Tips of the Trade
Character Dolls: The Real Thing
This pretty-faced Armänd Marseille doll contrasts with real-looking character dolls.
This Armänd Marseille character doll is worth $6,000-$8,000.
This Kämmer & Reinhardt doll is worth between $15,000-$18,000.
This boy in Scottish dress sells for $12,000-$15,000.
Nine times out of ten, doll manufacturers put pretty and contented-looking faces on infant, baby or child dolls. Whether a boy or girl doll, they usually sit on department store shelves with a smile, bright eyes and a look of innocence. An exception to this rule are the character dolls made primarily in Germany from 1908 through World War I. W. Richard Wright, proprietor of Richard Wright Antiques in Birchrunville, Pennsylvania, describes what sets these dolls apart: "They were modeled after real children and were made with all kinds of expressions on their faces. They were shown crying, laughing and sulking. They even had pensive looks and looks of joy." Richard knows what he's talking about: Since 1965, he's put together a small collection of these dolls, standouts on the shelf of any doll collector.
Richard Wright offers his tips on collecting these realistic-looking dolls
One of the reasons collectors seek character dolls is because they are so hard to find. "If you went to a doll show that had some 2,000 dolls, there might be 50 character dolls there," Richard says of the dolls, which are often dressed in national costumes or other elaborate outfits. The dolls were part of the Arts-and-Crafts movement of the day and their clothes tend to have some of the motifs typical of that movement. Few dolls are found because they were only made for a few years, and not in large quantities. "They were one of the major failures of the doll business," Richard explains. "Their day was short-lived. It appeared that children preferred the soft, pretty dolls to the harsher, realistic ones."
Like any collectible, character dolls have a wide range of values. The earliest ones are among the most valuable. Dolls by Marion Kaulitz, who also made dresses for the first character dolls, sold in 1908 to the Munich department store Hermann Tietz, are top of the line. Those produced by Kämmer & Reinhardt, a major German doll manufacturer of the day, can sell for between $1,000 to $50,000. The most expensive are that company's most rare models, such as models numbered 102 through 106. In the lower price range is the far-more-common 100 model, which sells in the $300 and $1,200 range and the 101, which Richard says usually sells for between $1,000 and $6,000. Other major doll manufacturers, such as German makers Armänd Marseille and Simon & Halbig and the French company Johannes Daniel Kestner, also made character dolls of their own. These dolls now sell for as low as $200 and as high as $30,000, depending on rarity and condition of the particular doll.
What to Look For
While many character dolls are stored in attics and basements, Richard says you still can find character dolls at antique shows, doll shows and auctions. "The rare one even turns up at a yard sale," he says. As in all collectibles and antiques, condition is all-important. "Stay away from dolls that have head damage or have broken bisque heads or faces that are all scratched up," Richard recommends. Bodies, usually made of composition, wood and sometimes leather, should also be in good condition, although they can be restored. Richard says to seek out original clothing, although clothing that is not original, but would have been worn in the day the doll was made, is acceptable. Collectors prefer character dolls made with painted eyes to those that have glass eyes. Original wigs also are more valuable. Richard adds that character doll collectors also hunt for character dolls with real and even exaggerated expressions.
To learn more about collecting dolls, Richard Wright recommends:
Coleman Encyclopedia of Dolls, Volume I and II, 1986.
The German Doll Encyclopedia, by Jurgen and Marianne Cieslik, 1985.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.