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The Garage Sale Hunt
Finding Vintage And Antique Dolls at Garage Sales

Collecting modern dolls is fun and often challenging, especially when trying to find a limited "hot" doll such as Warmest Wishes Gene or Harley Davidson Barbie.   But, for the real "thrill of the hunt" nothing beats searching for vintage and antique dolls at garage sales.

Planning the Attack

Garage sales can turn up some wonderful old dolls, at some of the best prices.  But, you have to be early, and you have to be quick.  To facilitate this, you need to have a plan of attack.  Most collectors search the newspaper classifieds for sales the night before they go garage-sale hunting (some web sites are starting garage sales listings, but they aren't extensive yet).  Finding your garage sales the night before facilitates finding the sales most likely to have dolls, and finding the sales closest to you (and to each other) so you can get to the maximum number of promising sales as early as possible.  Many seasoned collectors have a system for "marking out" their plan of attack; either a list on paper, or an acetate sheet that you can "write" on with markers, as an overlay to your local map.  With the acetate overlay, you "mark" the garage sales you want to visit, and then wipe them off after your hunt is over.  Then, your map is still unmarked, and ready to go the following week!   You can also print out maps and directions with the wonderful online map services, such as MapQuest or Excite Maps.   When you check the classifieds, note what area of town the sales are in--some collectors believe that only the "best" areas of town yield good dolls at garage sales, but I personally have had equal luck finding dolls from the fifties and sixties in more downtrodden areas.walker.jpg (10016 bytes)

Why Sleeping In Is a Bad Idea

The best of anything goes fast at a garage sale.  The best dolls go in a blink of an eye.  You have heard this before, but here it is again--you must be the first one at a garage sale to get the dolls.  Almost everyone who frequents garage sales now knows that dolls are a collectible.  In years past, even with this knowledge, people who didn't collect dolls didn't tend to scoop them up first at the sales.  Now, however, with the advent of eBay, Amazon.com Auctions, Boxlot Auctions, and other online auction sites, many non-collectors pick up dolls for resale, because they are valuable and portable--very easy to store!  If you are not at the garage sale before it opens, or at opening for sales that truly won't let the "early birds" in, you are unlikely to find any dolls.   That said, one of my best doll finds ever at a garage sale was a marked German jointed composition antique doll body, still with its antique underwear and shoe and socks--just missing a head!  I found this (along with a 1960s Knickerbocker Raggedy Andy) at a garage sale at 2 in the afternoon, for $25!  So, although it isn't impossible to find dolls after the garage sale openings, it is highly unlikely, as that German body and the Raggedy Andy are the only late-in-the-day  doll finds I have made in two years of constant garage sale attendance.

Types of Dolls You are Likely To Find

In the 1970s and early 1980s, (before doll collecting became the second most popular hobby after stamp collecting) more older doll showed up at garage sales.  Today, you are highly unlikely to find a Bru (or, a #1 Barbie, for that matter!).  Not only are many garage sale attendees buying dolls, but the people who hold garage sales generally know that dolls have value, and they often sell them to a local shop or collector before setting them out at a sale.  What you are most likely to find now are the collectible dolls from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.   The  fashion dolls, Raggedy Anns, Flatsys, Dawns, Alexanders (generally out of box) Crissys and other similar dolls (and their clothes) are the ones that seem to turn up most frequently.  Above is a picture of the sort of doll you are likely to find--this is an off-brand, large walker doll from the 1960s, still in her original dress.   Not a terribly valuable doll, but a steal at $ .50! 

Looking For Related Collectibles May Help

Ok, I'll admit it--sometimes I go weeks without finding any worthwhile dolls.  But, I am never bored at garage sales, nor do I go home empty handed.  Especially If you make dolls, there are many ancillary collectibles that you can hunt for that show up more frequently than dolls at garage sales!  For instance, I am always finding vintage sewing items--doll patterns, laces, trims, old fabrics, and old buttons for doll costuming  at garage sales, even when I am not finding dolls.  You can also look for books about dolls, small vintage toys for display with your dolls, and licensed merchandise bearing the names of the 1960s and 1970s dolls.   If you are also on the look for these other items, you will almost never come home from a garage sale hunt empty handed.

Other People are Lucky; I'll Never Find Anything

Not true! Although, it is true that you may go weeks or months without any major finds, you WILL find dolls, and good dolls if you are persistent.   I once went several months without finding any dolls at my weekly garage sale rounds (although I had some great luck looking for ancillary collectibles; see above).   Then, one dreary Saturday, I was schlepping around withsouthbelle.jpg (9527 bytes) half-closed eyes and two little kids in tow.  I parked at a fairly busy sale and immediately saw a box of vintage Madame Alexanders!  But....horrors....another woman was already looking through them.  I walked up, and she made it clear with major body language that I wasn't getting near that box till she was done.  The box held mostly "Dolls of the World" from the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I spied a fantastic Southern Belle (worth several hundred dollars!) as well.  I held my breath.....she started to leave with 1/2 the dolls, including the "Southern Belle," when the head of the doll fell off!  She put it back, and I grabbed it (along with the rest of the dolls) knowing a simple restring would take care of the unattached head (see the lovely, restrung doll in the picture, right).  By the way, the asking price on the dolls was only $10 each.  Moral of the story:  Know your dolls, and lightning DOES strike at garage sales, (although most likely NOT every week).

Share Your Garage Sale Stories

Do you have a garage sale story of triumph or disappointment you would like to share? Please e-mail it to me at collectdolls@aboutguide.com, and I will compile and publish them here at a later date!

and, don't miss:  Tales of a Garage Sales Junkie

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