, elaborate reproductions of current fashions. Most were made in France (frequently from heads produced in Germany, although Jumeau and Bru produced their own heads) with inset glass eyes and woman-shaped kid bodies, by companies such as Jumeau, Bru, Gaultier, Rohmer and Huret. Fashion dolls, despite their elaborateness, were definitely playthings. Little girls (usually affluent since these dolls were quite expensive) would perfect their sewing skills by sewing wardrobes for their dolls, as they learned about the importance and substance of fashion for mid 19th century women. Often these dolls would come with entire trunks of clothes and accessories! In fact, an entire industry existed to costume and accessorize these dolls, in the Passage Choiseul area of Paris. These businesses included seamstresses, milliners, shoemakers, jewelers, and shoemakers! Magazines instructed girls on the proper fashions, and also provided patterns for making clothing. Today, fashion dolls are very expensive to collect, varying in price from around $2,000 for unmarked or later dolls, up to $20,000 or more for Hurets and rare examples in original outfits.

French Bébés

Bébés, or dolls made to represent children, were quite revolutionary for their time (starting about 1850), since most dolls up until that time were made to represent adults. Eventually, Bébés would overtake fashion dolls in popularity, and would lead to their demise. French Bébés, made by the master doll makers Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, Rohmer and others would have their ascendancy from the 1860s to the 1880s, followed by the German doll makers, who basically took over the industry with their quality, but lower priced products in the 1890s.

French Bébés were the pinnacle of the dollmaking industry. These dolls, with their kid or composition bodies, fine bisque heads, and beautiful expressions, were again expensive toys made for upper-class children. Bébés were usually sold exquisitely dressed, in doll-sized fashions worn by children of that era. Today, prices for French Bébés vary widely, depending on quality. Expect to pay several thousand at minimum for Jumeau or Brus. Later French Bébés, by the S.F.B.J (which was formed by French doll makers in 1899 in response to the threat from the German manufacturers) are not as fine quality, with more heavily tinted faces, and lesser clothing, can be had for several hundred dollars, especially for post-WWI examples.

German Dolly-Faced Dollsdollyface.jpg (29045 bytes)

BébésThe German “dolly-faced” child dolls are the ubiquitous antique bisque dolls that collectors today are most likely to find, produced from 1890 to about 1930, from such manufacturers as Armand Marseille, Simon and Halbig and Kestner. Most of these dolls came from the Thuringia region, which had rich clay deposits used to make the porcelain. Many of the German dolly-faced dolls are unmarked as to manufacturer, and there are many manufacturers that had their names and other details literally obliterated by the World Wars. The most sought-after of the German dolls of the early 20th century are the character-faced dolls, produced in response to consumer demands for more realistic-looking children dolls. Kämmer and Reinhardt, Heubach and Kestner produced many high-quality expressive character dolls which are eagerly sought by collectors today. Also eagerly sought by collectors are all-bisque dolls (head, torso and limbs all made of bisque) from manufacturers such as Kestner, Heubach, and Simon and Halbig.

For German bisque dolls, as with all antique dolls, remember that quality varies widely even within one manufacturer’s products–dolls with finely detailed features (such as feathered brows and individual upper and lower eyelashes) and pale bisque are always preferred over dolls with single-stroke or other simplified features and darkly tinted bisque. Also, today’s collectors prefer closed-mouth bisque dolls, since many fewer of them were produced than open-mouth dolls. Common German bisque dolls of average quality which are unmarked or from Armand Marseille can be found for as little as $200 or $300, with prices for sought-after German characters soaring into the thousands.

Text & Photos by Denise Van Patten.
Portions of this series first printed in County Lines Magazine March, 1999

There is so much to learn about antique dolls and their costuming–their history, the history of their creators, manufacturers and seamstresses, how children played with them–research turns up more information about all of this each year, as prices and collector interest continues to rise on all but the most common antique dolls.

All dolls created before approximately 1930 are considered antique. This is a somewhat arbitrary division, but in general, most pre-1930 bisque, china, papier mâché, wood, and wax dolls are considered antique by collectors. For years, all-composition dolls were considered modern, but that is slowly changing, and many of the pre-1930 composition dolls are now considered antique. One reason for this division is that many of the German manufacturers of bisque dolls made them from the 1890s through about 1930, and it is often hard to tell exactly what decade the doll was produced if it is not in original clothing. Most dolls you find today are, unfortunately, not found with original clothing, wigs, shoes and undergarments.  Although this is mostly a historical series, general price ranges have been included for many types of dolls.

