Reproduction or Antique? How Best to Enhance a Doll Collection

When talking with a doll collector, the conversation inevitably turns to those dolls that make up our “dolly dreams.” We secretly envision going to a yard, garage or estate sale where we find that elusive doll sitting on a box or shelve wearing an impatient look that says: “Well, I have been waiting all day for you to come buy me.” For some collectors, it is a wonderful French Fashion doll with an articulated wooden body. For others it may be a Bru, a Jumeau, a Rabery et Delphieu, or perhaps a Gaultier Bebe. For many collectors these dolls will remain only an elusive dream.

Clairmaid Parian, circa 1966, my personal collection

Clairmaid Parian, circa 1966, my personal collection

Kling Parian, circa 1870, my personal collection

Kling Parian, circa 1870, my personal collection

During my years of collecting I have come to think that most doll collectors can be divided into one of two types. Collectors who I would classify as belonging to Type One love their dolls but tend to look at them as either an artistic or financial investment. Some Type Ones strive for perfection in their collections and tend to focus on its purity, while others focus on the monetary value. They patiently build collections that inspire awe for the pristine dolls that they have acquired.

The other type, Type Two collectors, also love their dolls and, while they hope their dolls will increase in value, they tend to look appreciate the pure enjoyment they derive from them as opposed to their monetary value. A well-worn or well-loved doll, especially if there is a sentimental association, may well be viewed as the highlight of their collection. Many collectors that I have talked with explain this affection for a well-worn doll with expressions such as “I look at them and wonder what long-ago child held and played with this doll” or “Just think how many little hands have held and loved this doll.” I, too, have had these thoughts as I look at my dolls. While it seems that these two ideologies are very different, and may appear to be separated by a wide divide, the love of dolls is a thread that unites all doll collectors.

Like all self-proclaimed doll addicts, I have dolls that I aspire to own but I am forced to live with the realization that, in all likelihood, they will remain mine only in dreams. In my seemingly endless search for my next acquisition, I admit that I have found a few reproductions so well done, that they could easily fulfill the “dream doll” I crave, as well as enhance my collection. If, at some point, a collector happens to locate a well-done reproduction of a dream doll, at an affordable price, she can save a great deal of money while satisfying their dolly craving. Twentieth-century American doll maker Emma Clear is well-known not only for her Humpty Dumpty Doll Hospital, but also for producing excellent reproduction Parian and China Head dolls. Her dolls are desirable among collectors and can easily fetch several hundred dollars, as they are very eye-pleasing, and extremely well made. One of her employees, Neva Wade, who signed her dolls Clairmaid, also produced some wonderful reproduction dolls in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Emma Clear and Clarmaid dolls are marked on the shoulder plate with their last name and either a two- or four-digit number to identify the year the doll was made.

Emma Clear Signature, 1939

Emma Clear Signature, 1939

Clairmaid Signature, 1966

Clairmaid Signature, 1966

During the 1950s through the 1970s, many china-head dolls were made by home crafters using kits or at local ceramic shops. I admit that I made a few figurines during the late 1970’s and still have them; there was a wide variety of doll heads and limbs available but I never dabbled in those. Generally, the paintings on these are of a poor quality, and frequently there is a very fine crazing on the surface glaze, which is not seen in antique china-head dolls. Therefore their value is very low. These types of dolls are frequently seen for sale on eBay or at local sales, mislabeled as antique china-heads by those who are not knowledgeable of dolls.

China Head from kit, circa 1970

China Head kit, circa 1970

Antique Lowbrow, circa 1890

Antique Lowbrow, circa 1890

Crafter Doll, circa 1960

Crafter Doll, circa 1960

It is my personal belief that collectors should always add the best example of a doll that their budget will allow at the time. The purchase of any doll—be it antique or reproduction—should always be well thought out. This ensures that your purchase will likely hold its value and can be resold if your circumstances change allowing you to upgrade to a finer example at a later time. Collecting should always bring enjoyment, and we should only collect that which speaks to us, regardless of its age.Which type of doll collector do you believe I am? What kind of doll collector are you?

Letha Berry is a Worthologist who specializes in dolls and accessories

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