Learning to identify antique dolls can mean the difference between a new toy for the kids and a valuable collectible. An old doll's value depends on several factors, some of which are easier to see than others. Learn the basics of antique doll identification so you can value your find.
How to Identify the Doll's Manufacturer
Certain antique dolls are easier to identify than others. Those with a manufacturer's mark will be much easier to identify and value.
Look for the Maker's Mark
If you can find the manufacturer mark, or maker's mark, on your old doll, it will give you the most important information needed to identify the doll. Take a good photo of the mark or draw a copy of it to keep handy.
- Doll manufacturer marks are typically found on the back of the head or neck.
- Maker's marks can also be placed between the shoulder blades, on the bottom of the feet, or on the doll's clothing tags.
- If the doll has a wig, the mark might be under it.
- Maker's marks can be letters, numbers, letters and numbers, a name, a word, or any combination of these elements.
- With the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, all goods from outside the U.S. had to be marked with the country of origin, so if you find a country name, it's likely post-1890.
- The manufacturer's mark can be raised or indented on body parts.
Antique Doll Manufacturer Mark Examples
While the back of the head or neck is the most common place to find a manufacturer's mark, there are many exceptions.
- The Rose O'Neill kewpie may have "O'Neil" clearly marked on the bottom of its feet.
- The French Poupee may have tick marks and the blue Jumeau stamp on its back.
- Madame Alexander dolls were only marked on the tags of their clothing.
Research the Maker's Mark
Searching through doll reference books and price guides is often the best way to identify an antique doll's manufacturer mark. Additional methods to identify an antique doll include:
- Take it to an antique appraiser specializing in antique dolls.
- Send images to an online doll appraiser.
- Take it to an antique doll show.
- Take it to an antique dealer specializing in antique dolls.
Popular Antique Doll Manufacturers
There were tons of doll makers throughout the world across a couple hundred years, but some are more popular with collectors than others.
- Armand Marseille dolls are some of the most common you will find. The Armand Marseille Doll Company made dolls from about 1885-1930 in Germany featuring bisque heads.
- Bertha Alexander and her sisters opened the Alexander Doll Company in 1923. Their dolls were called Madame Alexander dolls and were more famous for the fashions they wore than any features unique to the dolls.
- The Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, founded in 1907, was famous for their "unbreakable" composition dolls, especially their character dolls.
How to Identify the Doll's Materials
If you can't find a manufacturer's mark on the doll, the materials used to make the doll and the doll parts can give you clues about age and manufacturer.
Brief History of Doll Materials
Porcelain dolls emerged in Europe in the mid-1800s. From 1840 to 1880, the porcelain heads, hands, and feet were made in China. They were made from Chinese porcelain, or China, and glazed to look shiny. In the 1850s, bisque dolls started to be manufactured in France and Germany. The porcelain heads here were unglazed for a matte look. In the early 1900s, bisque doll production started in China and the United States.
Types of Dolls
Identifying what type of doll you have can help narrow down where and when it was made.
- Chinese porcelain dolls: The earliest and rarest porcelain dolls had a porcelain head and shoulders with a wooden body.
- Bisque dolls: Early bisque dolls had a leather or cloth body with a bisque head and molded eyes, mouths, and hair.
- Parian dolls: Bisque dolls made from untinted white porcelain made for display instead of play.
- Baby (bébé) dolls: Prior to the late 1800s, dolls were almost always adults, but at the turn of the century companies started making these dolls that resembled children.
Evaluating Doll Bodies
Very old dolls often featured porcelain or bisque bodies or wooden bodies. Later dolls had stuffed bodies made of cloth.
Evaluating Doll Eyes
Painted on eyes can be an indicator of old age. Stationary glass eyes, or eyes made of glass that don't move, came before eyes that opened and closed when the doll was rocked.
Evaluating Doll Hair
The earliest dolls China head dolls had painted or molded hair that was commonly parted in the middle. Dolls made in the 1800s had rooted hair, rather than painted hair. This rooted hair looks like real hair, and was sometimes made from human hair or mohair.
Evaluating Doll Clothing
Doll clothing in the 1800s and early 1900s was often made from leather. Newer doll clothing will be made from synthetic materials and have a Victorian style. Clothing free of stains and discolorations is ideal.
How to Find Antique Doll Values
Once you have some details about your doll, you can start to explore its value. Even when all the factors used in determining an antique doll value are considered, the value still fluctuates based on the current doll market and the principles of supply and demand. French and German dolls, especially bisque dolls, are the most valuable kinds of antique dolls.
Browse Old Doll Price Guides
Once an antique doll is properly identified, a popular method of finding its value is using a current antique doll price guide. Price guides provide the current market value of the doll and are usually given in price ranges. A quick search on sites like Amazon results in dozens of doll price guides, including many for specific doll types or manufacturers.
Search Sold Antique Doll Values
Another method of determining the current market value of an antique doll is finding the selling price for a similar doll at a live auction or online marketplace.
- Theriault's Auction Company specializes in antique and collectible dolls and toys. In 2018, the highest price ever paid for an antique doll, an Antoine Edmund Rochard, was sold at a Theriault's auction for $335,500.
- An early 1900s Galluba & Hofman bisque head doll sold on eBay in 2020 for about $500. You can search sold listings for antique dolls on this site to see other valuations.
- In early 2020, a 12" Armand Marseille pouty character doll sold for about $2,500 on eBay.
Factors Affecting Doll Value
The value of an antique doll is based on a number of different factors. These factors include:
- The demand for the doll
- The doll's age
- Doll quality
- Artist talent and workmanship
- Visual appeal
- Doll style
- Body type
- Clothing and accessories such as hats, shoes and parasols
- Whether the doll is completely original
- Whether the doll has been repaired or restored and the type of repair or restoration
Resources for Antique Doll Collectors
Expert antique doll collectors and doll collector groups are your best resources for identifying and evaluating old dolls. From magazines to membership organizations, these resources offer more specific information.
- The National Antique Doll Dealers Association (NADDA) was founded in 1986 as an organization for doll dealers to establish a feeling of confidence and trust with doll collectors and the public.
- The United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. is an international organization dedicated to doll collecting.
- You can purchase a new subscription to Antique Doll Collector Magazine or pay per issue for digital back issues of the magazine.
New Life For Old Dolls
Most dolls were made to be loved and played with in their time. If antique porcelain and bisque dolls aren't your favorite, you might want to explore vintage Barbie dolls or collectible Kachina dolls. While you probably won't play with your antique doll today, show them some love collecting and displaying old dolls.