Speaking of Dolls: Is it time to get out?

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In the antique world, you can find out a lot by just walking around and observing the activity at a show. The economy is on everyone’s lips and what the market – the antique market – is doing is a major part of every conversation. My husband and I attend doll shows, we participate in shows and I identify and value dolls as a volunteer at shows, so we have the opportunity to observe the doll market as a buyer, as a seller and as an owner. What are we seeing right now? Is it time to get out?

In the past four months, we have attended and participated in three large doll venues in Central Florida, Huntsville, Ala., and Chicago. The shows in Florida and Alabama drew attendees primarily from the surrounding areas, but the annual United Federation of Doll Clubs Convention in Chicago draws attendees from throughout the World. It provides a very good gauge of doll interest and the doll market, both antique and modern.

Our observations:

1. There are lots of dolls on the market right now. Some people are selling because of age. Some are selling because they can use the money earned from doll sales for something else like house or car payments. Even though doll prices are lower, they can still earn needed cash. This causes a surplus of dolls on the doll market and, like any other market, it is all about supply and demand. When there is more supply than demand, the price goes down and it becomes a buyers’ market. The dolls particularly affected by this trend are the dolly face German bisque dolls, the Shirley Temple and Patsy dolls, the German babies and the mass produced American dolls of the second half of the 20th century. These dolls were all produced in massive quantities,therefore there are many more of these dolls around and now, many more are available on the market.

2. Dolls that are in mint condition including their boxes are still very desirable. Since buyers have more supply to choose from at this time, they are choosing to be very picky. They want the very best and the most perfect whether it is a vintage Alexander hard plastic or a French Fashion. They are looking for originality and no damage.

3. Dolls that were produced in limited numbers in the middle to late 1800s and early 1900s are still very desirable and still demand high prices. At the doll show in Chicago, the dolls by A. Marque, AT, Bru, chinas and parians with rare hairstyles, large all bisque over 8 inches, portrait papiér mâches, cloth and wax still all brought top dollar if in perfect condition. The advanced collectors who want these dolls for their collections know how seldom these rare examples may be available and do not hesitate to make the purchase. On the other hand, the sweet German Dolly face dolls by Armand Marseille, Heubach Koppelsdorf, Heinrich Handwerck and others can be found often, and if you don’t buy them today, there will be others tomorrow.

4. German character dolls have also held on to their values. The character dolls, popular for a limited time from about 1907-17, were of limited production and are considered very hard to find today. Nearly all of the German manufacturers produced a few characters in their line of commercial dolls. To mention a few, Armand Marseille had their 400 series, Simon Halbig had their 1300 series, Kammer and Reinhardt had their 100 series and Gebruder Heubach had a wide range of character faces. These character dolls were not meant to be pretty dolls, but tended more toward realism, representing children and adults with realistic expressions such as wide grins, tears, wrinkles, winking eyes and pouty mouths.

Because of scarcity, these characters do not remain on a sales table long and their high prices are firm.

5. For those collectors who have had a bite taken from their doll budget by the present economy, there are always accessories. After speaking with many dealers at the Chicago show, it was evident that a collector is a collector forever. If they cannot buy a doll, they will buy a hat or a pair of shoes or fabric. The dealers selling ribbon, lace and fabric said that they sales were up dramatically from last year. Dealers with doll accessories echoed the same.

Is it time to get out? Not for me. This is a buyers’ market and I am going to try to find some of those dolls that have been hidden in collections for years and are just now coming on the market. On the other hand, dealers who bought dolls in the inflated market of the ‘80s and ‘90s might be faced with losing a little if they put them on their sales table today — or they can hold the dolls and hope that our market will improve. But that is another issue …  ?

Sherry Minton has served as president of three clubs belonging to the United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. She is a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers with a Designated Specialty in Dolls and Toys. Minton can be contacted at dollypictures@aol.com.


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