Antique doll: anatomy of a German bisque doll

Tips to appraise a doll

Antique Glass Eyes

Dolls with glass eyes: The descriptive terms "fixed eyes" and “stationery eyes” describe factory set eyes. Europeans generally use the term “fixed” to describe glass eyes that are set in place and do not move, while American collectors commonly refer to such eyes as “stationery.”

"Sleep eyes” or “open and close eyes” are set on a rocker that has a weight and open and close when the doll is rocked back and forth and close for sleeping when the doll is at rest.

If the eyes that are on a rocker have been plastered in place, the doll is described as: "originally had sleeping eyes, which have been re-plastered (or reset) and no longer sleep."

If tIhe doll's eyes have been re-plastered and no longer sleep, collectors can restore the eyes if the weight is intact, and that's a plus. The doll is less desirable if the eyes have been replaced with stationery eyes.

Examing a Bisque Doll Head

The doll isn't fully examined until the bisque is examined from the inside with a light test. To examine a dome head baby doll, loosen the wire or cord around the neck flange, remove the head, and shine a light inside.

To examine the bisque of a socket head doll, remove the wig and the pate to shine a light from the inside.

Glossary terms for appraisal

Light test: performed on a bisque doll head

The value of a bisque doll is determined by the quality of the bisque head. The doll's value is cut in half if there is a crack in the bisque. Shine a light through the bisque from the inside to determine the integrity of the head and whether or not there is any hairline, crack or chip.

Shine a light from inside the head to examine the bisque for hairline cracks. While examining the head, examine glass eyes for any chips or hairlines. Note also the condition of the eye wax and the lashes if any. Examine the mouth, teeth, and lips, and look for any signs of deterioration or restoration.

Wig dilemma

Wigs are made from mohair, hair, fur and more currently, synthetic materials, adhered to a pate with water soluble glue. To remove the wig, dab wet cotton swabs at the base of the wig to soften the glue, gradually soaking the glue, pealing the wig back from the base of the neck, dabbing a little water, step-by-step, careful not to drench the wig (mohair wigs are particularly fragile). Don't get impatient and gauge or scrape or do anything that might damage the bisque.

German-made composition body

The condition of the body contributes to the value of the doll as well. Is it original to the doll? Is it in good condition? Does the body have its original patina or has it been repainted or restored by a curator? All of these factors contribute to a doll's overall value.

Although the condition of the body is not as crucial as the condition of the bisque head, still a doll with its original body or the correct body type will have greater value than a doll that has been re-assembled over time from mis-matched parts. It's not always possible to determine finite specifics of a doll unless the owner knows the history of the doll or has expert knowledge.

Original clothes

Whether wood, composition or soft-bodied, each doll is uniquely different and each has a different feel and quality. The condition and style of the doll's clothing can add or subtract from the value of the doll as well. It's uncommon to find a doll dressed in original clothing, but a doll dressed in appropriate clothing has greater value than one without a trousseau or one with ill-fitting clothes not appropriate for the doll.

Antique dolls are works of art, and collecting can be an aesthetic and valuable hobby. As with other art forms, antique dolls grow in value when properly maintained.