Many doll collectors have the misconception that antique dolls are prohibitively expensive. Well...they can be if you only collect French Bru dolls or German character dolls. But, there are many quality antique dolls that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars...or less! Here are my top ten antique dolls for doll collectors on a budget. These are also great dolls, in general, for beginning antique doll collectors.
1. Armand MarseilleI know that some antique doll collectors look down their nose at Armand Marseille dolls because some of them...like the ubiquitous 390...are extremely common. But, just as with all makers of antique German dolls, there are good Armand Marseille dolls, and then there are bad ones. Some Armand Marseille dolls, even 390s, are beautifully painted and they have fine bisque. Many baby and child Armand Marseille dolls can be found for under $500.
2. Kestner Shoulderhead DollsKestner dolls are some of the best known and loved of German made bisque dolls. Of course, early and rare Kestners can be quite pricey. For the beginning collector or a collector on a budget, look for some of the lovely shoulderhead models (even some with closed mouths) and more common molds including 154, 167 and 171. As with the Armand Marseille dolls, pay close attention to the quality of the feature painting and the bisque.
3. Dollhouse DollsThere have been entire books about antique dollhouse dolls. They have been made in wood, bisque, wax, china and papier mache. They are small, and the modelling of the bisque dolls is very varied. And, best of all, the vast majority of them can be purchased for under $400 with a good selection available even in the $200 to $300 range.
4. German Baby and Toddler DollsGerman bisque baby and toddler dolls from the early 1900s look great displayed in an antique doll collection--especially in an old cradle, or in a rocking chair. Many of the baby and toddler faces have character modelling and nicely detailed composition bodies. Babies were made by companies including Kestner and Kammer and Rhinehardt. There are quite a few that can be purchased for under $500.
5. Half DollsHalf the doll, half the price. Ok...that isn't really true, but it is true that many antique doll collectors overlook half dolls. That's unfortunate, since half dolls are delightful to collect. They have a nearly infinite variety of faces, hairstyles, molded clothing and arm positions. Feature painting can be exquisite. Best of all, prices for common half dolls start at less than $50, and you can purchase fine examples for $200 to $300.
6. Wax DollsWax dolls are also overlooked by many antique doll collectors. Although many fewer wax dolls from the 1800s exist than bisque dolls from the same period, wax dolls have a reputation of fragility which prevents some collectors from taking them seriously. Although certainly susceptible to scratching and feature color loss, wax dolls are much more impervious to heat than you might think. Fragility and collector perception have kept prices for many wax dolls at under $500.
7. China DollsOne of the best things about China Dolls for collectors on a budget is that they were pretty much the Barbie Dolls of their time. Inexpensively produced and produced in great numbers, many of the most common china dolls including low brows and basic high brows have survived in wonderful condition through to today. You can easily find small china dolls for $150 and under on eBay, and you can find many nicer ones with more elaborate hairstyles between $300 and $500.
8. All-Bisque DollsSure, there are all-bisque dolls with prices in the thousands...French-type all-bisques and wrestlers come to mind. However, the vast majority of all-bisque dolls are affordable. After all, they were called penny dolls in their day. German dolls with painted eyes and stationary necks as well as those from Japan are particularly affordable. Sweet all-bisque dolls can be found for under $200--but don't expect to find a nice Kestner all-bisque with glass eyes and a swivel neck for low prices.
9. Unmarked DollsIf you put a Simon and Halbig next to a nearly identical unmarked doll, the unmarked doll will sell for much less. Why? Because collectors like to have a "name" to confirm the quality of their doll. Also because many collectors are afraid to trust their instincts when it comes to the quality of bisque and feature painting. If you are knowledgeable, you can find many bargains among German and French unmarked bisque dolls.
10. Kewpie DollsFinally, don't overlook Kewpie dolls. Kewpie dolls have a known, fascinating history as the creations of Rose O'Neill, and they have been created in literally hundreds of poses and made in many materials. Rare Kewpies in less common poses and with rare accessories will be beyond the funds of the budget buyer, but there are still many delightful bisque Kewpies in the under $300 price range, including the classic Kewpie, celluloid Kewpies, Huggers, and many others.