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Terminology: Antique and Vintage Dolls 

Are you new to antique and vintage (pre-1960s) doll collecting?  Don't be lost--here are all the buzz-words and definitions you'll need!  Talk like a pro!


ALL-BISQUE: Doll, usually quite small (under 8") that is made entirely of bisque parts.  Most all-bisque dolls are from the late 1800s and early 1900s, to about 1930.  Kestner and Simon and Halbig made many of these dolls; many other makers of generally lesser quality also did.  Most of these dolls were made in Germany, but some very early exquisite dolls were made in France, and many crudely made later dolls were made in Japan. 

APPLIED EARS Ears applied to a doll AFTER the mold for the head has been poured (The ears are molded separately then "applied" to the doll's head before the head is put in the kiln).


BALL JOINTED:  Common method of jointing composition bodies; uses little wood "balls" at joints for movement. 

BÉBÉ:  Term commonly used to describe French dolls representing small children.

BISQUE:  Unglazed porcelain; usually molded into shape then baked in high temperatures in a "kiln" to form doll heads and doll body parts.  Most German and French dolls from the late 1800s and very early 1900s had heads made of bisque. 

BREVETÉ:  The French word for "patented."  Sometimes abbreviated to Bte. or B.T.E.; can be found stamped on antique dolls.

BOOK VALUE:  The value of your doll in a price guide;  NOT the value you can expect when you sell your doll either on the internet or to a dealer.  Also, please note that a Book Value is generally for a doll in excellent condition; dolls of lesser condition are valued accordingly.


COMPOSITION:  A mixture of wood pulp, sawdust, glue and similar items which is used to make bodies for antique dolls and also for entire dolls (head and body) during this century until the advent of hard plastic dolls.  

CELLULOID:  The first plastic used to make dolls; highly flammable and usually quite thin.  Used for dollmaking from approximately the 1920s to the 1940s (generally until Hard Plastic dolls were introduced) 

CHINAGlazed porcelain used for making dolls heads, very popular in the mid 1800s.

CLOSED MOUTH:  Doll sculpted so that the mouth is closed with no teeth showing.  Prized by collectors of bisque antique dolls, who prefer the closed mouth dolls to the open mouth dolls. 

CHARACTER DOLLDoll made to look like a living child or adult (and not stylized like most earlier dolls from the 1800s); term popularized in the beginning of the 1900s. 

CRAZING:  Little criss-cross cracks that sometimes form, with age, over the surface of a composition or china doll.  Most composition dolls found today have crazing to some degree.


DEP:  Often found on French and German dolls; an abbreviation for the French and German words for "patent."

DOLLHOUSE DOLL:  Doll generally scaled 1 inch to 1 foot for use in dollhouses (although the earliest dollhouse dolls do not hold to these proportions and are generally larger).  

DOMED HEAD:  Also known as a "Belton Head" this is a head that is made with a closed, or domed top (as opposed to an open head; see below).


EXCELLENT CONDITION:  Doll that is not mint but has no major flaws.  Perhaps dress is not perfect or original, there can be minor flaws.


FLANGE NECK:  A doll head where the edge of the neck flares out for attachment to a cloth doll body. 

FLIRTY EYES:  Doll eyes that can move from side to side. 

FASHION DOLL: A French or German lady doll made, generally, with a bisque head, and dressed in fashions of the day (much like our modern Fashion Dolls).  Doll's body can be made of kid, cloth, wood, or other materials.


GESAbbreviation for "Gesch" which is the German word for patent. 

GOOGLY EYES: Big, round, side-glancing eyes, very popular on dolls from 1910s through the 1920s.

GUSSETED JOINT: Type of joint sewn into leather and cloth bodies that can allow the joint to bend.


HARD PLASTIC: Type of durable, very hard plastic used to make dolls in the 1940s and 1950s.

HAIRLINE:  Type of crack in bisque dolls that can often only be seen upon close examination, usually with the assistance of a light.  Hairlines CAN also be seen with the naked eye; not considered as bad a flaw as a crack that has been repaired or one that has bisque missing.

HTF: Common abbreviation at online auctions and doll lists; means 'Hard To Find."


INTAGLIO EYES: Eyes that are molded into the head that are meant to be painted.  

INSET EYES: Eyes that are set into the doll's head that do not move; common setting for eyes in dolls from the 1800s and earlier. 

INCISED:  Marks that are "incised" are actually scratched into the bisque on a dolls head or shoulder plate. 


KID: Common term for soft leather used to make French and German fashion doll bodies.


MARK OR MARKINGS:  Letters and numbers and symbols placed by the manufacturer of a doll on the doll's head or body which are invaluable for identifying dolls today; it is often impossible to identify an antique or vintage doll without a mark.  However, please note that not all marks have been identified today.  

MOHAIR:  Hair of the angora goat, used for antique doll wigs. Very desirable; very soft and natural looking wigs are made of mohair. 

MOLDED EARS:  Ears that are molded right in with the doll's head, as opposed to "Applied Ears" (see above). 

MOLD NUMBERSee "Markings: above; the mold number designates the mold that was used to make the doll's head and can be an invaluable part of the markings for doll identification.  


OPEN MOUTH:  Mouth molded open to, generally, reveal teeth inside.  Can also reveal tongues on bisque baby dolls. 

OPEN/CLOSED MOUTHMouth molded to appear open, but which does not actually have an opening in the bisque. 

OPEN HEAD:  Doll head with the crown cut out so that eyes can be inserted; crown opening is usually covered with a "pate" so that the wig can be put on the doll.


PARIAN:  Doll made of unglazed bisque that is also finished without a wash of color; generally bisque appears pure white.

PATE:  Covers the crown hole in an open-head doll; can be made of cardboard, cork, or other materials. 

PEG WOODEN:  Early simple wooden doll made with peg joints.

PORTRAIT DOLL:  Term used for dolls late 1800s and early 1900s bisque dolls representing a person.  

POOR CONDITION: Doll is a mess; major major flaws; maybe doll is salvageable but even that is in question!

POUPEÉ:  Term used for French fashion dolls; also means "doll" in French.

PROVENANCE:  An antique doll with a provenance is lucky indeed; a provenance usually consists of historical information regarding the original and subsequent owners of the doll.   

PRESENTATION BOX:  Original presentation of antique dolls, doll furniture, clothing and accessories (sometimes in combination)  as found in the original retail stores.  


REPRODUCTION: Dolls made to look like antique bisque, china and pariah dolls.  NOT fakes; most reproduction artists are meticulous about marking their dolls as reproductions, BUT be on the lookout for unsuspecting or unscrupulous people who DO try to sell a reproduction as an original.  


SHOULDER HEAD:  Doll's head and shoulders molded together in one piece; usually attached to a kid or cloth body. 

SHOULDER PLATE:  The shoulder portion of a shoulder head, OR the bisque shoulders used with a swivel head. 

SLEEP EYESDolls eyes that are open when the doll is upright, but close when the doll is put prone. 

SOCKET HEAD:  Doll's head is molded with a neck that is placed into the doll's body with a cup and saucer like arrangement. 

SWIVEL HEAD:  A socket head using separate shoulder plates. 


VINYL:  Plastic developed in the late 1940s that is the dominant type of plastic used to make dolls since the 1960s; can be hard or soft. 

VOICE BOX:  Mechanism in a dolls body that allows the doll to make some sound such as "mama."

Can you add more Antique and Vintage doll terms to our list?  Let me know in the  Dolls Forum!

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Denise Van Patten--your Guide to Dolls
Article, Graphics Copyright © 2001 Denise Van Patten

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