This guide will provide several options for selling your dolls, depending on how quickly you want to sell them and for how much money you're hoping to get for them.
How much are my dolls worth?
Finding your dolls' values can be a huge endeavor if you don't have any idea who made or manufactured them. Many, but not all, dolls are marked somewhere on their bodies. They can be marked on the back of the neck just below their hair, on their backs, on their rear ends or even on the bottom of their feet. Some vintage dolls had no markings, so you will have to search in general doll price guides to narrow down the possible makers of your doll. There are many doll pricing and value guides on the market that cover a wide variety of dolls, so search 'doll price guide' or 'doll value guide' or 'doll values' to help find what you need. If you know the manufacturer, you can look up your doll in a book specific to that maker. Even if the book is a few years out of date, it will still give you a ballpark value to start with. If the price is very high, it's a safe bet that your doll may be rare or hard-to-find. One drawback is that, if buying all these books, you may defeat the reason you wanted to sell your collection in the first place. Many of these books may be available in your local library system, so check there first unless you have so many dolls to price you'd be better off buying the books. Don't forget that you can always sell the books when you have sold off your collection.
Another popular way to determine current value does not depend on books, but instead depends on the current marketplace. You can browse auction sites for completed auctions for your dolls and see what the average selling price was for each doll in similar condition to yours. This research can take a great deal of time, however, it will provide the most accurate estimate of how much you could expect to receive for each doll, depending on each doll's condition.
If a doll is not on any of the auciton sites, try searching for it through one of the search engines. Hopefully, you will find personal doll sites that are offering a similar doll for sale or a doll collectors' forum wherein values for that doll are being discussed.
If your dolls are especially old and valuable, it may be worth the money to get an appraisal. To find a qualified doll appraiser, search your local listings for appraisers or visit a local doll shop or doll show for a referral. Be sure your appraiser is familiar with dolls or, better yet, try to find an appraiser who specializes in dolls.
Important: Do not discard any doll clothing or accessories, no matter how dirty, ripped or stained it may be. Some dolls can be identified only by their clothing and it would be a shame to get rid of an item that could have told you made that doll. In addition, clothing and accessories have value of their own and could be sold by themselves or with a doll for more money. Save those tiny shoes, belts, purses, hats, hair curlers and jewelry so you can add them to a doll or sell them individually or in lots.
How do I decide value based on the book price?
Keep in mind that book prices will be for NEAR-MINT and MINT dolls only, so do not make the mistake of assuming that your played-with, naked doll with a haircut is worth the book price. A very-played with doll would be worth no more than 10% to 25% of that value, most likely less than that.
On the other hand, if your doll is in gently played with condition with all original clothing, you could expect your doll's value to be 50% to 75% or more of the book value. If you doll is tissue mint in box or near-mint and has its original box, you could expect to get 125% of book value or higher if your vintage doll is especially rare in this condition, for example an Ideal Toni doll or a Number 1 Barbie Doll.
A good rule of thumb is to expect at least 35% to 75% of book value for a gently-played-with, all or mostly original doll if sold directly to a collector. For very played with dolls with no clothing, cut hair, etc., you'd be better off listing those dolls in lots or as 'custom bait' (explained further down), unless the doll is very rare, in which case someone will want to restore it or someone will need the parts.
Always set the price of your dolls at the price that makes you feel comfortable, within reach of the doll's current value, of course. If you really wouldn't take less than $80 for something that has an estimated value of $10, you should just keep that doll, perhaps restoring it yourself so you can display and enjoy it in your home.
Where do I sell my dolls?
Online Auction Sites - This option is one of the most popular for anyone with a computer and the ability to upload images. Regardless of which auction site you choose, an auction can be a great way to sell your dolls, especially hard-to-find and rare dolls, for the maximum amount of money. If you're sentimental about your dolls, this is the best way to meet your dolls' new owners, which can be a nice experience. A big plus is that you can get the most money possible for your dolls, assuming your dolls are in demand among collectors and the auction site gets good traffic. Another plus is that you can slowly sell off a collection on your own time, in case you are having trouble letting go of a few favorites.
The drawbacks are that you will have to take several pictures of each doll, write up attractive ads and pay to list them and pay a percentage of their selling price when and if they sell. You will also have to deal with questions about your dolls and answer all of them promptly. Unanswered questions usually means that the asker will not bid on your items. You will also be responsible for shipping them securely so they do not arrived damaged, however, it is standard for the buyer to pay for shipping costs. Before you list a single doll, decide on your return, payment and shipping policies. If all sales are final, say so in the listing. If you won't ship to addresses oustide your home country, state it in the listing. If you will only ship via USPS or UPS, clearly put it in the listing. Only policies spelled out in the listing can be enforcable if you get into a disagreement with a buyer over your terms.
