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Collections in Curios: Doll Collecting

Doll Collecting Header

The history of humanity is full of unique and beautiful works of art. Paintings, sculptures, great works of literature, all of these things show us how we as a species have evolved by showcasing the gradual progression and shifting of styles in these various works. Dolls are one of these art styles that have existed for as long as we have. Dolls have been in existence from the time of the very first humans and are likely to continue to be created for years to come; and for nearly as long as they have existed, people have loved to own, create, and collect these works of art.

Two Porcelain Dolls

The varieties of dolls that exist are many and the people who collect them can are as varied as the collections themselves. Some of the most popular types of dolls collected by people around the world are antique porcelain or bisque dolls, fashion dolls, ball jointed dolls, Madame Alexander dolls, and dollhouse dolls. These different types of dolls are collected by both women and men, children, adults, and the elderly. Some dolls are traditional representations of little girls and boys, some dolls are dressed in the most modern fashions, some are made to look like popular celebrities, and still others are made to look like villains out of your worst nightmares. There are virtually no limitations when it comes to the types of dolls that can be found and created.

Dolls made entirely from, or partially from porcelain are one of the most commonly collected types of dolls. A china doll made entirely from porcelain that is without articulation and is what is now known to collectors as a “Frozen Charlotte” doll. People call these “Frozen Charlotte” dolls and dolls made only partially out of porcelain, by a variety of names such as porcelain dolls, bisque dolls, or sometimes china dolls. Many people who only casually collect dolls are likely to have at least one porcelain doll in their collection. These dolls are frequently dressed in ruffles and skirts and are given very childlike appearances. These dolls were very popular in the 19th century and were made to be toys for young children during that time. Today these dolls are created with the expectation that they will not be used as toys, and instead will be displayed on a shelf or in a cabinet and handled very rarely. Antique bisque dolls today are quite rare and can be found at auctions selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Fashion Dolls are another doll type collected by many people around the world. One of the most popular fashion dolls is the Barbie doll which was created by Mattel., Inc. and first sold in 1959. She was dreamed up by Ruth Handler after she watched her daughter Barbara playing with her baby dolls and pretending they were older than they were created to appear. In modern America, and most of the rest of the world as well, Barbie is a household name and it is estimated that there are well over 100,000 dedicated Barbie doll collectors in the world today. The most valuable Barbie dolls are the dolls from the earliest years of their release. In 2004, a Barbie doll from 1965 set a record when it was sold for a total of $17,000 in London. Other fashion dolls collected by people around the world include the Dollfie dolls, created by a Japanese company called Volks, Sybarite fashion dolls, created by Desmond Ligard and Charles Fegan, and the Tyler Wentworth dolls, created by designer Robert Tonner. Unlike Barbie dolls, these other fashion dolls are created specifically to be collected and customized.

For many young girls, doll collecting begins the moment they are given their first toy doll, however, serious doll collecting may not begin until a much later age. When first deciding to begin a doll collection, it is easiest to find one type of doll to focus on. With so many options, all the information can become overwhelming if you don’t first find a way to narrow your search. If you begin buying dolls without first understanding the dolls you are choosing to collect and purchase before doing your research, you are likely to lose money by not getting the best deal or by buying dolls that you won’t like in the long run. Once you’ve found a type of doll you think you may want to collect, research online and if possible, join a doll club in your area and ask the current members any questions you may have. Doll collectors enjoy sharing their hobby with others and will likely be more than happy to help you begin a collection of your own. There are doll guilds found around the world and one of the most well known is the Doll Artisan Guild (DAG). The DAG was first established by well known doll collector Mildred Seeley along with Rolf Ericson in 1977, and today is one of the most reliable places to find information on creating, restoring, and selling antique porcelain dolls. The DAG has a school of doll making, holds seminars, and is there to answer any questions those new to antique doll collecting may have.

Another great way to integrate yourself into the world of dolls would be to visit any doll shows in your area. Doll shows are a great way to get to know other collectors and to discover a variety of doll types. Ask vendors questions about the dolls and write things down, then do more research on the internet once you return home.

