Learning to identify antique dolls can mean the difference between a new toy for the kids and a valuable collectible. After all, dolls are all about playing pretend, but some can be worth some serious money. Telling a treasure from a simple toy is all about knowing what you have.
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 and decide whether this doll has only sentimental value or might be worth a lot more.
How to Identify the Doll's Manufacturer
Certain antique dolls are easier to identify than others. It's all about whether they have a manufacturer's mark somewhere on their body or clothes. 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. Look her over carefully to see if you can find anything that might tell you about the doll's manufacturer. 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.
- The manufacturer's mark can be raised or indented on body parts.
Maker's marks aren't the only marks you'll find on a doll. You might also see a country name. 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, your doll was probably made after 1890.
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. These specific brands have marks in other places, so be sure to check those areas super carefully:
- 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, but there are some other ways to do it. Try these additional methods to identify an antique doll:
- 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.
If you have a guess about the manufacturer from the maker's mark, but you aren't sure, check listings at online auction sites. Most include a picture of the maker's mark on a doll, so you can compare to see if you're on the right track.
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
Don't worry if there's not a maker's mark on your doll, though. This actually happens a lot. It just means you need to do a little more detective work. 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.
Get to Know Types of Dolls and Doll Materials
Identifying what type of doll you have can help narrow down where and when it was made. These are a few of the main materials and types of dolls and what you can tell from them.
- Chinese porcelain dolls: The earliest and rarest porcelain dolls had a porcelain head and shoulders with a wooden body. 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.
- Bisque dolls: Early bisque dolls had a leather or cloth body with a bisque head and molded eyes, mouths, and hair. In the 1850s, bisque dolls started to be manufactured in France and Germany. The porcelain heads here were unglazed for a matte look.
- Parian dolls: Bisque dolls made from untinted white porcelain were made for display instead of play. You can tell them by their white color.
- 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.
Look for Clues From Doll Bodies
While heads and hands are helpful in identifying antique dolls, you should also take a sec to look at the body. Very old dolls often featured porcelain or bisque bodies or wooden bodies. Later dolls had stuffed bodies made of cloth.
Evaluate Doll Eyes
You know how eyes are supposed to be a window to the soul? They can tell you a ton about your antique doll, too. 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.
Check Out an Antique Doll's Hair
The earliest 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.
Take a Look at Doll Clothing
Clothes offer some of the best clues when it comes to dating and identifying an old doll. 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 when it comes to value.
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 you've identified an antique doll, you can move on to finding its value 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.
Although doll values aren't as volatile as some other antiques, like sterling silver flatware, they do change over time. If you're using a price guide, go for one that's been updated in the last few years.
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. It's really important that you look at sold values here, rather than the prices sellers are asking for dolls. People can ask anything they want, but the real value is what the doll actually sells for.
Get to Know Some of the Most Valuable Antique Dolls
Even though you might not have one of the most valuable antique dolls, it helps to know what makes them worth so much. These are some of the most expensive antique dolls sold.
- Antione Edmund Rochard - 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. It had incredible details and lots of jewels, so watch for precious materials and quality workmanship when looking for valuable dolls.
- Madame Alexander Cissy - A 1959 Cissy doll by Madame Alexander sold for about $9,660 on eBay in 2023. It was one of the rarest models made, so if you happen to have a rare doll, you might have something valuable.
- Depose E.J. Jumeau Bebe - Bebe dolls are among the most valuable, especially if they are very old. One sold for $8,400 on eBay in 2023. If you have a super old doll, it could be worth money.
- Vintage Barbie #2 - Vintage Barbies can be worth a lot, and one sold for about $8,000 on eBay in 2023. In addition to being rare and one of the first made, it was also in pristine condition. If you have an antique doll in good shape, it's a sign of value.
Know the Factors Affecting Doll Value
As you can see from the most expensive dolls, the value of an antique doll is based on a number of different factors. These are a few to keep in mind:
- Demand - The demand for the doll among collectors is a big thing to consider. Think visual appeal, rarity, and nostalgia.
- Condition - A doll in great shape is usually worth more. Collectors look for whether the doll is completely original or whether the doll has been repaired or restored (and the type of repair or restoration).
- Age - The doll's age impacts value, too, with older dolls often worth more.
- Quality - Artist talent and workmanship are very important to value.
- Accessories - Clothing and accessories, such as hats, shoes, and parasols, can add to the value.
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 and their prices or collectible Kachina dolls. While you probably won't play with your antique doll today, show them some love, collecting and displaying them for all to see.