Antique China Head Dolls (Identification & Value Guide)

Antique China head dolls have become more than a pl. They are now one of the most valuable pieces of antique items due to the rich history that follows them.

In 2014, a 1916 porcelain bisque doll created by the French Sculptor Albert Marque sold for $280,000 at a Theriault auction.

You should follow this guide thoroughly for knowledge in identifying antique China head dolls and their value. 

China head doll
French Bisque Art-character Doll By Albert Marque (Source: Theriault)

What is a China Head Doll?

If you come across a doll with its head, shoulder and neck (also called shoulder plates), then you are looking at a China head doll. In some cases, the hands and feet of these dolls are also made using China.

When making these dolls, tiny holes are made on the China piece, this would later go on to be used when attaching these parts to the doll’s body. The body of this doll is made using other materials. They are often stuffed with sand, straw or other filling materials.

How To Identify Antique China Head Dolls

Although it’s easy to spot these dolls based on their appearance alone, we recommend not relying on appearance alone if you intend to pay top dollar for an antique.

In addition to the appearance of the doll, there are two major ways to verify if the doll you are looking at is indeed an antique China head doll. They include;

  • Identifying the manufacturers
  • Dating the dolls (Hairstyle and Clothing)

Appearance (Chinese, Bisque or Parian)

Many of these dolls are made using China, but what distinguishes one from the other is traceable to the production technique and material which ultimately determines the final appearance of the doll.

Chinese Porcelain Dolls

Chinese Porcelain Dolls
antique China porcelain doll Chinese in the original clothes (Source: Antiktoystore)

For these China head dolls, the material would be covered with glaze before the firing process; hence causing it to have a shiny appearance.

Dolls of this nature were quite popular in the 19th century until the mid-20th century, when the production of replicas of China dolls became more popular.

While they had China-covered parts, the body was made of wood. It was not until later that the hands and feet were crafted using China.

These dolls were made from what society portrayed in that period, and some popular depictions are older models with molded hair made from porcelain with a higher forehead.

Bisque Dolls

Bisque Dolls
Simon & Halbig 979 child doll with open mouth and square-cut teeth (Source: Dolls Magazine)

In the beginning, manufacturers covered the body of the bisque dolls with either leather or only clothes, but by the beginning of the 20th century, they used other materials like plastic.

These dolls were available in all sizes, even life-sized versions of these dolls were made. Bisque dolls were popular for their big round eyes, small mouths usually opened, and the extra decorative finishing touches.

At first, the hair of these dolls used to be molded until the manufacturers attempted to make them look more lifelike by using wigs instead of molds. Common types of these dolls include baby dolls, character dolls and adult fashion dolls.

The manufacturers of these dolls would also commonly create a doll that resembles the faces of well-known people, making them more relevant than ever.

Parian Dolls  

Parian Dolls  
German Alt Beck & Gottschalck parian doll with glass eyes (Source: Wiki)

Dolls that spotted this appearance were quite similar to the bisque dolls. Their heads were forged using white porcelain that was not tinted, giving it a marble-like appearance. The head usually had decorative paints to give the white surface a little color.

Parian dolls usually have blonde molded hair. They created some with brown hair, but it is incredibly rare to come across one. Their eyes, when not painted, are made of glass. These glass-eyed Parians are usually more sought after by collectors.

Another difference between the parian and the bisque dolls is that the parian dolls are more expensive and are used for display as opposed to play toys like the bisque.

These are the most common types of dolls that are formed using China.

The Manufacturers

In the early 18th century, finding a China doll head with the producer’s mark was difficult. This problem was because many factories were more involved in selling mass-produced parts for resale rather than making a complete doll.

By the beginning of the late 18th century, some manufacturers began adding marks to their items, some of whom were famous manufacturers like KPM Meissen and Hertwig Porcelain Factory.

KPM Meissen

This factory was among the first producers of China head dolls to start including their marks on their items. They were most famous for their hand-painted China doll heads.

The factory would tag their items with symbols and add KPM; this made it easier for the buyers to identify whose product they were buying, and as expected, this affected the value of these dolls.                     

RARE ANTIQUE MEISSEN KPM STYLE CHINA DOLL - CIRCA 1800's
RARE ANTIQUE MEISSEN KPM STYLE CHINA DOLL – CIRCA 1800’s

KPM Meissen Mark

 Above is an example of the marks KPM would use on their items in an attempt to tag their production.

Hertwig Porcelain Factory

This German-located factory was popular for their dolls from the 1860s to the 1940s before they closed down, making many of their productions today an antique.

The company used the alphabet H, a house, and a cat symbol to identify their items.

