Porcelain dolls can be found at hundreds of estate sales nationwide each week. Antique porcelain doll collecting isn’t as popular as it used to be with today’s generation, but there are plenty of collectors worldwide that will browse estate sales and online estate auctions just to find their prized piece.
Antique Doll Collecting
The obsession of collecting antique dolls began after World War II, a few toy-makers started reproducing a more detailed, larger version of the bisque dolls from the 1800’s.
An interest in antique porcelain dolls grew quickly when batches were made to depict certain famous people.
Doll manufacturing spread across the world with many dolls mostly manufactured in Europe, Australia and the United States.
Common Materials in Antique Dolls
Antique porcelain, china, or bisque dolls are the most common, but antique dolls can also be made from various materials. Composition, resin, rubber, vinyl, and wood dolls can also be found. Generally, the highest value antique dolls are Bisque antique dolls.
Value of Antique Dolls
As I research and write this article, my appreciation for what estate sale companies go through as they’re staging an estate sale grows tremendously. Imagine arriving at an estate sale with hundreds of antique porcelain dolls to research and price. It’s a tedious process, and I’ve seen it first-hand.
The art of pricing an estate sale isn’t easy. It has to be affordable enough for potential buyers, yet brings fair market value for the seller. Here are some resources to help you identify and price antique porcelain dolls at estate sales.
Doll prices can range from $10 to $2,000 or more. The most expensive doll sold to date fetched a hefty $300,000 in 2014. It was made by Albert Marque in 1916, Marque was a French sculptor and the doll was made from a set of 100 dolls.
Identify Doll Manufacturer
The first thing to identify is who made the doll in order to determine that it’s truly an antique. Avid collectors will have a certificate of authenticity accompanying their prized porcelain doll, if you don’t have it available, begin the research and identification process.
Areas to check on the doll for identification and marks are:
- The head
- Bottom of doll’s feet
- Back of the neck (most common)
Once you found an identifier, you can use it to search online. If you find that the doll you’re holding was made prior to the 1930’s, you’re holding a valuable doll. If in doubt, always rely on a professional appraiser.
French and German dolls are the most valuable, but even certain French dolls used German heads on their doll creations.
French antique porcelain dolls weren’t always manufactured in France. Germany is where most of the dolls were manufactured, decorated in French clothing and accessories, later sold in France.
There are however a few French names to keep in mind when researching a doll collection. The dolls manufactured in later years around 1920 were extremely high quality.
Popular French Doll Manufacturers
On the other hand, German doll manufacturers focused on very high-quality doll productions. Their dolls were very life-like.
If you’re not an avid collector or doll expert it’s not easy to tell the difference, but one indicator is the “look” of the doll.
French dolls tend to be over decorated, while the German dolls are more subtle and real looking.
Common German Doll Brands
Antique Kestner Porcelain Dolls 1920-1938
Kestner didn’t always produce porcelain dolls. They began manufacturing dolls made of wood and other materials.
Their porcelain productions date between 1920 to 1930. The brand has a large following of collectors because they didn’t focus on one doll style.
They produced all bisque dolls, jointed composition dolls, character dolls, their most popular one among collectors are the baby dolls made to look like real babies.
Armand Marseille Antique dolls 1885 – 1930
A large production manufacturer in Germany, they produced about 1,000 dolls per day with no automation, so it’s very common to find antique dolls at estate sales produced by Armand Marseille.
Heubach Dolls 1910 – 1920
Most collectors love this brand of antique dolls for their quality and unique characteristics.
Unlike the other manufacturers, shoppers will spot a Heubach antique doll at an estate sale quickly.
They mostly produced dolls that were under 20”, their character dolls always featured a closed mouth, and another very popular style they produced are dolls that mimic children pouting.
Style and Condition
Determining the doll’s condition and material is just as important as identifying the manufacturer. Here are some other details to look for in order to determine proper value.
Hair on Antique Dolls
The hair is a great place to start. Newer dolls have synthetic painted hair instead of natural looking hair that looks like it’s growing from roots. If you’re looking at lifelike hair, you’re more than likely holding a doll that was manufactured pre-1900’s.
Newly manufactured dolls usually have stuffed bodies instead of porcelain bodies and they’re dressed in Victorian clothing.
Next, focus your attention on the clothing and condition of the doll. Rate the doll’s condition by looking for stains, discolorations, cracks, or grazing.
Near mint or mint condition dolls are obviously more valuable than those that are in poor or “ok” condition. If the antique porcelain doll is still in its original packaging, that’s also a big plus.
