It’s probably safe to say that virtually every little girl in the world has had a doll of some kind. In America and other prosperous countries, most little girls probably had many over the course of childhood. More privileged children had elaborate dolls, while less fortunate kids may have had a simple rag doll, but the quality or value of the doll rarely made a difference to the child.
We have evidence that dolls were made and loved by children since well before recorded history. However, most old dolls that are found today are 60 years old or less. Most dolls were loved until they simply fell apart, so finding older ones (pre-1940) in good condition is tougher than you may think.
A week doesn’t pass where someone doesn’t bring in a doll for appraisal or sale. Most of what comes in are contemporary plastic dolls, made from 1950 to present. Many of these toys were manufactured by familiar American toy manufacturers such as Hasbro, Mattel and Ideal, and most are quite common. Tourists often brought back souvenir dolls from various countries, and uncommon examples of vintage dolls like these can be collectible to varying extents if they are in pristine condition. However, the rarity of the true antique doll is what commands the biggest money among collectors.
19th-century dolls are most sought after
Dolls from the 1800s through the early 1930s are coveted for one of two reasons. Either they have a fine, handmade quality, craftsmanship, or human likeness, or they hold an honest, folksy charm and simplicity. Porcelain-head dolls that made their way to the U.S. from places such as Germany, France and Italy are especially sought after. Some names to look for include Jumeau (France); Armand Marseille, Simon & Halbig and Kestner (Germany); and Lenci (Italy). Of course, there are scores of other names that are equally valuable, but any of the ones just mentioned are more likely to be found.
Determining the value of old dolls
Doll values are contingent on rarity, size, condition, original clothing, unusual facial features (open mouth with teeth, sleepy or flirty eyes, pierced ears, dimples, etc.) and body construction. European doll bodies were often made of kid leather stuffed with sawdust, and joined at the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees with metal rivets, but some were just made of painted composition (paper mache) and attached by string to the main body. Either can be valuable.
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