Hertwig Porcelain Factory

Marks like these help a lot when trying to identify an antique doll head. These marks are not always a guarantee of the originality of a China doll head due to many fakes available, and this makes other forms of identification necessary.

Dating the Dolls (Hairstyle and Clothing)

Identifying an antique China head doll would be easier if you could figure out when it was produced. Knowing what year a China head doll is produced will help you know what it is to look out for when identifying the piece.

The best way to date these dolls is to observe the hairstyle and original clothing.

Hairstyle

The hairstyle of many China head dolls is molded as this is the original design. Later on, manufacturers used wigs to give the dolls a more lifelike look, but if you want to identify an original China head doll, the hairstyle would be molded.

Sometimes, the hairstyle is modeled after a famous person during that period, but this does not mean the manufacturers would not reuse the same hairstyle even after that period has ended.

The hair color is also a major aspect to look out for. Predominant colors used for the China doll heads are black, brown and sometimes blonde. These hairstyles are grouped into four major categories to aid identification. They are:

  • The covered wagon hairstyle: This was popular among the original Chinahead dolls produced from the 1840s until the 1860s.
  • The Mary Lincoln hairstyle: Prominent on dolls produced from the 1860s and styled after the real person, the hairstyle is a middle part with ribbons and roll over the ear.
  • The Dolly Madison hairstyle: Popular in the 1870s, these doll hairs had a curly appearance that would sometimes be decorated using a ribbon. Manufacturers made it after the real Dolly, who would style her hair with a ribbon.
  • Jenny Lind hairstyle:Also named after the popular singer, the style was clean and laid-back with a middle part.

Below is a table that shows a decade and some China dolls’ hairstyles produced in that period.

Period
Hairstyle
The 1840s
Young Queen Victoria, Child Head Doll, Lydia Head, Sophia Smith Head.
The 1850s
Bald Head, Covered Wagon Head, Greiner Style Head.
The 1860s
Alice in the wonderland Head, Countess Dagmar Head, High Brow Head, Jenny Lind Head, Water Fall Head, Flat Top Head.
The 1870s
Currier and Ives Head, Spill Curl Head, Dolly Madison Head, Curly Top Head, Adelina Patti Head.
The 1880s
Highland Mary Head,
The 1890s
Pet Name Head, Low Brow Head,
The 1900s
China Head, Bonnet Head

Clothing

Dating a doll using the piece of clothing is a bit tasking because, unlike the hairstyles, the dolls’ clothes are easy to remove and replace.

Many children and lovers of dolls would often play pretend with their dolls, including changing the dolls’ clothes from time to time. This factor makes it harder to date the dolls but not impossible.

The calming fact is that even if the dolls’ clothes have been changed, it is still clothing from the same period, which means that you can use the available cloth to date these dolls so you can identify them.

Another interesting fact is that some manufacturers of these China head dolls tend to sell the dolls with a collection of clothes because they know the buyers may need to change the cloth. You can use this to trace the manufacturers of the China doll head.

As long as the piece of clothing found on the doll is from the same period as its original piece, it will be possible to date and identify the doll using that cloth.

Some dealers specialize in using fabric to figure a period. These professionals can assist, and this helps you date your antique China head doll.

Visiting specialized sites can help you use these identification techniques better, so you don’t make mistakes.

For a better understanding of how you can identify these antique China head dolls, you can watch the video below for further clarification.

How to Determine the Value of an Antique China Head Doll

Finding the right value for an antique China head doll is not as straightforward as expected. Some factors need to be considered when trying to get the right value.

For example, auctioned antique dolls on specialized sites like Theriault’s can sell for hundreds of dollars, but this does not mean every valuable antique China head doll will sell for that much.

Usually, you will find these antique dolls listed from as low as $5 to $500 but hardly will you see anyone for more than $10,000 except in special auctions.

When finding the right value for an antique China head doll, you must consider certain variables to determine the right value for an item. You can examine these clues to ensure you get the right value for your China head doll.

The Manufacturer’s Mark

As soon as you verify that you indeed own an antique China head doll, the need to place a value on it arises, and one of the best ways for you to do this is to identify the manufacturer of that item because this is a major price determinant.

For many manufacturers, it was easy to use a number rather than a symbol or alphabet on parts of the doll-like the head or the neck to mark their products.

These markings tend to increase the value of the China head doll, especially if the manufacturer is one with good quality China head dolls. It is possible to use this mark to identify the product’s manufacturer, and once you do, you can determine the value.

For example, a brand like KPM Meissen, one of the original producers of these dolls, is best known for special hand painting and artistic jobs. One will expect a doll from this brand to be a lot more valuable.

It is also possible for you to get in touch with a professional to help you trace the manufacturer if you do not feel capable of tracing this doll. Usually, you can use the mark or number to trace the manufacturer by using the specialized websites.

