No one is ever too old for dolls. Children throughout the ages have enjoyed playing with dolls, and many adults retain a fondness for the dolls they played with in childhood. Babies find comfort by snuggling with dolls, and preschoolers see them as friends and companions. Girls often explore the world of hairstyles and fashion through their dolls, while boys fight mock battles with action figures and superhero figures (which savvy manufacturers are careful not to label as “dolls”). Many people, especially adults, have taken up the hobby of collecting dolls.
In fact, many dolls are produced for adult collectors to display. These dolls may be modeled to resemble infants and children; they may represent adults or fantasy creatures; they may even be representations of popular entertainers or other famous people. Some of these dolls fall into the category of works of art. Most collectible dolls are produced in small quantities or are one of a kind. They often wear elaborate costumes, are intended for display, and are often very costly.
Why Collect Dolls?
People collect dolls for many reasons. Some collect them because of fond childhood memories, others for the artistry that goes into making them, others for historical value, and still others for their resale value. People collect what appeals to them and reflect their desires and values.
The fine workmanship and artistry that go into making some dolls can attract a collector. It might be the fine bisque china of the doll’s face, the realistic glassine eyes, the wig, the historical clothing or accessories, or simply the winsome expression on the dolls face. A well-made doll is a work of art, and some collectible dolls are one-of-a-kind.
Other collectors are drawn to a particular company name or manufacturer, such as Mattel or American Girl. For many collectors, a particular line of dolls may be appealing, such as a particular fashion doll, or a series of historical dolls representing various cultures or periods in history.
Sometimes the origin, ethnicity, or historical significance of the doll are what draws a collector. Traditional Japanese dolls dressed in kimonos, or African dolls swathed in colorful kente cloth, or old-fashioned rag dolls may appeal to people interested in other cultures or particular historical periods.
And finally, some collectors look on dolls as an investment. As with any collection, a doll collection can be a hedge against inflation. Many popular dolls, such as Barbie®, have increased in value over the years, and certain editions of a particular doll can sell for sizeable amounts of money. Antique dolls have also become collector`s items. Nineteenth-century bisque dolls made by French manufacturers such as Bru and Jumeau be worth almost $22,000 today. If you are lucky enough to have one of these collectible dolls passed down in your family, you could be well on your way to starting a valuable collection.
History Of Dolls
Dolls in the Middle Ages were often made from clay, tin, or glass. Clay figures of horses and knights and figurines from glass and tin have been found. In addition, dolls made from bread representing various saints were eaten on religious feast days. Beginning in the 1400s, fashion dolls were created to display the latest Paris fashions to wealthy customers.
In America, one of the oldest dolls is the Kachina, made by the Hopi Indians in Arizona. Kachina dolls were hand carved from cactus root or cottonwood, painted with symbolic colors and designs, and dressed in traditional dresses. These dolls were intended as sacred objects for children to study, and were not used as toys. During religious ceremonies, Kachina dolls were given out by masked priests who dressed as ancestral spirits and offered petitionary prayers for the tribe.
Colonial Americans made dolls from whatever materials they had on hand, including corn husks, corn cobs, fruits, nuts, and gourds. Northern Indians and Eskimos fashioned their dolls from whalebone, walrus tusk, and mammoth teeth.
Historical Dating Of Dolls
Most dolls, especially antique dolls not originally intended for collectors, do not have a production date stamped on the body. You can tell how old a doll is by the materials it is made from. Here is a list of some of the materials used historically for doll-making.
- Wood Or Cloth. The earliest dolls were handmade, using wood or cloth. They were made by parents or relatives for children, or made for ceremonial purposes. They were not mass-produced for commercial purposes.
- Papier Machè Dolls. The first mass-manufactured dolls were made from papier machè. Papier machè is a mixture of paper, paste, and water, and was first used in the 1820s. From 1820 through the 1850s, doll heads were made of papier machè and sold separately from the doll body. The head was attached to a constructed body by gluing or sewing it on. These dolls were produced mainly in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States.
- China Dolls. After 1850, China became the preferred material for making dolls. China is a ceramic substance with a porcelain-glazed finished. There were two types of China dolls: Frozen Charlottes, made entirely of China, and China Head Dolls, which were produced in a fashion similar to their papier machè precedessors, with a separate head attached to a constructed body. China dolls came in a range of sizes, from miniatures up to 20 inches. These dolls were produced in France, Germany, and Denmark, from 1830 through the mid-1900s.
- Bisque Dolls. In the 1840s, bisque dolls became popular. These were made from bisque, a ceramic mixture with an unglazed porcelain finish, which was first developed in the 1840s. The matte finish of bisque ceramic produced a more lifelike doll. Most bisque dolls came from Germany and France, from manufacturers such as Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, and the Société Française de Fabrication de Bété et Jouets (or S.F.B.J.) in France, and Simon & Halbig, Armand Marsellie, Heubach, and Koppelsdorf in Germany. Bisque dolls were manufactured from 1840 through the 1950s.