One big advantage to this selling method is that you don't have to ship the doll until payment is in hand, therefore theft and returned payments, i.e. bad checks, are not a concern. Just be sure to use delivery confirmation or a tracking number to prevent possibly dishonest buyers from using chargebacks against you for 'non-delivery'.
Doll Dealers/Buyers - This option will allow you sell off all your dolls at once. Simply contact a local doll dealer who buys doll collections and ask her/him to give you a quote to buy all your dolls. Most dealers will buy an entire collection or even a single doll (if that is all you wish to sell and if the doll is valuable enough to be worth their trip). Keep in mind they will need to come out and look at your collection closely. If there are a lot of dolls, the inspection of the collection could take a while. If you are moving or need the room or some quick cash, this is the best way. The only drawback is you will not get the most money for your dolls. Another concern is the potential to be taken advantage of, and not just from an unscrupulous dealer giving you pennies on the dollar for valuable dolls, but from a burglar posing as a dealer in order to case your house. For your own safety and to get the most money possible, find a dealer in person at a local doll show or through a friend or family member who collects dolls. If you see an ad in the paper advertising that they buy dolls, be cautious and ask for pertinent information (full name, how long they've been selling, where they sell, what they collect themselves, etc.) before allowing them to come to your home. If their answers seem evasive or downright false or they seem more concerned with getting your address and how much your dolls are worth than anything else, don't give them any information, end the call and keep looking.
You can expect to receive 25% to 50% of what the dealer hopes to sell the dolls for. So, if the dealer can sell the doll for $50, he/she will offer you $15 to $25. How much they offer you varies a great deal by how much work may need to be done to the dolls to make them sellable. You are going to offered much less for dolls that need washed, are naked, need their clothing cleaned or need their hair restyled. You'll get more money for ready to sell dolls.
If this inspires you to get out all your dolls so you can wash them and their clothing in the tub, stop right there! Some dolls must be carefully washed with speical cleaners and some can't be washed at all. Even vinyl dolls require careful cleaning or you can invite mold to grow inside their bodies without proper care. Vintage doll clothing can be fragile and many fabrics were not colorfast which means the colors will bleed into each other or some fabrics will shrink in the water, so do not wash anything. Composition dolls will break apart in water, so don't wash your dolls either without knowing what they are made of and how they will withstand water. If you want to fix up your dolls before selling them, ask a doll collector or a dealer advice on cleaning dolls before you jump in. Or buy a book on how to clean and/or repair dolls. Under no circumstance should you attempt to repaint or reapply painted makeup to your dolls, as that kind of work is best left to an expert in doll repair and restoration. If you want to get into that kind of work, buy the books and practice, a lot, on badly damaged, throw-away, cheap dolls first.
I am a doll dealer and have bought many collections. When speaking with the dealer, they'll want the following information over the phone: how many dolls are there (if you don't know exactly, a close estimate is fine); what condition are they in (MIB, NRFB, played-with, naked, like new, excellent, etc.); what kind of dolls are they (Barbie dolls, antique, porcelain, hard plastic, vinyl, modern collector dolls, etc.); how old are they (if varied, give a time frame, such as 1960s to 1990s). Don't be surprised if they ask you the dollar amount you're looking for for the lot over the phone. This is asked to see if you have sky-high expectations that would be impossible to meet, such as 25 newer, played-with Barbies dolls for $500. Conversely, it is also a way to gauge if you know the value of your dolls, which can be used to your disadvantage by unscrupulous dealers if you don't. For example, if you tell that kind of dealer you have five antique bisque dolls from the 1800s and and you want $100 for all of them, they'll agree to the price over the phone and probably fly over immediately to buy them before someone wises you up or you change your mind. Don't get taken advantage of - do your own research on values BEFORE you call a dealer. If your values are higher than warranted, an honest dealer will explain why, for example, the doll has a hairline crack or the wig is a modern replacement. If your values are much lower than warranted, an honest dealer may likely offer you more than expected, however, that is not always guaranteed. Your best bet is to let the dealer offer you a price once you've done some research and know how much you want and should expect to get for them. Expect to haggle on price if they come in with a low first offer. Don't be afraid to counter-offer, and be prepared to meet somewhere in the middle. Don't feel pressured to sell to the dealer if the price is much lower than you know it should be from your research.
