Doll collecting has long been a profitable and enjoyable hobby for young and old. There are many types of antique dolls that are now reproduced for modern collectors, among them are china, bisque and composition dolls. When adding an antique doll to your collection, it’s important that you look for signs that the doll is a genuine antique and not a reproduction. Unscrupulous sellers take advantage of unknowledgable collectors, so always research the doll you’re interested in acquiring, and expose yourself to many antique dolls so you’ll be familiar with the look of an antique compared to a reproduction.
Examine the markings on the back of the doll’s head, shoulder plate, or back. Antique dolls will have depressed or embossed factory markings, such as mold numbers or the name of the doll company. Reproductions are usually created by artists who hand paint their names, and possibly the year the doll was made somewhere near the factory markings. Many antique china and composition dolls were never marked at all, leading to confusion in doll guidebooks.
Look closely at the materials used to make the doll. Antique composition dolls, made from 1899 to 1949, are made of a mixture of sawdust and glue, and painted with oil-based paint. There is usually always crazing, or crackly lines, in the paint. Antique china dolls, on the other hand, will be very smooth like expensive china, but usually have black specks from dust under the glaze. Modern factories are cleaner and consumers pickier. Antique bisque dolls feel like light grade sandpaper, but reproductions will be smooth.
Study the doll’s face painting. Antiques were painted quickly and uniformly for the most part. Reproductions are more elaborately and painstakingly painted because modern consumers expect perfection. Antique dolls were considered toys, not valuable collectibles.
Know your wigs. Antique doll wigs were made from human hair or mohair. Often there is extensive damage, thinning or frizzing on antique doll wigs of human hair. Reproduction dolls have perfectly coiffed wigs of synthetic, mohair, or human hair. You can determine if a wig is human hair, by burning a strand of hair. Human hair will burn slowly and give off a distinctive, human hair odor.
Don’t be fooled by patched-up dolls. Some sellers will “marry” an antique head with a not-so-antique body. You also can’t go by the stringing in a doll. Many antique dolls are restrung with modern elastics. There are tell-tale signs that a doll is an antique: composition dolls that are chipped will reveal the composition beneath; china dolls on kid bodies with obviously old, sewn on arms or legs; and unglazed, crudely molded bisque dolls with bright paint.
The best way to learn about antique dolls is to handle and look at as many antique dolls as you can. Visit flea markets, antique shops and doll shows. Even dirty, broken dolls can help you learn about the types of dolls, and how they were or weren’t constructed.
When purchasing a doll online, always ask to see photos of the back of the doll. Ask the seller for any markings, no matter what they may be, that are on the doll.