- Rag Dolls. Dolls were not manufactured in the United States until after the end of the Civil War in 1856. Prior to this, dolls were either handmade or imported from Europe. The only dolls commercially produced in the United States prior to this time were rag dolls.
- Composition Dolls. Composition is a material composed of sawdust, wood scraps, and glue, first developed in 1907 and originally used to glue airplane parts. In the 1920s, this material became a popular material for doll manufacture in the United States. Major manufacturers at this time included American Character, Madame Alexander, the Ideal Novelty Toy Company, and the Effanbee Doll Company. Composition dolls were produced from 1907 through 1949.
- Latex (Rubber) Dolls; Hard Plastic dolls. In the 1940s and 1950s, Magic Skin Latex (rubber) and hard plastic came into the forefront of doll manufacture. Latex was more flesh-like than previous materials and produced dolls that actually resembled real babies. Hard plastic had the advantage of being unbreakable and could be given finer detail, especially for the doll face, fingers, and toes. These dolls date from the 1940s-1950s.
- Vinyl. In the late 1950s, hard plastic was replaced by vinyl. Vinyl is the material of choice for doll making today. Vinyl is unbreakable, more flexible than latex or hard plastic, and can be used to sculpt lifelike features.
If a doll is an original antique, its clothing, hair, and accessories will date from the period in which it was made. To determine the date of a doll, you can consult books about dolls, or use identification and price guides that are published for this purpose.
How Do I Get Started? Tips And Tricks
All you really need to become a doll collector is a love of dolls. You can begin collecting at any age. Many girls start collecting with a special doll given to them in childhood. Mothers begin when they purchase a doll for their daughter, and rediscover the pleasure of dolls. Women often start collecting from a desire to recover their youth.
Once you decide to become a collector, a good starting point is to inventory the dolls you already have. You may own that vintage Barbie, or a valuable antique China doll handed down from your grandmother.
From there, go on to locate sources of information about dolls and doll collecting. Libraries have books and other resources to help you begin your research, and their services are usually free of charge. Doll magazines are a source for the latest information about doll history, artists, prices, and collecting tips. In addition, try to attend doll shows, where you can view dolls on display, meet other collectors, and purchase dolls.
One place to begin your search is online. There are many websites devoted to dolls and doll collection, and you can purchase dolls from online vendors or from online auction sites such as eBay.
Learn The Lingo
In order to make the most of your doll search, you must learn the “lingo” of doll collectors. Here are a few of the acronyms and abbreviations you will find in the descriptions of dolls:
A/O - All Original.
HTF - Hard to find.
MIB - Mint in Box (describes a factory mint-condition doll in the original box).
MIP - Mint in Package.
MNB - Mint no Box (a doll in pristine condition, no box).
NM - Near mint. Excellent condition.
NRFB - Never Removed from Box. This is as pristine as it gets, and can increase the doll’s value.
While there are many types of dolls from which to choose, most doll collectors will tell you that the most important place to start is to choose dolls you love. The value of a doll is not only its price on the collectors’ market; it is the pleasure it gives to its owner. While collectible dolls sell for a price, all doll lovers can tell you that the best dolls are priceless.
Avoid Mistakes Made By New Collectors
Seasoned veterans will tell you there are a few mistakes that new collectors tend to make. You want every doll you see and tend to buy indiscriminately. Slow down, and avoid impulse buying. Also, become part of a collecting community, whether in your local area or online. Attend doll shows and get to know other collectors. Part of the fun of collecting is sharing with other collectors.
Find several sources for obtaining dolls. While eBay is convenient, it is not the only source of dolls. Part of the fun of doll collecting is visiting antique shops, yard sales, and auctions, and getting to touch and hold the dolls before you purchase them. In addition, while it’s great to get a bargain, don’t try to buy too cheaply. The most collectible dolls aren’t usually the cheapest, and you want to avoid owning a closet full of “junk” dolls that will never increase in value.
When you have surveyed the doll world and found your interests, it’s a good idea to focus your collection. Your collection will be more valuable and more interesting—both to you and to potential buyers—if you focus on a particular type or era of doll. You will learn more and will have a more attractive collection for display.
Finally, have fun with your collection. Unless you are collecting vintage antique dolls for their resale value, you don’t need to keep all of your dolls in boxes. Take them out of the box, display them, dress them up, and play with them. You probably played with your dolls as a child; why not play with them now?
Dolls have been around for almost as long as there have been people to treasure them. Prehistoric people made miniature human figures from stone or clay for reasons we can only guess. Ancient Egyptians used dolls to people their tombs in hopes of having servants in the afterlife. American Indians used them for religious ceremonies and teaching. Europeans and Americans used them as toys for children and models for the latest fashions. Today, dolls are popular toys for children and collectible works of memorabilia and art for adults. Anyone who loves dolls can become a collector. Take a look around you at the resources available, and get started today!