How To Collect Dolls: A Guide For Beginners
Doll Collecting is now considered to be the second biggest hobby in the United States (after stamp collecting), and the hobby continues to grow, both nationally and internationally. The hobby is so huge now, that if you are new to it, it can seem overwhelming. There are so many types of dolls to collect--antique dolls, Barbie dolls, ethnic dolls, cloth dolls, artist dolls, American Girls, vintage dolls--that just the process of deciding WHAT to collect can be overwhelming. Once you decide what to collect, then there is the problem of where to find the type of dolls that you are seeking. Finally, when you DO find the dolls, what do you look for, and how do you decide what to buy?
WHICH DOLLS SHOULD YOU COLLECT?
Which dolls a collector collects is a very personal issue. The first dolls that many adult collectors are drawn to are the dolls of their childhood. New senior citizen collectors first gravitate to the composition dolls--Shirley Temples, composition baby dolls, and early Madame Alexanders, and also the Nancy Ann Storybooks. Baby boomers today head straight for the 1950s and 1960s hard plastics and vinyls--Saucy Walkers, Ginnys, Alexanderkins, Chatty Cathy, Miss Revlons, Barbies, Liddle Kiddles and Tammy. Generation Xers, now settling down and starting their own families, are just turning into collectors, and are looking for the 1970s dolls--Dawn, Crissy, and Cabbage Patch, among others.
Of course, however, gravitation towards childhood dolls is only part of the story--a SMALL part of the story (after all, antique Jumeaus and Brus have never been more popular, and very few people alive today were alive during any part of their production). Many doll collectors first notice other types of dolls during the process of acquiring their lost childhood dolls, and branch out when other dolls catch their eyes. Other collectors only collect for years (or forever!) their childhood dolls before they branch out.
Other collectors enter the hobby in completely different ways--some are drawn to the artistry of Art dolls, and never even look at the manufactured dolls. Even others are crafters who come to the hobby solely because of dollmaking. Even others are in it because of the value of dolls, and the hope that the dolls they collect will grow in value.
What should YOU collect? Although it has been said by a thousand doll collectors and experts one thousand different ways, I will say it again--collect what you love. If you love inexpensive 1990s play-line Barbie dolls, that is what YOU should collect! If you only want the warm fuzzies from a collection of your childhood favorites, then THAT is what you should collect. Price appreciation is always nice for any collectible, but there is never any guarantee that any category of dolls will continue to climb in price. A good example of this are the modern Barbie Collectible Dolls, which many "collectors" speculated in in the mid 1990s, and whose values have crashed considerably in the last year or two. Also, Another example would be Madame Alexander Dolls in the 1970s and 1980s--although mint and rare Madame Alexander dolls have continued to bring high prices in the 1990s, many of the Madame Alexander dolls lost up to half their "value" in the early 1990s after speculators left them alone, and the real collectors were left to collect! Finally, internet auctions have had a large impact on doll values, and simply the vast number of dolls for sale have brought prices down on common dolls and dolls in poor and fair condition. So, if you collect what you love, you will still enjoy your collection and hobby no matter what the paper "value" of your collection is at any one given time. And, if the time for you to sell your collection comes, and the value has increased, then that is just a wonderful extra benefit from your collection.
WHERE TO FIND DOLLS
You can find dolls at:
- Garage Sales: Everything from the junkiest of dolls for practicing restoration, to undiscovered gems from your neighbors' attics!
- Flea Markets: Among the piles of Beanie Babies, you never know what you can find!
- Antique Malls and Stores: Ok, you'll have to wade through hundreds of small hard-plastic "Dolls of the World," but nice dolls sometimes turn up.
- Online Auctions: eBay and Amazon.com auctions, among others. Thousands of dolls to choose from, every day....and night!
- Live Auctions: Theriaults, McMasters, Frashers and others: Nothing beats the excitement of a live auction.
- Doll Shops: Small. local retailers in your hometown, offering personal service.
- Doll Shows: Everything from antique doll shows, to all-Barbie shows, to dollmaking shows.
- Craft Shows: Great places to find handmade folk dolls, and dolls from local dollmakers.
- Big-Box Toy Retailers: Toys-R-Us, Target, WalMart, and others. Great places for play line dolls, and store "exclusives" for Barbies.
- Museums: Not many dolls to purchase, but many, many dolls to learn from.
- Conventions: Doll conventions by the UFDC, ODACA and others. Dolls for sale AND dolls to learn from.
- Web Sites: Of Dealers and Shops.
There are among additional sources. Future articles on this site will take in-depth looks at each of all the places where collectors can find dolls.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN PURCHASING DOLLS
When you find the dolls you are looking for, then what are you looking AT to help you decide whether or not to add the dolls to your collection? The number one thing you will be looking at is the condition of the doll. For any doll, the better the condition (mint is ideal) and the more original the doll and the clothing are, the more desirable the doll is. There are so many examples of played with dolls in all doll categories (except, obviously, art dolls) and dolls missing various parts of their outfits or accessories, that any doll that has managed to NOT be played with throughout the years is extremely sought-after. Original boxes, tags, and packing materials are also a plus (anything that helps the doll look like it did when it was on the shelf, for sale, in its heyday!). These types of dolls are hard to find, and often bring a premium over "book" value.
That said, not every collector can afford (nor does every collector want!) mint dolls. Many collectors enjoy fixing up dolls in poor condition, acquired inexpensively. Others LIKE well-loved dolls, and admire them simply as the playthings of past times (and admire their "patina" much as one might enjoy the well-worn look on an old pine country desk).
If you are a "serious" collector with many types of dolls in a particular category in your collection, you will also consider the rarity of a piece. If you are a collector of art dolls, the artistry of a piece will be of highest importance. If you collect antique porcelain, the quality of the bisque and the painting of the face will be extremely important.
I hope that this brief overview of how to collect dolls will help you get started if you are new to the hobby, or has helped you define your focus if you are an old-timer. In the next few months, articles will explore several of the topics only briefly touched upon here--buying dolls on the internet, buying dolls at auctions, different genres of dolls, and condition and restoration of dolls.Photos by Denise Van Patten; drawings courtesy of www.arttoday.com.
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