Provenance pushes prices higher at doll auction

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Collector enthusiasm for the finest of antique dolls reached new heights across all genres at Theriault’s July 16, 2018 Marquis auction in Phoenix. Titled “Provenance,” the auction featured dolls from original estates, many with a fascinating personal history.

Rare French automaton

Theriault's doll auction

Fabulous French bébé by Denamur with original painted masquerade mask is believed to be a special commission, likely one of a kind, circa 1888. It sold for $32,200. The miniature wax doll realized $800, and the key-wind piano which disguised a toiletry set went to $1,750. All photos courtesy of Theriault’s.

For example, there was the beloved French musical automaton “Pierrot Serenading the Crescent Moon” by Lambert which had remained in the Rollins family of New York and Connecticut since its gifting to Daniel Rollins in 1890 during his coffee-venture business trip to Brazil. Cataloger Florence Theriault noted, “Although we don’t know the complete circumstances of the trip, a letter written by his author wife, Alice Wellington Rollins detailing their voyage contained the wise, yet mysterious, phrase ‘I have no idle hours to spend in hunting up the bitter foe who simply ought to be my friend.’“ The automaton strummed its way to $34,500.

Also, there were the family-held dolls and ephemera relating to the early American cloth Moravian dolls known as “Maggie-Bessie” in homage to the Pfohl sisters of the Moravian community of Salem, North Carolina, who created these dolls. The family collection was presented as one lot and included a classic example of the beloved doll along with trunk and large collection of costumes hand-sewn by the “aunties” as they were known in the family. The doll auction lot also included handmade costumed paper dolls made by Maggie and Bessie, three cloth dolls in various stages of completion, and a collection of eight miniature dolls made in the sister Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Against an estimate of $8,000/$11,000, the lot soared to $35,650. The entire audience cheered the winning bidder, seated in the audience, who announced that she will be lending the collection to the UFDC Museum of Dolls for an upcoming exhibition.

Past ownership of a doll by a well-known collector is also a notable provenance. Theriault’s summer auction contained many dolls from the well-known and respected German doll author, Lydia Richter. Examples included several bisque lady dolls with sculpted hair and jewelry, one reaching $8,625, six times its pre-sale estimate, and a collection of rare cloth dolls by Kathe Kruse. One pair of Kruse dolls which had been featured on a cover of the Richter book, “The Beloved Kathe Kruse Dolls,” doubled its pre-sale estimate, topping at $3,450, and the very rare “Sternschnuppchen” bonnet doll soared to $4,600, (pre-sale $1,200/$1,700).

Other unusual dolls 

Other unusual dolls in the auction included wooden-bodied poupée “Lily” by Lavallee-Peronne selling at $13,800 (pre-sale $5,500/$7,500), four 8”-13” wooden Grodnertal dolls with provenance at $6,600 (pre-sale $2,500-$3,500), early English wooden doll in original costume at $57,500 (pre-sale $23,000/$35,000), an extremely rare French bisque bébé with painted masquerade mask at $32,200 (pre-sale $8,000/$11,000), and a well-fitted miniature “Parfumerie” Parisian shop at $10,875 (pre-sale $4,500/$6,500). The auction featured 445 lots, each with well-detailed descriptions in the 184-page full color catalog.

Upcoming doll auctions

Theriault’s upcoming Marquis auctions are November 3- 4 at the Westin Chicago North Shore, in Wheeling, Illinois and January 12-13 at the Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach, California. To receive a complimentary brochure about each auction call 410-224-3655 or email