We all come across dolls in our lifetime. But learning the difference between a toy and an antique can make you an owner of assets worth thousands of dollars. Sounds unbelievable?
Well, let the stats speak for themselves!
In 2014, Theriault sold a bisque doll for $300,000. The antique doll was one of the few surviving dolls from the exclusive set of 100. On top of that, Albert Marque made these dolls, especially for Parisian Couturier Jeanne Margaine-LaCroix 1916.
All this amazing history surely makes the doll worth 3 million dollars. However, if nobody identified had this collectible or researched its past, we bet it would have held zero value. In fact, it would have become a plaything for children!
You see, knowing how to identify antique dolls is very important. Doll owners and collectors can benefit a lot from this knowledge. It’s why we’ve compiled the 10-best identification tips below.
So, without further ado, read more to find the gems of your doll collection!
1. Look at the Manufacturer’s Mark
The first and easiest way to look at the manufacturer’s mark. It is a unique combination of letters and numbers left by the manufacturer. Since most people lose the packaging and tags on the doll, these marks help preserve the identity.
It can be present anywhere on the doll’s structure. Most antique dolls will have it on the head or neck. While searching for the mark there, be gentle and patient with your movements.
Antique dolls have fragile wigs that may come off. Carefully lift up the hair to search for any embossed or engraved marks. Some other common places include the underarms, back, and bottom of the feet.
Each doll has a different manufacturer’s mark. But, it reveals very important information necessary for identification. So, once found, read and understand what it says.
A typical mark will state the country of production, manufacturer name, and doll size. The manufacturer’s name can be present in full form, initials, or even as a signature symbol.
These marks are difficult to interpret because many independent doll makers have different symbols. And, not everyone has memorized the complete directory!
So, take a picture of the mark or draw an exact replica. Then, research online and browse through relevant guidebooks. A few useful resources include:
- The Standard Antique Doll Identification & Value Guide
- Antique Trader’s Doll Makers and Marks: A Guide to Identification
You can also visit local libraries and look into old books about dolls. If nothing works, follow tip number 9 of this article!
Popular Antique Doll Manufacturer’s Mark
Now that you know, the first step is the identification of the doll maker mark. Here’s a list of the famous marks people have discovered over the years. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of the places to look.
- French Poupee has a blue Jumeau stamp and tick marks on the back.
- Rose O’Neill Kewpie has the word O’Neil written clearly on the back of the feet. There might be a signature too.
- Poupée Bébé Jumeau, d’Emile Jumeau
- Madame Alexander’s dolls have marks on the doll tag only.
Antique Doll Manufacturers
The past is filled with doll makers and companies. However, only some people have produced high-value dolls that collectors seek actively today. These include:
If you’re after antique dolls from the 1800s to 1920s, Armand Marseille is a perfect choice. The company was popular for making dolls with bisque heads. Their manufacturing facilities were in Germany.
In 1923, Bertha Alexander teamed up with her sisters to form this doll-making company. Their purpose was to create high-quality fashionable dolls. So, the unique feature of these Madame Alexander dolls was the stylish clothing.
The Ideal Novelty & Toy Company was founded in 1907. It manufactured large-scale commercial dolls. However, the reason they were popular was that their dolls had an unbreakable composition. Many of the dolls are still present today, especially the character dolls.
So, once you’ve identified the doll manufacturer, do a background check to decide whether it’s high value or low-value antique.
2. Check for Country of Origin
Throughout history, many acts and policies have been imposed on the people of the US. However, the one law that is actually useful for an antique doll collector is the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890.
It states that any product brought from outside the US will have the country of origin marked on it. The purpose was to increase awareness about the imported products and maintain transparency. But, for collectors, this means another way to identify an antique!
If you find an old doll in the US with a country of origin marked on it, know that it’s from the post-1890s era. Of course, this alone is not sufficient to confirm whether a doll is a high-value collectible.
Some mint condition antiques may look just like new dolls and vice versa. So, you will need to look for other details too.
3. Identify the Type of Doll
If you thought vintage dolls and modern dolls were the only categories on the market, you’ve been very much mistaken!
There’s an array of old dolls that can be classified into different categories. You can sort them into types based on material, special editions, manufacturing technique, and whatnot.
Although using this method to identify a vintage doll can be time-consuming, it’s worth it all. We say this because you won’t be left with doubts and confusion. So if you don’t want to waste time researching marks, go through the types of old dolls below.
Based on Manufacturing Technique
In the earliest times, people produced dolls largely at home. Craftsmen and skilled women would use raw materials to make toy figures. These handcrafted dolls were unique but not durable.
Some ragged dolls may be found today, though the majority have vanished. You can identify them by irregular hand-sewn stitches. Or, if it’s a hard material, look for hand-carved and unpolished surfaces.
These rare finds have an outstandingly high value.
As time progressed, the craftsmen established their businesses and set up warehouses. Doll production became an industry. The machine-made vintage dolls from this era are the most common.
