The second Saturday in June is World Doll Day, so let’s celebrate with some history about antique and collectible dolls from around the world! Check back all month for parts 2 and 3!
First, an important note before we begin- how do you know what type of doll you even have? With a variety of materials – from porcelain to plastic, composite to cloth, papier-mâché to leather, and celluloid to wood – how does one identify a doll? Well, dolls are identified by the material from which the head was constructed. So a doll with a porcelain head but cloth body is considered a “porcelain” doll; a doll with a wooden head but leather body is considered a “wooden” doll. The doll-maker’s mark is customarily found on the nape of the neck or the doll’s back.
The two types of dolls that we will take a look at are Madame Alexander’s composite and hard plastic dolls as well as antique European bisque dolls. Let’s begin with composite…what is it? Composite is a wood-based mixture (usually sawdust and glue) which has a similar appearance as porcelain but is a less expensive material. This material was very popular from about the 1920s to the 1950s, after which hard plastic became more desirable in doll manufacturing.
Now for bisque…what is it? Bisque is an unglazed porcelain which results in a matte, skin-like finish. It was the most popular medium for French and German doll companies from the 1850s to 1930s. Sometimes bisque was tinted or painted for an even closer match to a true skin tone. The logo for World Doll Day (designed by the artist Boots Taylor) features a little girl holding, in fact, an antique bisque doll.
How much is it worth? According to doll expert Linda Edward, for dolls, value is heavily influenced by the condition of the doll. This includes its physical appearance (it does not have damage, cracks, etc.). originality (it has its original hair/wig, costume or outfit, and even facial paint), and “completeness” (i.e. the doll has all parts from its manufacturing “birth” — the complete outfit and props, tags, etc.). Also important is the doll’s rarity, which depends on the doll company: some production years and/or doll models are more desirable than others.
Doll Diligence: taking proper care of your bisque, composite, or plastic doll
Cleaning: Dust your doll with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush. Gently clean your doll with a soft cloth, warm water, and mild soap. Rub gently and carefully so you do not accidentally rub off any paint!
Storage: Place your doll in an acid-free storage box. Use acid-free tissue paper as a cushion around the doll. You can also crumple up and tuck tissue paper inside the doll’s gown to help keep its shape (as textile material grows more fragile over time). Store your doll in a room-temperature area. ***For dolls with “sleeping eyes” (eyelids that can open and shut), make sure you store this type of doll face-down. (This keeps the weighted eyelid mechanics from wearing out.)***
Restoration: For any damage, stains, paint wear, wig, or outfit repairs, it is recommended to take your doll to a professional doll restorer or doll hospital. Before seeing a doll doctor, it might be worthwhile to seek an art appraisal for your doll. The appraiser would be able to inform you about whether or not a restoration would increase the doll’s value. Additionally, an appraiser might recommend getting your doll treated for conservation purposes.
Edward, Linda. Doll Values. Cumberland, MD., Reverie Publishing Company, 2012.