How Much Is That Dolly In The Window?

In the world of antiques, just because something is old does not make it particularly valuable. Likewise, just because a doll is old does not mean you have secured your retirement. Since I have mentioned the word “antique,” I’ll take a moment to define what doll collectors consider an antique, versus a vintage doll. In the world of doll collecting, generally, a doll must be at least 100 years old to be considered an antique. While dolls from the 1920s or 1930s are nearing antique status, most doll collectors classify them as vintage.

When determining the value of a doll, several factors must be considered. These include the doll’s rarity, its overall quality and condition. The quality of dolls can vary greatly, even among the same manufacturer. Collectors prefer dolls made of pale bisque with finely painted faces, featuring multi stroked eyebrows and individual upper and lower eyelashes. Another desirable feature of antique dolls is closed mouths, as fewer of these were manufactured, thus making them rarer. Finally, for most collectors, condition is everything. A doll in excellent condition means that there is no restoration or damage to the doll in such areas as hairlines, chips or cracks, that they have original or appropriate wigs (no synthetics) and they are wearing original or appropriate era clothing. Any damage can have a negative affect on the value of a doll—as much as 75 percent—depending on the type and area where the damage is located. When purchasing a doll, it is always best to deal with a reputable doll dealer, as they will disclose any damage and price their dolls accordingly.

Baby Aero – Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd. (used with permission)

Baby Aero – Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd. (used with permission)

Bye Lo Baby

The value of the majority of bisque-head dolls falls into the few-hundreds-dollar range. An example would be Grace Putman’s highly popular Bye Lo Baby, which was know as “The Million Dollar Baby,” and remains a favorite among doll collectors. When they were first manufactured in 1922, they were the first dolls produced that portrayed a realistic three-day-old infant. These highly collectible dolls originally sold from 50 cents to $25, depending on size and features. The heads of these dolls were manufactured by many different makers in a wide variety of materials, including bisque, composition, wax, wood and vinyl. Facial features can be all painted or have glass eyes; rarer examples of Bye Lo Baby include a Schoenhut model with a wooden head, models with a wax head, and the 11-inch bisque head “Baby Aero,” model # 1418.

The bodies of Bye Lo Babies are cloth and have been called froglike, due to the appearance of their curved legs. They have been manufactured in many sizes ranging from the small (4 to 5 inches) to the larger dolls of 20-plus inches. Due to their popularity, one might think that these dolls would sell for a premium. But since large numbers were manufactured, they are easily found for sale on the doll market, which negatively impacts their value. Book values range from $200 to $800 for the more common examples, depending on their size and condition. The more rare wooden-head dolls command a much higher price, with book values ranging from $1,700 to $2,200. It might be surprising to find that the 11-inch “Baby Aero” will bring prices of $2,800 to $3,200. As always a cautionary note on the price listed: book values reflect what a collector might expect to pay a dealer for a doll in excellent original condition.

Many of the German bisque-head dolls, though beautiful, are worth a fraction of what similar sized French bisque dolls will command. This is due in part to the large numbers of bisque dolls produced in Germany. The Armand Marseille (AM) doll company, located in Koppelsdorf, was one of the most prolific of the German firms. I have read that during the peak of their production they were making over 1,000 doll heads per day. AM produced mainly bisque-head dolls from 1885 until approximately 1930, and also produced doll heads for many other firms for use on other doll bodies.

My Dream Baby from my personal collection.

My Dream Baby from my personal collection.

AM mold numbers 370 and 390 are probably the most common found on the market; many collectors will tell you that the first antique doll they purchased was one of these molds. This firm produced many baby dolls, including “My Dream Baby,” which quite possibly is their most famous doll. Realized prices at auction on these dolls are in the $80 to $100 range. Other baby dolls made by the AM firm include: Baby Phyllis, Dickie, Kiddiejoy, Baby Betty and Baby Ellen. Due to the large number of AM dolls produced, and which still available on the secondary market, they are among the most affordable of all German bisque-head dolls. There are exceptions, of course; AM dolls such as their Googlies, Just Me and Lady Dolls can command prices into the thousands of dollars depending on size, quality and in excellent condition.

20th century Dolls

Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, consumers were looking for more realistic facial features in the dolls they purchased. This gave rise to the German character face dolls, which are highly desirable among today’s doll collectors. The faces of character dolls show a realism and a depth of expression which is lacking in the dolly faced dolls. The German firms of Kammer & Reinhardt (K*R) and Kestner and Heubach produced some wonderful high quality character dolls.

K & R Marie, Mold 101. Sheldon and Sophia Gajarian (used with permission)

K & R Marie, Mold 101. Sheldon and Sophia Gajarian (used with permission)

Kammer & Reinhardt of Waltershausen, Thuringia, Germany, founded its doll factory in 1886 and designed many lovely doll heads, but the company did not own a porcelain factory so it lacked the means to produce them. So many of K*R heads found on dolls were actually produced by the Simon & Halbig firm and may bear both firms markings on their heads. K*R is probably best know for its character children and baby dolls. Most character dolls have painted eyes, although some examples can be found featuring glass eyes. One example of a very desirable child character doll is the K*R mold number 101, dating circa 1909. Mold number 101 was used on both the Marie and Peter character children dolls made by K*R, and they are considered to be brother and sister dolls. It is interesting to note that mold 101 can be found in a rare mulatto doll, as well. These wonderful dolls are usually found with painted brown or blue eyes that have a downward look, one-stroke tapered brows, a closed mouth with full, pouty, coral-colored lips on a fully jointed composition body. The 19- to 20-inch example, if found in excellent condition and with painted eyes, has a value of $4,500 to $5,000. Much rarer is the glass-eyed example which has a book value of $12,500.

While not enough to retire on, owning a few of these dolls would provide a tidy sum to add to that retirement account.

Letha Berry is a Worthologist who specializes in dolls.

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