Dolls found at garage sales might be gold ... or not! In the never-ending quest for items to sell on Ebay you are often going to come across dolls. If you are not a doll collector, this could cause you to stand and scratch your head and wonder “should I or shouldn’t I?” My purpose of this review is to just give basic information that might help you make a decision. I’m not going into manufacturer’s names at all, just materials used to help you determine era and whether you should buy or not. Never spend more than you can afford to lose.
The main materials that you are going to find dolls made of are:
Antique China (shiny, glazed porcelain).
Antique Bisque (dull, matte finish porcelain).
Composition (pressed sawdust with painted surface),
Hard plastic (doesn’t bend when squeezed).
Rigid Vinyl (thick, feels warmish to the touch)
Vinyl (softer, more realistic feeling)
Stuffed vinyl (usually only jointed at neck) often in fancy gowns.
Magic Skin (often found tearing at neck and turning black with age/handling).
China head dolls are glazed porcelain and most often white in color with black or blonde hair. The good ones have a fine red line detailing above their painted eyes and little red dots in the corner of the eyes and nostrils. Most of the value is in the head and the body can be replaced by a buyer if it's not good. Keep it with the doll. It’s part of her provenance (history). Sell it with the doll. Some pretty disreputable bodies are worth money. I recommend that a non-doll collector NOT wash old doll clothing. Note: Antique china head dolls did not craze, if found with fine cracking/crazing they are made of ceramic and probably are a reproduction from as long ago as the 1930’s.
Antique Bisque head dolls have a soft unglazed pink coloring to more closely resemble skin tones. They came with a wood ball jointed composition body or a kid leather pin jointed body. Most have eyes that sleep when laid down. It wouldn’t be unusual to find one, loosely strung, in a box with the top of her head off and her eyes rolled back! If the price is right, that’s still a good deal. The top of the head was left open in manufacture to allow access to insert sleep eyes. It was later covered with a wig. She’s loose because her elastic stringing needs replaced which most doll collectors know how to do or know someone who does. Don’t worry about broken fingers on an antique doll body, those can be repaired. Broken eyes can be glued back together in many cases. Many prefer old repaired eyes to new replaced ones. Do look over a head real good, looking for cracks so fine that they look like hair = hairline cracks. Those do matter to the value! Don’t attempt to comb out an old doll wig. If it’s in the original set that can change the value too.
Contemporary Collector Dolls: If you find a bisque doll with painted or stationary eyes; her original box; a COA (certificate of authenticity) and a nice white cloth body and her original clothing with miles of ruffles and lace………she’d probably more likely be called a modern decorator item. Sure, some have the COA and it might even say limited production. However, the “limit” was just to the extent of the number they could sell. Anyone who wanted one could buy them from HSN and QVC and they are ALL mint! Unless you want it for yourself, your child or are getting it super cheap, I also pass those up too as doll values are fueled by supply and demand.
Composition dolls from the 1920-1950’s are often found with surface crazing. The makeup of composition is primarily sawdust and glue with a painted surface. Fluctuations between summer/hot and winter/cold in attics and basements caused the base materials to expand and contract but the painted surface didn’t have that ability so, instead, it cracked. Fine crazing is acceptable by most collectors, however, peeling open cracks demand professional restoration, which can be costly. Let the buyer do any clean up. They have their own methods they prefer.
Magic Skin was made for a period between composition dolls and hard plastic. It was thought it would more closely resemble real skin. It is very soft and pliable with not much detailing showing in fingers or toes. Time has not served Magic Skin well. The majority of such dolls are found with beautiful hard plastic heads with a body that has started to rot away and turn brown or even black from contact with our skin oils. There is really no good way that has been found to save these bodies. Such dolls then become donor dolls for their wigs or original clothing and/or shoes.
Hard plastic dolls followed in the 1950’s – 1960. They had glued on wigs. One thing you HAVE to do with a hard plastic doll is to SMELL it! Yep, I put it right up to my nose and give it a good strong sniff right at the neck. Unfortunately, when those early manufacturers of hard plastic dolls were stirring up their mix some weren’t thinking about collectors 50 years later and often used inferior products to cut corners at times. Some of those are breaking down now and smell just like Baby Puke! The doll is only good for parts: wig, clothing, shoes. This stench, of which I warn you, is different from the slightly musty smell of old elastic that can be replaced. Mention any odors in your ad.
Vinyl dolls from the 1960’s have a strong following as the baby boomers have establish their careers and are trying to buy back their dolls. They most often are the rigid, sturdy vinyl and have rooted hair. Pull back the hair to make sure that all the holes have hair in them. That affects price. Has the hair been cut? Are all the eyelashes there? That affects value too as does ink.
Stuffed Vinyl: There were MANY of high-heeled stuffed vinyl lady dolls made in the late 1940’s into 1950’s. They are still often found in their original boxes complete with long wedding gown or formal. These were sold in grocery stores and through catalogs. They were large and unwieldy and often saved for “good” just to be looked at on Sunday. Value is driven by supply and demand. Don’t be fooled by their size and completeness. There are lots of these still around, mint in box.
ID marks: The manufacturers most often marked their company name on the back of the neck or between the shoulderblades. If Made in China shows anywhere……….leave it! It’s most likely too new to make you rich either!
Reproductions. Lots of people started doing antique bisque doll reproductions in the 1970’s and it continued to be a popular craft form for the next 20 years. Look for an ethical reproductionist’s to have inscribed their name, initials, and/or date by scratching it into the bisque on the back of the neck. This is usually marked close to the antique bisque mark from the original mold from which it was copied.
Barbie with JAPAN anywhere on body….buy, especially if it's cheap. Just look for that JAPAN mark. Those old valuable Barbie dolls marked JAPAN had straight arms, (some had eyelashes) later dolls all had easily recognizable bent arms. Old Barbie outfits had a cloth tag that was embroidered instead of stamped. Don’t wash those clothes. That could be a costly mistake for you. Even if they’ve been plucked bald and the toes are chewed…if it says JAPAN on it somewhere…somebody wants at least part of it!Buy it cheap.
Cloth: The most common cloth doll that you might find is a Raggedy Ann/Andy. Look for the mfgr name of Volland on the tag. That will be a good find for you!
Shipping: This is also a good place to state that if you do sell an antique bisque doll with sleep eyes, if she has her original human hair or mohair wig still glued in place, you’ll need to gently lift the edge of the wig and using a cotton ball soaked in vinegar water (squeeze out excess) to dissolve the glue, you’ll need to gently pry off the wig so you can stuff some toilet paper or tissue paper down inside the head for shipment so the action of the sleep eyes doesn’t cause the eyes to come loose from the inside of the head during shipment and break and there goes your profit! Leave the wig loose. Do not pack with newspaper next to the doll. The ink will transfer onto the doll or clothing. Put protective layer of white tissue paper in place first. Double box. Do not put bubble wrap directly on the composition as it might stick in hot weather or cause dampness to be trapped in cold weather. Ship compo (and wax) dolls the first of the week in the heat of the summer.
If you need help identifying a doll you’ve found, all are welcome to post on the Dolls Chat board or the Dolls Discussion Board before you list.