What You Need To Know Before You Buy
In the world of porcelain dolls there are as many myths and misconceptions as there are collectors. If you are looking at a vintage porcelain doll, some antique porcelain dolls or even modern collectibles it is our goal to help you make the right decision.
No matter whether buying or selling, if the doll involved has legitimate value your first call should always be to an authorized NADDA member to protect yourself and your investment.
The National Antique Doll Dealers Association is a dedicated group of antique porcelain doll professionals who can give you accurate and reliable information. Appraisals by NADDA members are generally relatively inexpensive (under $25) and serious buyers will insist on an inspection before making an offer. This type of inspection is a good way to protect your investment when shopping for a doll and your reputation if you are selling one.
Unfortunately sometimes when you are looking to acquire a doll it is not possible to have it looked at by a professional. This situation should always make you doubly careful and you may want to educate yourself on how to inspect a doll yourself before making a purchase.
Crazing is the small cracks or criss-cross pattern you see on the surface of composite or china dolls. This is often misinterpreted or even purposefully misrepresented as a sign that the porcelain doll is old and of high quality.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Very old porcelain dolls were made of hard paste porcelain and fired at much higher temperatures then their modern counterparts. Antique porcelain dolls like this simply will not craze, remember things in the old days were built to last. The modern reproductions are made of lower quality materials and tempered at much lower temperatures which make them susceptible to crazing.
This does not mean that a doll with crazing is not valuable or old, but it does narrow the time frame down and provides a valuable clue as to the dolls true age and quality.
Knowing which manufacturers used what materials can certainly help you identify a doll. There are three common materials you should become familiar with:
Bisque is a type of unglazed porcelain used at the turn of the century by French and German doll makers. Bisque is particularly prone to hairline type cracks buy NOT crazing, which is a good way to identify genuine materials.
The soft leather used by German and French doll makers is called ‘kid’. A close examination of the aging that the leather has endured can be an excellent way to date the doll.
Some dolls have composite bodies made of wood, sawdust and glue. You need to be careful here as composite bodies are still used today, but since the materials used in antique dolls cannot be exactly reproduced the modern reproductions leave tell-tale signs. One of the more accurate ways to determine the age of the composite is by texture. A proper antique texture is impossible to describe so a collector would be well advised to familiarize themselves with the look and feel of genuine composite material from a verified antique porcelain doll.
The Eyes Are Not The Window To The Soul
Another misconception is that the eyes will always give away a fake or reproduction, this is a dangerous over-simplification. Although it is true that early dolls had immobile eyes, so many legitimate dolls have been modified and this is no longer a reliable way to make an accurate diagnosis of true age. Certainly the modification will affect the dolls value but it still may be a quality piece.
Thinking a doll is newer that it actually is may make you miss an opportunity to get a beautiful doll, but it is still better than the alternative. Making porcelain dolls eyes ‘sleep’ is an expense and complication many reproduction manufacturers choose to avoid, so the dolls static eyes may mislead you into thinking that it is older than it really is.
It is important when appraising any antique to know which characteristics are easy to fake and which are not. Materials and manufacturing processes are difficult and expensive to reproduce; physical characteristics like how the eyes are set are relatively simple.
Is That A Wig?
Rooted hair was non-existent before the 1900?s and is a simple way to date a doll. This is also a commonly overlooked detail in reproductions.
Markings can give important clues to a dolls true heritage. The good news is that doll markings are very well referenced and can be used quite easily with online resources. The bad news is markings are somewhat easily reproduced and the first thing any fraud or reproduction house would think of. One of the more savvy ways to use markings is as a negative rather than a positive. Instead of using a marking to prove a dolls pedigree use the lack of appropriate markings to disqualify it.
Obviously this article could go on forever and we reiterate what we said at the beginning about consulting a NADDA appraiser. By being educated and observant I hope you will enjoy collecting fine dolls as much as I do.
Elizabeth Ann Washington