If you’ve decided to begin a doll restoration project, depending on the condition of the doll, the materials that were originally used to create the doll, and your available budget, you may have a big task ahead of you. Here are some tips for beginners: Find out what the hair and body are made from by researching online. If the hair is made from a low quality mohair, detangling will likely be much more difficult than other synthetic hair fibers. If your doll has synthetic hair use conditioner or fabric softener to help detangle the hair. If the hair is beyond saving, many hobby shops have synthetic hair in stock. You can also measure the circumference of the doll head and purchase a doll wig to attach to your doll’s head.

Blue Doll Eyes

When restoring an antique bisque doll, there may be some scratches, dents, cracks, or even holes found on the porcelain pieces of your doll. You can use a sculpting clay such as Darwi Air-Dry modeling compound to smooth the surface. Once dry and molded paint can be used to match the repaired area with the rest of the doll. If you choose to repaint your doll completely be sure to only use acrylic paints. Other oil based paints can stain your doll permanently or cause other more severe damage. Keep in mind that the more of a doll that is altered, the lower the doll’s value. Other factors which influence doll value are how much of the doll is original, how much damage the doll has, if the doll contains original clothing, the age and rarity of the doll, the artist, and much more. Books on doll collecting exist to help collectors accurately value their antique dolls. Bringing your antique dolls to doll shows and asking experts in the field is another way of getting an accurate picture of how much your doll is worth.

Doll collecting is a hobby that has existed for thousands of years and is likely to exist for thousands more. Museums such as the V&A Museum of Childhood in England contain collections of the some of the oldest and most unique dolls in existence. The doll collection at the V&A Museum contains over 8,000 dolls ranging from wooden dolls dating back all the way to 1300 BC to modern plastic dolls. For the serious doll collector, that dream doll, no matter how rare, is worth almost any cost. This is why from time to time news articles can be found talking about a doll that has broken a new record with how much it sold for at an auction.

