Speaking of Dolls: Doll Forecast: 2010 may hold a silver lining

As we read the paper and watch the news, that “silver lining” in these struggling economic times may seem very far away, but if you are a collector or a dealer in the antique and vintage doll market, that “silver lining” may be closer than you think.

Because I am a collector, an appraiser and sometimes a dealer in the doll market, I have the advantage of seeing the market from all sides.

New collectors to the antique doll market are having a glorious time right now.

The beautiful German dolly face dolls, the examples that were produced in the greatest number for export to the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s, are the antique dolls whose prices show the deepest discounts at this time.

Because there are more dolly face dolls available in the marketplace, the pricing competition is fierce. Dealers and auctioneers still have expenses and they cannot afford to allow merchandise to sit. In order to turn over merchandise, prices are reduced and collectors who love the sweet faces of the dolly face dolls or dealers who can afford to buy for the future are benefiting.

Look for high quality and no damage. Search for dolls in original or appropriate outfits.

These dolls were the favorites of children at the turn of the century and their popularity will return.

While the prices of German dolly face dolls has dropped, the market for the French and German closed mouth dolls, the German characters and the French Fashions remains strong. People who collect these rarer dolls are never as tempted by lots of choices as the collectors of the dolly face dolls.

The rare dolls that these collectors seek come along much more seldom and these collectors have learned to have the money for that prize doll tucked away — just in case. Or collectors may choose to part with some of those German dolly face dolls in their collection at deep discounts in order to raise the needed money for that one very special doll that may only come around once.

Go to antique and doll shows, stay in touch with your favorite dealers and go to local auctions. Buy the best that you can afford, but do your homework and know what you are buying. Ask lots of questions but do not trust the seller to always give you the right answer.

I visit many, many Web sites and auction sites, just to keep up with what is happening in the doll world. I recently visited an auction site that was selling a doll collection along with other merchandise. Nothing describing the dolls was correct. It identified dolls as French Armand Marseille and English Schmitt and it got worse after that.

I do not think they were trying to be dishonest, but if the buyer had trusted the descriptions and not done his or her own homework, they would have been very disappointed with their purchases.

Read, read, read, observe, observe, observe. Ultimately, the buyer is the one who suffers or benefits from the purchase and study is what will make the collector a smart buyer.

A recent question came to me from a reader who asked me to define a German character. Since this column has referred to German characters and German dolly face dolls, this is a perfect opportunity to explain. The most popular dolls in the market place in the late 1800s and early 1900s were the German dolly face dolls. These almost angelic faces were the faces little girls loved. Most had open-and-close eyes, a smiling open mouth with teeth and long mohair or human hair curls.

They came on both leather and ball joint bodies. These dolls did not really look like a real child but were, instead, the perfect child. They were the money makers for the large German doll firms such as Armand Marseille, Kestner, Simon and Halbig, Heinrich Handwerck and too many others to list.

About 1907, a new movement in the art world began. This movement based on realism spread into the doll world. Lifelike representations of real children and babies began to be created by artists and then produced by doll makers.

At first, these very realistic looking dolls—called character dolls—were very popular in the market. The Gebruder Heubach firm produced some of the best of the character faces. Unlike the dolly face dolls, which always had a sweet look, the character dolls sometimes had frowns or were screaming or crying, just like real children.

Many had painted eyes and molded hair rather than glass open and close eyes and wigs. While never produced in as large a number as the commercially popular German doll with the dolly face, for a period until about 1917, the character dolls with faces filled with realistic expression were in demand.

Then, the tastes and desires of children seemed to change. Little girls seemed to tire of a doll with only one, sometimes extreme, expression. The doll with the sweet face but with little specific expression was again seen in catalogs and store windows.

The pretty face that could be anything a little girl’s imagination wanted it to be was favored over the doll with character.


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