Early Dolls

papmache.jpg (28944 bytes)The majority of antique dolls found today were manufactured from 1850 on, although dolls representing adults from the 17th and 18th century are rarely found. Most of the very early dolls were made in England by individual craftsmen who carved the dolls of wood,painted their features, and also costumed the dolls. Collectors call the wood dolls from England from the 18th and early 19th centuries “Queen Anne” dolls, which is somewhat confusing, since Queen Anne’s reign ended in 1714! These dolls, in good to excellent condition, are extremely rare, and cost from about $1,500 for an early 19th century doll, to well over $20,000 for dolls made in the late 17th century (very few have survived–less than 30 by some reports).

Papier Mache

Next oldest, and easier to find are the papier mâché dolls made from the beginning of the 19th century through the early 20th century. These dolls were mass-produced in Germany, France, and the United States, and proved a cheaper alternative to wood dolls, since molds could be used. The beginning of production of these dolls marked the beginning of the powerhouse German dollmaking industry, which would dominate the doll industry (except for the heyday of the French Bébé) until World War I. The first well-known American doll maker, Ludwig Greiner of Philadelphia, made papier mâché dolls from 1840 to 1874, and then his sons until 1883. Most papier mâché dolls have molded hair painted black, wooden limbs with a kid body, and painted eyes. A few choice dolls have glass eyes. The value of papier mâché dolls has started to rise because of the difficulty of finding them in excellent condition, as well as the out-of-sight prices of the sought-after early French and German bisque dolls. Prices range from about $500 for a small, marked post-1872 Greiner up to $2,000+ for exceptional German “milliners” models, and French examples from the early to mid 1800s.

Wax Dolls

wax.jpg (16923 bytes)The wax doll is generally a contemporary of the papier mâché doll. The earliest wax dolls found by collectors tend to be the poured wax dolls made in England (after the demise of the wooden doll industry) from 1840 through the remainder of the 19th century, although pressed wax dolls were made before this time for the very wealthy. The poured wax dolls were made by pouring liquid into warm molds, and then, the hair, and glass eyes were set in the head. Poured wax dolls were mostly made in home-based businesses, and making wax dolls was very hazardous–if a doll maker wasn’t seriously burned by the hot wax, he could have his lungs harmed by the sawdust used to stuff bodies, or, he could be poisoned by the lead used to color the wax!

Bodies of wax dolls were generally made of stuffed cloth, with wax limbs (as you can see, the genre that dolls fall into is determined by the material that their heads are made of–NOT from the materials used for the bodies). Wax dolls can have beautifully realistic heads, because wax can mimic skin much better than either wood or papier mâché. Poured wax dolls from mid-19th century England are mostly valued between $1000 to $2000; earlier dolls much higher. Some later wax dolls are stamped by the maker on the torso; such identification greatly enhances the value. Wax dolls were also made with plaster or papier mâché reinforcement in both England and Germany, and later examples are less costly to today’s collectors, often only a few hundred dollars.

In Part II of this series, we will turn our attention to China and Parian Dolls, French and German fashion dolls, French Bebes and the German Dolly-faced dolls.

Article and photos by Denise Van Patten
Above photos: 30″ all-original 1870 Greiner Papier Mache; wax over papier mache c. 1850.
Portions of this series first appeared in County Lines Magazine, March 1999.

Welcome to the fascinating world of doll collecting! We’ve all been there–brand new to collecting, so many dolls to collect, so many ways to collect. Actually, there is no right or wrong way to collect dolls. Collecting is supposed to be fun, so follow your inner collecting muse and enjoy yourself.

That said…seasoned collectors have been through all of the stages of collecting, and they’ve made every collecting mistake that can be made. So…if you’re reading this, and would like to know some of the typical mistakes of beginning doll collectors, here are the Top 10 Mistakes of Doll Collecting Newbies.

1. Wanting It All

If you’re new to collecting, you’re probably like a kid in a candy store–there are so many dolls, and they’re all asking you to take them home! Dolls at the local doll store, dolls at shows, dolls on eBay–they all seem to have your name on them. Whatever you do, don’t give in to all of your doll urges. Before you know it, you’ll end up broke and out of space–before you even know what you’re really doing! So, slow down, and realize you can’t (and shouldn’t!) have it all in the beginning of your collecting life.

