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How to Start an Antique Doll Collection

Updated: 1 day ago

Dolls have captivated people throughout history — dolls are believed to be the world’s oldest toys. We know children have loved dolls for thousands of years, but for many people, that love of dolls has continued into adulthood as they have become vintage or antique doll collectors. People may appreciate the artistic value of dolls, be interested in the history of dolls, or simply love the nostalgic feeling they get from owning a beautiful doll once more.

If you are interested in starting your own collection of antique and vintage dolls, let us guide you through some things you need to know in order to start your own hobby of gathering collectible dolls.

The History of Dolls

Simply put, a “doll” is a child’s plaything that is modeled after a human or animal. Historians have found a piece of an alabaster doll dating back to Babylonian times. Flat, carved wooden dolls with beaded string “hair” were found in Egyptian graves dating from 3000-2000 BC. Dolls were also found in children’s graves in Greece, Rome, and early Christian catacombs.

Nürnberg, Germany, was home to “Dochenmacher” (doll makers) as early as 1413. Germany became the leading manufacturer of toys — and specifically, dolls — from the 16th to 18th centuries. Paris became another capital of doll-making with their mass production of dolls, especially “fashion dolls.” The oldest American dolls were probably dolls that were found in Inca and Aztec graves, and American Indian children also had dolls — notably the “kachina doll” of the Pueblo Indians.

3 Types of Collectible Dolls

  1. Antique dolls

  2. Vintage dolls

  3. Modern dolls

Antique doll with ivory dress and silk hat

Antique Dolls

The collector’s market considers antique dolls to be those made before 1920. Some notable dolls that are valued by the collectible doll community are Kewpie dolls of the 20th century, the Half Dolls of the early 1900s, Armand Marseille’s antique bisque dolls, and Jumeau Dolls (French fashion dolls).

Most of these antique dolls’ heads will be made of wood, wax, porcelain, or bisque (unglazed ceramic). The majority of collectible antique dolls were made in Germany, France, and the United States.

Vintage Dolls

Vintage dolls are typically described by collectors as dolls from 1925-1979. This time period is when brands of dolls became household names. You may be interested in vintage dolls such as the large Boudoir Dolls of the ‘20s-‘40s, the Shirley Temple dolls of the 20th century, the Betsy McCall dolls of the 1950s, the talking Chatty Cathy dolls from the ‘60s, and Effanbee dolls that came on the market in 1921.

Of course, we cannot talk about vintage dolls without mentioning Barbie, the most popular fashion doll ever. The Barbie doll debuted in 1959. Fifty-eight million Barbie dolls are sold annually, and Barbie is sold in 150 countries around the world.

Modern Collectible Dolls

Vintage 1980s Cabbage Patch Kid

Although only time will tell if they will become valuable, many of the “modern dolls” from 1980 and on may become collectible dolls one day. Some popular dolls to consider collecting now are the Bratz dolls that debuted in 2001, Gene Marshall fashion dolls of the ‘90s, Lee Middleton vinyl baby dolls, and Cabbage Patch Kids of the ‘80s.

American Girl Dolls are modern dolls (debuting in 1986) that have already become valuable collectibles. The original 11 American Girl Dolls (especially the first three: Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly) are valuable among collectors and can sell for thousands of dollars. Our America’s Antique Mall location in Melbourne, Florida, offers a vast selection of American Girl Dolls (new and old), clothes, and accessories, so you can find the American Girl collectible doll of your dreams.

What Are Antique Dolls Made Of?

Although an antique doll’s body was usually made of something soft, such as kid leather or cloth, the head was typically made of one of the following materials:

  • Wax

  • Papier Mâché

  • Wood

  • China

  • Bisque

  • Cloth

What Are Vintage Dolls Made Of?

Vintage dolls are typically made of:

  • Composites

  • Vinyl

  • Plastic

  • Cloth

Collectible porcelain doll in pink taffeta dress

How to Identify Collectible Dolls?

In order to start a meaningful antique and/or vintage doll collection, you must be able to identify these valuable collectibles. Look for the doll’s manufacturer or maker’s mark on the back of the head/neck, between the shoulder blades, on the bottom of the feet, or on clothing tags. When you find it, you can do some research and find out the doll’s value.

If you cannot find the manufacturer or maker’s mark, identify the doll’s materials to give you an idea of when it was made and by whom. Porcelain dolls were made in Europe beginning in the mid-1800s, and the porcelain heads, hands, and feet were made in China from 1840 to 1880. Bisque dolls emerged in France and Germany in the 1850s, and bisque dolls began to be made in China and the United States in the early 1900s.

Where Can I Buy Antique and Vintage Dolls?

Now that we have learned some key details about vintage and antique dolls, where can you find that perfect collectible doll? Of course, you can shop online at sites like Etsy, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or other antique or auction sites. You can also shop at local antique stores, like America’s Antique Mall in Highland, Indiana, or Melbourne, Florida.

All locations of America’s Antique Mall offer a large shopping space with a variety of vendor booths and glass showcases. And both of our locations are some of the largest antique malls in their respective states! With hundreds of vendors and booths to peruse, you are sure to find a collectible doll to take home with you.

What to Do with My Antique Doll Collection

Vintage doll in NASA uniform

If you already have a collection of antique or vintage dolls, you may be wondering what to do with them. Of course, you don’t want them just sitting around collecting dust in your closet or attic. Put those beautiful collectible dolls on display! Add some shelves to your living room or designate a guest room as a place where your vintage dolls can be set up and appreciated on a daily basis.

If you have a collection that is too large to display at home, or you just have some dolls that aren’t your favorite, consider selling some of your antique dolls. You can always use your profits to buy even more collectible dolls that you love!

An antique mall is a great place to sell your vintage items like dolls. If you feel a little bit lost as to how to start, check out our five easy steps to set up your own antique mall booth. If you can’t get enough of vintage or antique goods, you may want to think about becoming an antique dealer to fuel your passion!

Collectible Dolls: A Mix of Art, History, and Nostalgia

You may love collectible dolls because of their artistic value, their history, or simply your own nostalgia for the days of yesteryear. But whether you’re a child or an adult, we can all agree that these charming dolls bring a bit of joy and sparkle into our life.

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