You should check for these marks as a buyer to know you are getting the right value for your China head doll.

The Condition

The condition of an antique China head doll before a valuation is very important. You do not expect to see a doll with a cracked head being valued at a higher price, and this makes it possible for the situation the doll is in to determine the value.

An antique doll in pristine condition, especially one still packaged, is more likely to fetch a higher price than one that is not but rarely will you find an antique in that condition. This factor does not mean you can’t find one still in good condition.

The advisable thing to do is to critically look at this antique doll. Check for cracks, holes or smudges because these factors can greatly reduce the quality of the China head doll you may be looking to buy.

One amazing fact about critically analyzing this doll is that unknowingly, you can end up verifying the doll’s authenticity instead of making it a win-win situation.

Also, you should ensure you do not fall into the reproduction hole. The China head doll, by nature, is very delicate, so, normally, companies would have to replace some parts at some point which can reduce the value of the doll.

The best way to avoid this is to examine all the parts and ensure they all fit, especially in color and texture.

View the table below to see how valuable the condition of the antique China head dolls can be.

Condition
Value
Pristine
Extremely Valuable
Near Pristine
High Value
Fine
Valuable
Good
Slightly Valuable
Poor
Low Value

Clothing

Many antique China head dolls come with their clothing from their period, which only adds to the value of the dolls because the clothes themselves can be considered antique items.

If the clothes are still intact, you know you will get a high value for them alongside the doll. However, if the clothes are worn, they may not fetch as much price as you would like.

This is not to say that you should get rid of these clothes if they are not in good condition. We are only saying it may not have as much value as if they were not. The clothes can still help to date the dolls making them relevant still.

Features

The materials used to make a China head doll and its features can help determine the value by helping to identify the doll’s age. These combined materials define the features of an antique China doll head.

Certain questions should come to mind when using features to determine value. Questions like; what fascinating feature does the doll have? Many times, the hairstyle is used in this regard.

Is the hair molded or a wig? The right answer to these questions can help you determine a doll’s true value.

Another major factor to consider is whom the doll was modeled after. For instance, a doll made bearing a resemblance to the young Queen Victoria can expect to be worth more than the regularly modeled China dolls.

Rarity

For the antique China head dolls, rarity may be hard to define. It could be the original set of China dolls produced or one-off productions. There are even instances where dolls with factory errors are termed unique China head dolls, which usually increases the value.

This means a complete set of antique China dolls available with all of their original parts and clothes intact. Items like these are sometimes available only twice a decade, making them extremely rare.

Male dolls also qualify as rare ones because it is quite visible that the female antique is more in circulation than the male kind, making them more valuable.

Sentimental Value

For the antique China dolls, there is no one acceptable value. What may drive a buyer to buy an antique China head doll may be stronger than just the desire to own one.

Many collectors desire special antiques because they find value in owning a piece of the past but for others, collecting pieces like this reminds them of something more.

A woman in her sixties may have come across an antique piece of China head doll and is ready to pay three times the original price of the doll. Would one say she really wants to have that doll?

It could only be that a particular China head doll she may have seen reminds her of the ones her father got for her as a child, and for this reason, she will go to any length to have it.

Being sentimental about antiques like this tends to increase the value, especially if a seller should know how much it means to a buyer.

Supply and Demand

If a particular kind of antique China head doll is often requested for and for a reason, it is not available in any store, it affects the value.

Since it has become a demanded commodity, the laws of demand and supply come into play, suggesting that if the dolls become available, the price will go up.

Comparisons

Knowing antique dolls is not enough to just come up with a price and expect that anyone will buy them eventually.

In any situation, the wise thing to do would be to check for prices on antique China head dolls in similar positions. This move will help you get a valid price range on how you can value your China head dolls.

There are many specialized sites to this end to help you get the best value. We recommend:

These sites have several listings on the average price of an antique China head doll which you can use to determine the value of your China doll.

Appraisers

For any antique, we will always recommend contacting a capable appraiser to help you identify and give the correct value for your items, which is no different for antique China head dolls.

A reliable antique appraiser is Dr. Lori. You can always submit your items for appraisals and expect a favorable result.

Should you need the services of more specialized appraisers; you can check out:

Final Thoughts

When collectors think of antiques like the China head dolls, they may not be looking to sell, but it does not hurt to know the value of an item you own. Always remember these key points when you think of the China head dolls.

  • China head dolls are coated with a glaze to give the doll its shiny finishing appearance
  • Auctioned prices are not always the standard prices when you need to value a Chinahead doll
  • Key factors are necessary to determine the correct value of an antique Chinahead doll, so do not be hasty.

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