2. Collecting Alone

In today’s modern Internet collecting world, its easy to collect in a vacuum, buying and selling dolls through eBay, and through mail order. Well…I can’t think of a more boring way to collect than alone. Having friends who also collect can not only be fun, but informative. If you have a local doll club, join it (or start your own!). If you don’t have a local doll club, you can find one on the Internet, or you can frequent a busy doll Forum (like the ones we have on this site!) where doll collectors discuss everything doll. You can also find doll collecting friends at doll shows and conventions. Trust me, its nice to know some people who don’t think your doll collecting is just an eccentric pastime.

3. Collecting Solely on eBay

If you only collect dolls through eBay, you’re missing SO much. You’ll never fall in love with and discover new types of dolls unless you see them in person–at doll shows, doll shops, doll auctions and doll conventions. Sure, eBay is fun and convenient, but there is nothing like actually seeing dolls in person and/or handling them. A picture on eBay can only teach you so much about a doll…..seeing it in person will teach you ten times as much.

4. Buying Cheap

There is nothing wrong with buying dolls on a budget. But….if you buy 5 $10 dolls, you could have afforded one $50 doll. If you buy 5 fifty dollar dolls, you could have afforded one $250 doll. And so on. I know its hard to not go for volume when you’re starting out as a collector, but if you control the volume and save your funds for slightly better dolls, you’ll end up with a better and more valuable collection in the long run. And, if you DO find yourself with many dolls of lesser-value in the long run, consider “trading up” where you sell earlier doll acquisitions to acquire better ones later on.

5. Failing to Focus Your Collection

This is a bit like wanting it all, but different (trust me, you can be really, really focused–ONLY collecting Liddle Kiddles, for instance–and then want every Liddle Kiddle in sight, right away). If you just collect dolls in general, and you don’t focus, you may end up with a broad but somewhat boring collection. Not too mention that if you collect too broadly, you may simply end up with many lower or medium-level dolls, never really getting to rarer or unusual ones. Oh…and, if you don’ t focus, you can say goodbye to your display space before you know it. Focusing your collection is smart–you can learn one area of dolls in depth, which will help you make smarter purchases, and help you put together a more cohesive collection. Oh….and there is no rule that says you can’t focus on a different area once you’re sufficiently finished with the first!

6. Narrowing Your Focus TOO Much

Yes….I realize I am now contradicting myself. But….if you DO put total doll blinders on, and only collect, um, say again Liddle Kiddles, you’ll never learn anything about any other type of doll. For all you know, you’re true “soul mate” in dolls might be Klumpe and Roldan dolls. But, if you don’t at least notice what else is out there, you’ll never know. Even if you focus on one area of collecting, continue to read books and magazine articles about other dolls, and don’t completely ignore other dolls at doll shows and shops.

7. Keeping Your Dolls in Boxes

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to most antique doll collectors. But…especially for collectors of modern dolls, don’t just leave your dolls in boxes for “investment” sake. If you’re only interested in investing, you should buy some real estate. Play with your dolls–debox, fold, spindle and mutilate. Redress them. Play with their hair. Enjoy your collection! Nothing is as sad as a collector with 200 dolls–all in boxes, either in a case or stored in a closet, and not one single doll to play with!

8. Being Afraid of Live Doll Auctions

Whether you’re an antique or modern doll collector, don’t be afraid of doll auctions. They will seem intimidating at first–buying dolls with live competition, and having to think, quick, on your feet, can intimidate even the most seasoned collector. However, you can find amazing dolls of all types at auctions. Before you’re ready to buy at one, attend a few and get the feel for the market, the bidding, and reviewing the dolls at preview–whether the auctions are held at a local estate sale auction house or a specialty doll auction house. Eventually, you’ll jump into the fray and you’ll be glad you did!

9. Being An Antique Doll (Or Modern Doll) Snob

I can’t tell you how often modern doll collectors look suspiciously at antique doll collectors and vice-versa. I collect both, so I’m sensitive to the snubs of each. Don’t be a doll snob–even if you don’t want to collect in the other universe of dolls, you should still respect it and even explore it as your collecting continues.

10. Living and Breathing by Price Guides

Price Guides are essential to collecting (heck, I have one on this site and I’m writing one!). You’ll need to have a few to help guide your collecting and to help you appraise your collection. But…don’t become a slave to your price guides. If you see a truly mint, all-original vintage or antique doll, that doll can be priceless–one of a kind, that you might literally never see again. So….don’t decide not to buy the doll just because its being sold over “book value.” Conversely, don’t jump at dolls you see that are way under book value–sure, they might be a good bargain, but the doll market is volatile right now, and the market might have changed since the book was written. Or…the doll is being offered way under book value because it has serious flaws in condition or otherwise. So, when you use price guides, start with the price guide for reference, and then think it through further.

by Denise Van Patten