Dolls, known as the oldest toy known to mankind, have been a part of many cultures for thousands of years, some being intended for children’s play, and some possessing spiritual or ritualistic value. However dolls as we know them today gained popularity in the latter half of the 19th century, and achieved the status of collectible items in the 20th century. Often passed down from mother to daughter, or found in antique shops, they can vary greatly in value depending on their age, maker, size, condition, and level of rareness. In 2014, a 1916 French doll by the maker Albert Marque went under the hammer for a record sale of approximately£250,000.
The doll market can be complicated, as there are so many different facets and subcategories to account for. In the vintage to modern area, dolls from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Barbie, Chatty Cathy, Ginny, and Muffy, are highly sought after. As most dolls during this era were played with by their owners, and their plastic or vinyl material renders them prone to discoloration, it is rare to find brand-new condition, working dolls with all their parts, including the original box - all features that greatly increase the doll’s value. Because of this, an item that meets all these criteria can sell for thousands of dollars, while the same model in poorer condition might sell for near nothing. In 2006, a mint condition 1959 Barbie sold for £22,600 at auction.
In the antique area of the market, with dolls dating at least 100 years old, similar standards are expected, and the better condition the doll is in, the more it is worth. Most commonly sought after are French, German, and English porcelain dolls. During the time of their production in the late 19th century, and early 20th century, porcelain dolls were made by pouring ceramic mixtures into plaster molds that would be fired at high temperatures. In many cases these molds could be reused, enabling the mass production of the same model of doll, thus decreasing their pricing today. For example, Armand Marseille 390 was a widely produced model that today tends to sell for only up to a few hundred pounds, with some occasional exceptions. Most rare and thus highly valued are character dolls, which are not so much meant to be pretty, but instead feature realistic and expressive faces.
"Dolls that are painted more intricately and realistically possess a greater value."
In the doll market, with many lots auctioned on online platforms like Ebay or LiveAuctioneer, buyers are able to pick and choose and set high standards for the conditions that dictate a doll’s worth. Across all subcategories of the market, buyers expect as like new, or as close to like new condition as possible. While followers of the modern to vintage market are able to seek out lots that not only consist of a doll in perfect condition, but of her clothes, accessories, and original box in a similar state as well, collectors of antique dolls focus on the quality of the individualistic features of a doll. While many dolls were made from the same mold, they were often individually painted and styled. Qualities that can increase value are a slight translucency to the porcelain with no spots or holes. Dolls that are painted more intricately and realistically possess a greater value, and features that are rarer and more unique, such as frowning, laughing, or crying expressions, also price higher.
Typically, the model and authenticity of the doll can be easily determined by checking for the maker’s signature on the doll. No matter the type of doll, the maker always includes his own signature in the mold, which can be found most commonly at the nape of the neck, bottom of the feat, at the back, or under the arms. Provenance is not typically as great of a concern compared to other areas of fine art, as in most cases dolls have either been passed down through family members, or kept in factory storage, and due to their relatively young age they have not been passed around a lot. Forgeries are exceptional but have been known to occur in rare cases. In 1996, a mechanical doll was sold for £2230, only to be proved to be fake.
The doll auctioning market is a unique and complex one, but there are surprisingly a great amount of people looking to collect and willing to invest in old toys. Valuing a vintage or antique doll can be complicated so it is always best to seek out expert valuation and appraisal to increase buyers’ confidence. Who knows - your grandmother’s old doll collection could be worth thousands!