Reflections on doll auctions circa 1982

Reflections on doll auctions circa 1982

An article written by David Barrington in 1982, it would be interesting for an update on the prices mentioned here!


One of the most frustrating aspects of collecting is for the collector to miss by just one bid at auction, a doll that he or she really wants. That happened to me in March 1973, it seems a couple of decades ago now. Lot 338 was described as: "A bisque headed Bebe with fixed blue eyes, closed mouth, blonde wig and pierced applied ears, the composition jointed body with fixed wrists, wearing whitework frock, shoes, socks and handkerchief - 16" high, marked with the shield of Schmitt of Paris." .

She was a fabulous example, all original and was the Schmitt model with the pretty face. And the price a mere £250. You would be lucky to purchase her today at ten times that price. Those were the days. Even though £250 was worth considerably more 9 years ago she was very cheap by today's standards. Those brave enough to pay that kind of price for a rare doll in 1973 have seen them reach undreamt of prices.

Those certainly were the days! From 1969 when Sotheby's and Christie's first started to introduce a doll section in their furniture, etc. sales, up to 1974 prices were, more or less, static. I remember when in 1973 £380 for a small Bru produced gasps in the saleroom and guarded and not so guarded comments were passed round about the desirability of the buyer consulting a psychiatrist! Nearly all the dolls in those days were from private sources and there were many genuinely "all originals". Every sale was exciting because each sale normally produced some rare dolls and even if one didn't buy them, you had the advantage of looking and taking part in the saleroom antics.

How would you like?...

"A size 14 all original 31" Jumeau open mouth in its original box £160".

"A 19" Bebe Steiner closed mouth all original with many accessories £200".

"A 23" all original closed mouth Jumeau fabulous condition and outfit £260".

And in the four year period I have mentioned there were many more.

In more recent years many dolls have been put in the auctions by dealers and collectors and I think these now provide by far, the majority. I suppose this is because there really are relatively few pre-1914 dolls still to come onto the open market from private sources.

On the other side of the coin there were, during this period, some surprising prices for early dolls. Prices that make one realise that the value of these items, has after allowing for inflation, actually decreased. Here are a few examples.

March 1973.  A 17" Pierrotti - £145. Current price about £240.

March 1973.  A 5" china head lady with curls rolled into a bun. A very charming item. £170 but would now still only make that figure.

June 1973     An 18" Berlin glazed china, pink lustre with wig. C.1850  £380. Approx £550 at today's values.

Aug. 1973        Autoperipatetikos china head with snood. £200. Would now reach £300 with luck.

Prices for the more common dolls were then on the average one third of current prices.

In the early 1970s many of the more seasoned collectors vied for the waxes, chinas and papier maches. As they gained the examples desired for their collections there were insufficient new collectors who were interested in the early dolls. This caused the prices to be stable for a very long period. As a rough estimate I would say that only about 5% of collectors I have talked to over the last 3 or 4 years have expressed any interest in the early dolls. Recently, however, I have noticed more collectors expressing interest in this type of doll. Being in many cases in original outfits and with more collectors now desiring this plus an appreciation of the historical aspects and in some cases, great beauty, there will, I think, be an increasing number of collectors hoping to add one or more examples to their collections. Hence, I believe it likely that there will be a gradual price increase but by no means spectacularly so; as has been the case with fine quality French dolls.

The demand for fine quality French dolls is now so worldwide that apart from European monetary catastrophe nothing is going to de-stabilise the prices. Having said that, it is a matter of great concern that for many collectors the prices of fine French dolls are just too expensive to contemplate. I fear that with an ever diminishing supply being on the market the old days of relative cheapness can never return. One possibility for the collector with a number of German dolly face and baby dolls is that some dealers are prepared to take part exchanges at fair prices against good French dolls, so money need not necessarily be found. Many new collectors find it difficult to comprehend the price difference between closed mouth French dolls and pretty German girl dolls. The answer is that original as possible before it is offered for sale.

A disturbing feature of the high prices of rare dolls has been the appearance in auctions over the last couple of years of reproductions and restorations; some making the price of a correct item. To deal with just a few, there has been a reproduction Black Bru, a reproduction K*R 114 on a genuine body and a Bru head mounted on a French fashion body. All these items deceived the unknowledgeable. Not, I may say, through bad cataloguing, but by the time honoured auction house practice of descriptive statement, positioning of words and ommission. Now, of course, everyone should know that at the auctions it is buyer beware. Nevertheless, one has a little sympathy for those caught out through ignorance and, perhaps, shyness. The method of describing items in an auction catalogue is universal and I don't believe that should be changed. What I do find questionable is that in each of these cases the auction house has printed a pre-sale estimate that would indicate that there was nothing wrong with the item concerned.

Any comments?

Share |
You are here: Home blog Reflections on doll auctions circa 1982