Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori

A Brief History of Antique Dolls

By Lori Verderame
Posted April 2010

The long history of doll making reflects the history of people and the childhood experience. Like other collectibles, dolls tug on the emotions and the market for dolls is reflective of Americans’ interest in recapturing childhood. The emotional side of the antique doll market demonstrates our ability and willingness to pay sky-high prices to own an object from bygone days.

Early 20th Century dolls are historically collectible and cherished.

Domestic dolls. Dolls were part of domestic life as far back as ancient Greece. When tracing dolls’ history, we typically discuss dolls dating from the 1680s to the present made of fabric, wood, composition, papier mache, poured wax, bisque, porcelain, plastic, and even vinyl.

In the 18th Century, fabric dolls were often handmade by mothers from inexpensive household materials. Handed down from sibling to younger sibling, antique rag dolls taught historians about the history of childhood and the evolution of textile and costume history, all in one small-scale figural package

Sunday dolls. A particular group of dolls were reserved for special occasions. In late 19th Century England and Germany, certain dolls were only to be played with on Sundays. Appropriately called “Sunday dolls,” these elegantly-dressed fashion dolls with bisque heads would only be handled for about an hour or two on Sundays and were reserved for children of a certain age. Children realized that these dolls were special.

At my public antiques appraisal events held nationwide and on cruise ships, the historic Sunday dolls are often brought in for evaluation. Typically, my audiences watch the owner of these dolls handle them with extreme care and respect. Most original Sunday dolls, now more than a century old, are found in very good overall condition, and they command very high prices on the secondary market, reaching well into the thousands of dollars.

Parts and packaging. For those of you deciding to recapture your youth with an antique doll, remember that, as in the case of all antiques, condition is a vital value indicator. Over time, dolls are regularly reconstructed using various parts, both handmade and manufactured, so try to keep dolls in their original condition with all of their original arts.

Personally, I still miss my long-lost red-haired doll named Chrissy (today’s value about $12) from the early 1970s. Her red hair would grow with a turn of a plastic knob positioned in her lower back. Chrissy never reached the revered status of Sunday dolls, but like all aging dolls, she, too, could make you remember those sweet memories of childhood.

Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings. To learn about your antiques, visit,, @DrLori on Twitter or Lori Verderame on Google+.




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