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Buying Damaged Antique Dolls: Is It Ever a Good Idea?

Considering dolls with hairlines, chips, or worse.

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Two Broken China Doll Heads

Two Broken China Doll Heads

Denise Van Patten
This week, I attended a non-catalogued auction of the “back room items” from the Lego Doll & Toy Museum. The auction was held by Theriault’s, the same auction house that held the cataloged Lego Museum auctions last month.

Quite a few of the antique dolls sold at this auction had damage or restoration. Nevertheless, collectors and doll dealers enthusiastically bided for these items, which included rare china dolls, very old wood, papier mache and wax dolls, and antique bisque dolls.

A few years ago, you couldn’t give away a damaged or restored antique bisque or china doll. Today, however, collectors seem less wary of them. So..why the change of heart? And, should you buy damaged or restored antique dolls?

Don’t Buy Damaged Modern Or Vintage Dolls

For vintage and modern dolls, I don’t advise buying damaged dolls, since generally you can find undamaged dolls at affordable prices. But, for antique dolls, especially rarer or all-original dolls, its not so clear what a collector should do.

Is The Perfect Doll Truly Out Of Your Reach?

When a collector absolutely cannot afford a perfect example of a doll they love, I don’t think there is any reason that collector shouldn’t buy a damaged example of that doll, if they know what they are buying and they get a reasonable discount based on the damage. However, a collector should truly assess what they can afford. If you buy three common damaged antique dolls (perhaps an Armand Marseille 390, an Ernst Heubach and a common china doll each for $100), you have just spent $300, and perhaps you could have bought one undamaged Simon & Halbig doll instead. I would advise buying the one undamaged doll in such an instance and not the three damaged dolls.

When You Cannot Afford A Perfect Example

However, let’s say the doll you love is truly out of your reach financially. Lets say that you crave a KPM China doll that would normally set you back $15,000, and you absolutely cannot afford that. If you decide that you just cannot live without this KPM doll, you might rationally decide that you can only own one if you spend $3,000 for a restored KPM, or perhaps $7,000 for one with a hairline.

Completely Original Dolls

Another instance where you might want to buy a damaged antique doll is if you find one that is completely original. As a collector of French Fashion Dolls, for instance, I would much rather have an early Rohmer French Fashion in an all-original wig and outfit with a noticeable hairline at the back of the head than a common, later Gaultier French Fashion that was in a replaced dress and wig. Naturally, I would still expect a discount for my damaged Rohmer off the price of a similar Rohmer with no damage to the bisque.

Lusting After China Dolls

At the auction this weekend, I did buy a few damaged dolls. Some are for resale, and I always discount accordingly and disclose the damage (there is no excuse for a dealer buying a damaged doll and then concealing the damage or being silent about the damage). Additionally, I bought a few damaged dolls for myself. For instance, pictured above are two very rare, early China doll heads. I admire china dolls, but I don’t’ personally collect them. In fact, I really, really admire them, and have always wanted to own a few examples. But, if I have enough money to buy an antique doll for myself, the money generally goes towards a French doll or an all-bisque which I truly collect.

Why Did I Buy Two Damaged China Doll Heads?

So…I’m at the auction, and two damaged china doll heads are on the block as one lot. One is a Jenny Lind, a desirable style from the late 1860s. It has some face paint rubs and possible (and quite invisible) restoration. The other China head is a mess, with the shoulder plate cracked (and not repaired very well) in several places and some possible face paint issues. But, she is a very early (1840s) and desirable China model with sloping shoulders and simple hair brought into a braided bud at her back. I bid, and I am the winner at $125. This, with added auction fees, worked out to about $75 per doll head. That may sound a bit steep for broken china, unless you consider that in undamaged condition these two head together would have cost me several thousand dollars. As to my two new acquisitions, I’ve hid Cara’s cracks (Cara is the name that the Lego museum or former owner of the 1840s doll had for her, since it’s written on a label under her shoulder plate) with some artfully applied lace, and Jenny looks pretty good as is.

Hopefully, this article will give you some thoughts and tools to help you assess what you should do next time you are presented with a damaged antique doll that you are considering buying.

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