Close Up of Broken Antique Doll
  • History of Dolls – The Connecticut Doll Artists website explains the history of dolls from the beginning of humanity until Word War II. 
  • Doll Artisan Guild – The DAG is one of the most well known and well respected gatherings of doll collectors in the world. The website for the guild provides resources on dating your doll, restoring your doll, and finding the true value of your antique doll collection.
  • The Doll Doctors Association – If you discover you have a passion for not just collecting dolls, but restoring them as well, the Doll Doctors Association is worth visiting. This website is a place for individuals with a passion for restoring damaged dolls to share information with each other.
  • Painting Porcelain Dolls –This web page provides information on how to paint each part of your antique porcelain doll to give it the most professional appearance possible.
  • Dolls and the Museum of Childhood – The V&A Museum of Childhood contains one of the largest and most varied collections of dolls in the world, and the website provides information on several of their most unique items.
  • Dolls Magazine Price Guide – Doll collectors worldwide know and trust Dolls Magazine. This price guide is ideal for people curious about the cost of specific dolls.
  • Doll Shows in the USA – If you are new to doll collecting or have been collecting for years, attending a doll show in your area is a great way to interact with other doll enthusiasts and have some of your questions answered.
  • Dolling Out Treatment – This article from an Australian newspaper talks about the restorations done to old and damaged dolls at the Melbourne Doll Hospital.
  • Price Guide – This guide to help people price their dolls isn’t limited to antique dolls alone. The website provides information on the Official Price Guide book, has a blog with articles about pricing dolls, and links to informative articles about doll collecting and pricing.
  • Albert Marque Doll Collecting (PDF) – Albert Marque was a well known French doll sculptor in the late 19th century. This PDF provides a listing of many of his dolls along with information on the original accessories and features of the dolls.
  • Eaton’s Beauty Dolls – Over the decades the Canadian department store known as Eaton’s has released dolls to be sold in it’s stores. Some of these dolls have become quite rare and valuable as time has passed.
  • Frozen Charlotte Dolls – These dolls are one piece unjointed porcelain dolls. This page provides information on the history of the dolls as well as where the name originated.
  • Collecting Antique Dolls – This article is a remarkable resource for those people looking into potentially collecting antique dolls. Denise Von Patten outlines several of the most valuable types of antique dolls.
  • Madame Alexander Doll Care – The official website for Madame Alexander dolls provides this resource on how to care for dolls made for collecting as well as Madame Alexander dolls which were produced for play.
  • The Madame Alexander Doll Club – Collectors of Madame Alexander dolls from all around the world can join the Madame Alexander Doll Club and discuss and share information about the dolls.
  • Mosshill Studios Art Dolls – This gallery of unique creations from Mosshill Studios shows some of the beautiful things that can be done with vintage dolls.
  • Spotting Reproductions – As with all antiques, not all dolls are as valuable as they may appear at first glance. This article warns people in the doll hobby to beware of dolls being passed off as originals when they are in fact reproductions of other, more valuable dolls.
  • Doll Sculpting – If you’ve ever decided you want to be able to fully create a doll of your own this tutorial can teach you how to sculpt a doll to suit your personal preferences.
  • Fashionable Fix-Ups – Restoring vintage fashion dolls is made easy with this article on the Doll Reader magazine website. The article goes into detail on how to clean the doll and the doll clothing.
  • Tools for Doll Makers (PDF) – Making dolls is easiest when you have access to the proper tools. Learn about all the essentials needed to make your own doll.
  • Removing Old Hair – If you decide to replace the hair of your doll during a restoration project, this tutorial shows you one way it can be done for dolls with “wigs” glued to the doll head.
  • History of the Tonner Doll Company – Tonner dolls are quickly becoming some of the newest stars in the modern fashion doll world. This page on the official Tonner website tells the history of this company.
  • Angel’s Attic Doll Collection – The Angel’s Attic doll museum is located in California. Their website has a gallery showcasing some of their most interesting dolls.
  • Marlaine Verhelst Dolls – Doll artist Marlaine Verhelst has been creating her whimsical dolls for years. Her unique vision brings to life the characters from her favorite fairytales. 
  • National Institute of American Doll Artists – NIADA brings together information on some of the most talented and well known art doll creators in the United States. The website provides biographies, resources for making your own dolls, and much more.
  • Boudoir Dolls (PDF) – The dolls of the Jazz Age are as vibrant as the individuals who owned them when they were first popularized. These dolls are a perfect doll representation of the most glamorous and the most gritty aspects of this age in fashion history.
  • Vinyl Doll Repainting – Learning to modify fashion dolls like Barbie and Gene Marshall dolls is made easy with this guide which has been broken down into organized sections.
  • Gene Marshall Fashion Dolls – These fashion dolls were originally manufactured and sold by the Ashton Drake doll company.
  • Fashion Forward Divas – Integrity Toys is home to a variety of high quality fashion dolls to suit a variety of tastes from 1920’s vintage to gothic.
  • Lenci Dolls – Dolls can be made from more than just porcelain or wood. Felt dolls made by the Lenci Doll Company are popular with many doll collectors because of the workmanship that is obvious even in dolls made of felt.
  • BJD Construction and Manufacturing (PDF) – Steadily gaining in popularity in the United States are Ball Jointed Dolls. Usually made of resin these dolls are extremely customizable and come in a wide range of sizes.
  • BJD Tips – This website provides tips for ball jointed doll owners. From cleaning, to painting and applying eyelashes.
  • Elegant Monsters – This doll website is dedicated to the ball jointed doll collection which belongs to two girls who have given the dolls a storyline and unique personalities.
  • Pink Grapefruit Doll Gallery – The doll collection belonging to doll designer and seamstress Dale Zentner can be viewed on this website.
  • Photographing Doll Collections – One of the things people who collect dolls love most is being able to share that love of dolls with other people, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to take photographs of the pieces in their collection. This page will provide pointers to those doll owners who are looking to take photographs to share or to use when selling dolls.
  • Unoa Dream – The Unoa dolls are sculpted by Japanese artist Gentaro Araki. This website showcases the collection of one individual’s Unoa dolls.
  • Barbie Collector – No matter how many years pass, Barbie is and will continue to be one of the most popular and widely collected dolls in the world. This website is meant specifically for Barbie collectors.
  • Barbie’s Beginning – The history of this fashion forward diva can be found on this page. Barbie and all her friends are discussed.
  • Fashion Doll Guide – This website is a detailed guide informing people about the progression of fashion dolls over the years. The focus is mainly on Barbie and comes complete with descriptions and pictures.
  • Sassy Strawberry Doll Gallery – This doll website showcases the doll photography of one person’s collection of Asian Ball Jointed Dolls.

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