Selling directly to a doll shop or museum - This is similar to selling to a doll dealer, however, you will most likely have to take your dolls to the shop or to the museum in order to sell them. Unless you have a large and valuable collection, most musuems won't come to buy your dolls at your home. A doll shop owner may be willing to come to your home to view your collection, if it's large and/or hard to transport. Like dealers, a doll shop will offer you 25% to 50% of what they can expect to sell the doll for, regardless of what the book value is. For example, the book value may be $200, but the dealer has sold similar dolls for $100, therefore she/he will offer you $25 to $50 for your doll. A musuem may do the same, however, if they want that doll for the museum's display collection, they may offer you book value or more, but this would most likely be for only very rare and/or valuable dolls in extraodinary condition. If the museum tries too hard to convince you to 'donate' your dolls instead of selling them to them, I'd advise you to take your dolls home and research that musuem and your dolls' values thoroughly before doing that.
Through the classifieds - This method would allow to you sell your dolls individually or all as one collection. The advantage is that you can set a price you're happy with for each doll or for the entire collection. It does not mean you will definitely get what you ask, but it does not mean that you won't either. At the very least you will have the most control over your dolls and how much you want to get for each one. The drawback is that you risk inviting strangers into your home, unless you meet people at a public place in order to view the dolls. That could be difficult to transport them if you have a lot of dolls to sell. The cost of the ad could be expensive if you choose the most popular paper to advertise in and/or if you have to keep placing it when selling off a large collection a few dolls at a time.
Selling through an online national classified newsletter - A popular newsletter for doll collectors is Collectors United (search for 'collectors united'), which is dedicated to only dolls and bears. A subscription is only $24 a year, and your subscription entitles you to one a 40-word ad per month. Addtional ads and/or words are 20 cents a word. This newsletter has been around for many, many years, so it has a very wide readership. Craigslist is also a viable choice, just be cautious about who you invite to your home. Certain types of dolls may have specialized classifieds just for those dolls. For example, Madame Alexander collectors have their own classified newsletter that is part of the Madame Alexander Doll Club, which requires a membership fee to their club to receive.
Setting up your own store website - This is a much easier to create alternative than it used to be. There are now plentiful sites that are low-cost or free on which to sell your dolls, such as blujay.com, auctiva.com and web.com. You will need to have the ability to upload photos and it may take quite a bit of time to photograph and list every doll if you have even a medium-sized collection. The biggest drawback to this way is that it may take a very long time to sell even one doll unless you can get traffic to your webstore. The only way to get traffic is to advertise your own webstore through banners on other websites or buying placement in search engines. That can cost a lot of money, so this may be the least economical way, as far as upfront costs, to sell your collection. However, with the recent addition of many new collectibles only sites, such as Ruby Lane and Ruby Plaza, this method is becoming less expensive and more feasible for people selling their own large collections.
What if my dolls are very played with and what does 'custom bait' mean?
In the case of dolls that have been well-loved, you can sell them in large lots to people who want to use them as spare parts for dolls in better condition. Dolls with bad bodies may become hair donors for dolls with nice bodies with cut hair or for one-of-a-kind custom repaints. A large lot of played-with dolls would be good to market as 'custom bait'. That term is used to describe dolls that could be repainted and rerooted to make one-of-a-kind dolls, such as Gene dolls, Barbie dolls, lifelike baby dolls, etc. If your dolls have chewed-up limbs, they won't be custom bait, but, if very hard-to-find, may be worth listing for parts. Dolls that are mildewed or moldy will need to be cleaned first before you can expect to sell them, and, unfortunately, they may never be clean enough to sell. Consult an expert or a doll cleaning guide before proceeding with cleaning.
No matter which method you choose to sell your dolls, always be straightforward with the dealer or collector you are selling to about whether the dolls have been around cigarette smoke. A doll collector who unexpectedly gets a smoke-scented doll with yellowed clothing and body will not be pleased, which will cost you money and your reputation.
Special Note: For all dolls, where and how you store your dolls while you wait for them to sell is very important. Keep the dolls and their accessories away from exteme temperatures, either hot or cold, keep them protected from dust, liquids, insects and pets and do not expose them to strong odors (i.e. cooking smells, moth balls, burnt odors, strong perfume, etc.). I've found that an ideal place to store dolls is in a master bedroom closet or high up on a linen closet.