Speaking of Dolls: Chinas: Out of the shadows once again

Because of early discrimination, china shoulder head dolls have remained in the shadows of doll collections for many years. Some collectors would not even have one in their collection and some that had one or two chinas often displayed them in the back behind their French and German beauties. But this was not always the case. In the late 1930s and early ’40s when doll collecting was finally considered a serious hobby, most of the collections were made up of primarily of dolls with papier mache, wax, parian and, yes, glazed china shoulder heads. These dolls were “antique” and worthy of collecting while the German and French bisque were still too new. After all, the German and French dolls were the dolls these collectors had played with as children.

Compare it to today: you seldom see and antique doll collector adding a Barbie to their collection. Barbies were introduced 50 years ago. Antique doll collectors in the ’40s felt the same way about the French and German children, most of which had been introduced in the late 1800s and were still into production well into the 20th century. The German, French and English papier maches, wax, parians and chinas on the other hand, had been around since the early 1800s and were the toys of their ancestors. They were the dolls sought after by collectors. There was even a reproduction artist name Emma Clear who reproduced wonderful examples of rare chains and parians during the ’40s and ’50s for those collectors who could not find or who could not afford the real thing.

By 1960, doll collecting had changed. A new generation of collectors was adding dolls to their collections. These collectors had not grown up playing with the German and French dolls. These collectors were the children who had played with composition and hard plastic dolls. Bisque dolls were the dolls of their ancestors and suddenly, it was the bisque dolls with smiling faces and bright glass eyes that every collector wanted. The popularity of the German and French dolls pushed the china shoulder head dolls into the shadows.

“Chinas are cold and stern looking,” said many a collector. “They look dead and they all look the same,” said others. An article I read in an old doll journal stated that the chinas tend to look matronly and have little expression on their white faces. How wrong they were.

Many opinions of china dolls are and were formed based on the very limited number of examples many people see. The hair style referred to as the “common low brow” was produced in huge numbers from the late 1800s through at least the first quarter of the 1900s. Because of this fact, this is the china face and hairstyle many people think of when you say “china doll.” These German china shoulder heads are plentiful and their prices remain low. They were produced in all sizes and some are quite pretty but they do not compare to the examples produced from the 1830s through the 1870s.

Because many of the examples of very rare chinas had been purchased in the early years of collecting and have remained in those collections, unusual chinas have not been very accessible for newer collectors to see and study. Their age and because fewer were produced, very rare china shoulder heads are much scarcer than German and French bisque head dolls.

In about 2000, we saw a change in the doll world. Sadly, the early collectors who had treasured the fine china dolls were beginning to pass away and families began to send their dolls to the marketplace. For many collectors, it was their first opportunity to see the really early china dolls with their wonderful hairstyles and facial molding. “I had no idea a china shoulder head could be this beautiful,” I heard a collector say as she inspected dolls before an auction.

For the past nine years, the interest in dolls with china shoulder heads has increased tremendously. The prices on the very late common models remain low but the prices and interest in the early examples has gone up, up, up and I do not see it slowing down any time soon.


The following prices have been gathered from doll shows, auctions, individual sales and Internet sales over the past 60 days. Regional prices may vary because of economy and interest.

Emma Clear parian head on cloth body, elaborate hairstyle, no clothes $365
18-inch china with braids and curls, pierced ears, cloth body, no clothes $900
14-inch parian shoulder head on cloth body, colored comb, pierced ears $850
9-inch all bisque Kestner 150, no clothes, mohair wig, glass eyes $500
12-inch Kestner 178 character, all original $1,800
12-inch Marie K*R character, original wig, replaced appropriate dress $1,800
18-inch KPM type china male on cloth body $4,000
21-inch Cissy Alexander in original velvet formal, good color and hairstyle $700
14-inch Schoenhut child with intaglio eyes, body good, face poorly repainted $200
32-inch German Walkure child, appropriate dress, original wig $750

Sherry Minton is an expert in antique dolls. She has appraised dolls, toys, and related items for 20 years. Her clients include museums, insurance companies, estates, and individuals. Minton is a director of the United Federation of Doll Clubs of America and has served as president of the Central Florida Doll Club. She was a charter member of the Doll Study Club of Orlando, Fla., and is a member of the American Society of Appraisers.