Use all the information you were able to identify to search online and find comparable antique dolls. Remember to consider the condition of the doll you’re pricing in order to adjust the price accordingly.
Don’t Dismiss doll accessories and body parts. Since most collectors want a complete doll and they’re becoming harder to find.
Accessories and body parts have value also, do not rush and throw them in a garage bin for a few dollars per piece.
Antique Doll Forums
From bisque dolls to vinyl, and everything in between, here are some great sites you can visit to ask collectors and others online to help you identify, and establish value.
Although there are hundreds of sites, we chose these three because the response rate is quick, and you can easily ask for help by posting a photo. Many online forums will allow you to post text but not photographs.
DollReference.com is a website that focuses on identifying dolls from antique to modern. It may be much more helpful if you already identified the manufacturer.
Community.Ebay.com is another great forum that you can post pictures and questions on. Thousands of community members will help you with the identification process. It is also a great resource if you only have the head of the doll for example and you want to identify the maker but the rest of the body is missing.
Facebook.com private groups dedicated to doll collecting is another great place to post photos in order to identify and establish value for a particular doll.
Our group members are experienced professionals always willing to lend a hand when another pro needs help identifying or researching an item’s value.
Antique Doll Price Guides
Not all dolls are valuable just because they’re old. Some dolls increase in value over time, some depreciate, and others may remain the same.
Books and online publications about the history and evolution of dolls and doll collecting are always available at the local community library, but as an estate sale agent running around trying to organize, manage, and price an entire home, you can’t afford to spend that much time.
Always remember, when in doubt rely on a professional appraiser that specializes in antique dolls.
Membership based resource at about $10 per month. They offer a mobile friendly application, and they do have data that looks at historical (prior years) sold prices from eBay.
They offer a searchable price guide online and it includes antique dolls. You must register with the site in order to have free access to their information.
Once you search, be sure to look at sold listings in order to establish a fair market value. Anyone can list an item at a high price but that doesn’t mean it’s the price it will sell for.
TIAS stands for “The Internet Antique Shop”. With over 5,000 antique dolls listed for sale, it serves as a good point of reference for your value research.
There are thousands of listed antique dolls to look at. Searching by manufacturer name should help you refine your search quickly.
When using these doll price guides, keep in mind that the prices are a range. The price will obviously vary depending on the type, age, and condition of the doll you’re selling at your estate sale.
Using these online resources is great. Unlike printed publications, you can have them readily available on your mobile devices when organizing and staging an estate sale.
Doll Club Organizations
There are organizations dedicated to doll collectors, they may be of assistance if you have a unique and rare find that collectors yearn to own.
The United Federation of Doll Clubs promotes doll collecting, founded in 1949 and located in Kansas City Missouri. A friendly resource where you can talk to a live person and possibly email a photograph that will help you identify, and price an estate sale antique doll.
Selling Antique Dolls at Estate Sales
If you’re experienced in the estate sale industry, you already know that properly displaying items will help you sell them faster and better. Dolls are no different.
The situations will obviously vary depending on how many dolls are at the sale, how valuable they are, and if the location allows it. Here are a few common tips to use when selling antique estate sale dolls:
- Always display them inside the case if they’re found that way
- If the Doll includes a certificate of authenticity, keep that near the register and only give it to the buyer after they purchase the doll.
- If selling an extremely fragile yet valuable doll, keep it near the register.
- If there are multiple dolls for sale, try to keep them in one room and make sure the room is well supervised.
You’ll want to avoid any unnecessary damage by asking shoppers to not pick the dolls up.
You’ll also want to make sure shoppers don’t walk around the house carrying them. If a valuable porcelain doll suddenly loses its head before the buyer pays, you’ll have a problem on your hands.
Ask your employees to help potential shoppers by moving the merchandise to the register for them.
If you’re setting up an estate sale and find a doll in grandma’s closet still in its original box, it’s a great find.
For collectors interested in antique dolls, original, and mint condition are the two main requirements. In the 1920’s people stood in long lines to purchase a new doll, and they always increased in value.
Today, only avid doll collectors and online re-sellers are willing to spend money on old dolls.
The average price range on eBay is between $20 to $100 with many auctions starting even lower and not moving up from there.
Regardless, as an estate sale professional you know that everything has value, therefore it’s important to research and establish a price that’s fair to your client and offers good value for your estate sale buyer.
If an antique doll is not found in mint condition, don’t be quick to dismiss it, its incomplete body parts or even accessories.
Everything has value! Someone may just be looking for that piece to complete their collection.
Doll accessories and body parts have their own value, and again you’ll have to turn to the internet to help you establish a fair price.
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