Please note since dolls are made from machines even today, distinguishing between the modern and vintage ones can be difficult. To do so, you need to look at the materials. We’ll cover this later in detail.
Many doll designers also popped up during this early industrialization period. They released dolls in unique styles and editions. The Alexander Doll Company is a great example.
Bertha Alexander created a unique design in which dolls had wide eyes and big faces. It became her signature style and gained value. These antique dolls are worth money that is over thousands of dollars today.
Based on Material
Over the years, many materials have been used to produce dolls. Wood was the most popular choice during the 1500s. However, there were no wood preserving methods in those days.
Hardly any wood doll made it through the 1700s. Then, people started creating wax dolls that were long-lasting and durable. Some models that have survived until now are truly antiques and highly valuable.
The Petite Wax Doll from the 18th century was found in very good condition. It had original clothes with little to no damage. This exceptional collectible sold for $17,000.
After wax dolls, porcelain and bisque took over the market. These materials allowed craftsmen to make realistic-looking figures. However, they were susceptible to breakage too.
The discovery of celluloid replaced porcelain dolls in the 1870s. This particular material helped increase the longevity of the products. Soon, composition dolls followed in and took manufacturing to the next level.
Composition dolls are completely or partially made from a composite material. It’s a mixture of glue, sawdust, resin, cornstarch, etc. These antique dolls are typically large to imitate a small toddler.
They have huge heads with sleepy eyes and wigs. The largest Mama dolls even come with a carrier. However, it’s hard to find an antique composition doll carrier these days.
Later, in the 1900s, vinyl and plastic dolls came out. These types of dolls are fairly modern and still in use. Collectors don’t usually go for these dolls.
The only types of old dolls that hold the most value are porcelain and bisque dolls. People, who are new to these types, will find it difficult to differentiate between both. To help, here’s a brief comparison:
In the 1800s, porcelain was one of the new trending materials used in dolls. It was basically a paste of clay and water. People molded it into a doll head and fired it at high temperatures (2300F).
The facial features were painted after the doll’s head was fired several times. This particular step ensured rigidity and strength. All of these dolls also had a fine glaze.
Some people also refer to these old porcelain dolls as Chinese dolls. You can identify them by the shiny, gleaming faces. Even the earliest antiques have a smooth, glazed surface.
Later, some French and German firms started producing porcelain doll heads without the glaze.
These dolls had the same realistic painted faces. However, the shine was replaced by a matte, dull look. These are known as bisque dolls.
The lack of glaze also means that the pores on the surface are open. You’ll find bulks of dust and dirt collected in them. The more the dirt, the older the doll.
Bisque dolls with unpainted and pale white faces are called Parian dolls. These dolls were typically for display rather than play. So, you can find some collectibles in very fine and new condition.
|Porcelain Dolls||Glazed, smooth faces|
|Bisque Dolls||Unglazed, matte faces with lots of dirt in pores|
|Parian Dolls||Unpainted, pale white faces|
4. Find Cracks & Fine Lines
Antique dolls are found in all kinds of conditions. You will come across mint ones and battered, old ones. However, an effective way to ensure you possess an antique is to find signs of wear.
Unlike new dolls, all the antiques will have fine cracks and lines forming over their faces. They start from one point and spread over the area. Dolls used for play have more visible lines than display dolls.
Do not confuse these craze lines with damaged parts. A broken doll doesn’t automatically mean it’s antique. There are several other factors that you should consider: the type, manufacturer’s mark, and many others.
5. Inspect the Facial Features
The doll’s face has a lot of things that you can use to identify whether it’s antique or not. For example, the earliest dolls have plain and flat face structures. Meanwhile, the vintage ones have more detailed and realistic-looking shapes.
However, they are usually round and chubby. None of the antiques has slim face structures like that of today. There are no sharp jawlines, delicate almond-shaped eyes, and styled lips.
Another thing worth noticing is that the ancient dolls have painted eyes. It was only after 1870 that glass-inset eyes were introduced. These are stationary and keep staring ahead.
The 1900s dolls typically have large, rounded eyes that look sideways. But, they still cannot move at all. Only modern ones can do it.
Moreover, also focus on the color of the eyes. Old dolls usually have solid brown, black, or light blue colors. If a doll has dual-colored and ombre shades, it’s not an antique.
The overall face of an antique doll should be dull, discolored, and faded. Porcelain dolls may have a glaze, but they will not be bright and gleaming after all these years.
Before the late 1800s, dolls always had an adult face. They would look like mature girls and women. However, soon, manufacturers started making dolls that resembled children.
So, if you find an old doll with adult facial features, know that it’s a pure antique.
6. Check for Painted Hair
Painted hair is the most common sign of an antique doll. Back in time, people didn’t have the resources or tools to root hair into the doll’s head. Instead, they painted them like the rest of the facial features.
The color is typically brown, black, or blonde. There is no specific style in which the hair was painted. However, you’ll notice that in Chinese head dolls, the hair is always parted in the middle.
All that said, the only exception for painted hair is the antique porcelain dolls of the 1800s. These dolls first came with wigs made from human hair or mohair. In case you don’t know, mohair refers to the hair of an angora goat.
German porcelain dolls had the wigs glued entirely to the head. The color of the wigs was usually red because it was considered unlucky.
Later, dolls started coming with rooted hair. Since all the new dolls have rooted hair, it’s best to examine them very carefully for antique identification.
7. Examine the Doll Clothing
Most modern dolls feature Victorian-style dresses and gowns. In fact, the ancient designs are commonly replicated to make the dolls look aesthetic and retro. So, how will you identify an antique by clothing?
The answer is simple; you’ll assess the materials used!
Antique dolls will have clothes made from genuine leather or (research on materials). They will not have synthetic fabric outfits and velcro fastenings.
Plus, the clothing will be worn out and aged. It will show wear in the form of discoloration, stains, and loose stitches. But, some well-preserved antiques have new clothes too.
These rare finds are like gems for collectors. You can also go through the inside of the clothes to find any tags that may unveil information.
8. Look at the Body & Stuffing Inside
The oldest dolls had bodies completely made from wood, porcelain, or bisque. These dolls had hard and rigid structures to support the heavy heads. If you find any such doll, know that it’s a rare antique right away.
All the vintage dolls made during the 18th and 19th centuries have stuffed bodies. The material filled inside was usually horsehair or sawdust. So, if possible, look into the stuffing inside and see what it is.
Note that antique dolls will always have tight stuffings. Loose, polyester stuffings are present in modern dolls.
Other than this, also evaluate the body structure of the doll. It should be one piece with No separate parts. Only the head will be attached.
There will be two holes where the head will be attached to one solid body piece. Alternatively, you may find holes at the base of the neck.
9. Seek Professional Assistance
If none of the ways mentioned above work for you, don’t be disheartened. Numerous antique doll professionals can help you. They can identify the doll’s type, value, era, and all the relevant information correctly.
Here’s how to seek professional assistance to identify an antique doll:
- Take it to a reputable antique doll appraiser.
- Capture images and send them to an online doll appraiser like ValueMyStuff.
- Visit an antique doll show or museum and seek guidance from the experts.
- Find an antique dealer who specializes in dolls.
Other than this, your best resource for antique doll identification is the collectors. These individuals have years’ worth of experience and knowledge that can help you a lot. You can easily find them by searching ‘doll collectors near me on Google.
Some doll collectors organizations you might want to try include:
National Antique Doll Dealers Association (NADDA)
Founded in 1986, the National Antique Doll Dealers Association focuses on doll dealers only. It helps establish trust between the dealers and the collectors as well as the general public.
United Federation of Doll Clubs Inc.
The United Federation of Doll Clubs Inc is a global organization for doll collecting. Since 1949, the UFDC has been promoting the hobby of doll collecting by hosting events, meetings, and many other activities.
You can also subscribe to Antique Doll Collectors Magazine or buy some issues to learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions
How old should a doll be to be antique?
A doll should be at least 100 years old to be an antique. The older the doll gets, the more its value increases. But, a doll that is 50 years old is vintage.
Are old dolls worth money?
All antique dolls have good value in today’s market. They can cost anywhere from $10 to $100,000+. The exact value depends on the age, condition, and brand.
For example, dolls that are in mint condition or belong to designer brands like the Alexander Toy Company are more valuable than others. A Madame Alexander doll can sell for $ 2 million on auction easily. But, simple porcelain dolls start from $10 on eBay listings.
How do you store antique dolls?
The way you store the antique dolls determines their condition in the coming years, and so does their value. If you want to keep your dolls well-preserved, put them in closed cabinets.
Make sure there’s little to no sunlight and dust reaching these delicate antiques. Also, use archival boxes and acid-free tissues and clothes for storage. Avoid acidic wood or cardboard that can deteriorate and damage your dolls.
How to tell a fake apart from an antique doll?
Antique doll reproduction is a whole industry in the present times. Many artists create replicas to enjoy the process and express their love for antiques. However, some people can use this art form to scam collectors.
So, it’s very important to learn how to differentiate fake dolls from antiques. Here’s a helpful video:
All in all, identifying antique dolls is a very important task. These high-value collectibles present in your home can literally be worth thousands of dollars. Instead of throwing them away, you should identify their worth and find a suitable collector for them.
Not only will they get a new home. But, you’ll get a handsome return!
We hope the article has helped resolve all your queries on how to identify antique dolls. To recap, you can identify an antique by:
- Manufacturer’s mark
- Country of origin
- Type of doll
- Fine lines & cracks
- Facial features
- Painted hair
- Body structure & stuffing
- Doll clothing
- Professional assistance
If you still have any confusion, do let us know in the comments below!