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China Doll - History, Characteristics and Issues

China dolls are among the most popular collectible dolls in the world.

These items are made out of glazed porcelain making them some of the most delicate types of dolls on the market. While some laymen think that china doll refers to dolls made in China, it is actually used as a term to describe porcelain.

An interesting thing about these items is that only a minor part is made of porcelain. Glazed porcelain was only used for head and neck while the rest of the body was made either out of cloth or leather. Over the years, artists made them in different sizes so today, you can find china dolls that are 1 inch tall (2.5 cm) and those that are 30 inches tall (76 cm).

china doll

The trend of creating china dolls started in Europe during the 19th century. Germans started producing them and it quickly caught on in other countries such as France. Today, these antique pieces can cost a real fortune.

History of china dolls

Germany was the first to revolutionize the product and make it what it is today.

The trend started in the 1840s and it lasted up to 1890s. Soon afterward, a variant of china dolls was invented with the appearance of bisque dolls which were using unglazed porcelain. They became so popular that you could see them all over the place. They were featured in popular magazines, newspapers and were used as decorative items.

At one point, china dolls were made in millions. Most popular companies of the time include Hertwig, Beck and Gottschalck, Kestner, Royal Copenhagen, Barrois, Tielsch etc.

At first china dolls were made in women’s image. They depicted adult, classy ladies. However, as the trend caught on and more people started buying them, the need for new designs appeared. So, in the 1850s we saw first dolls based on children. Needless to say, the dolls had clothing and haircuts that were stylish during this period.

Main characteristics

As previously mentioned, these dolls have shoulders, head, and neck made out of glazed porcelain. But there is much more to them. They also have painted molded hair as well as various facial features. So, there will never be two exactly the same dolls. Head area is attached to a leather/ cloth body. When it comes to arms and legs, they are either made out of porcelain or cloth/leather. In some rare cases, other materials such as wood were used (common for the first porcelain dolls). Also, certain dolls were fully made out of porcelain.

Like today’s doll’s, china dolls were highly customizable. Manufacturers were selling various sets of clothes and other accessories that would allow buyers to freshen up dolls from time to time.

There is a big market for antique porcelain dolls nowadays. However, it can sometimes be really hard to determine the manufacturer and date of production given that lots of them weren’t marked. Lots of them do have stamps that can help determine the origin. It all depends on who made them as different companies had different approaches.

Issue with reproductions

If you’re a collector who loves these dolls, you probably already know there are lots of cheap reproductions on the market. There are lots of hobbyists who tinker with original molds and create bad reproductions. In most cases, they will have very low paint quality which can help you recognize a fake. They are also recognizable due to the fact they may exhibit crazing. Another good way to tell this is a cheap knockoff is the signature on the bottom. Antique china dolls didn’t have them.

Even though the market is littered with these cheap reproductions, there are also some reproductions worth your time. For example, during the mid-1900s, there were lots of companies and artists who reproduced classical china dolls. They were usually very attentive as they tried to create the best possible copies. Some of the bigger names that dealt with such reproductions were Ruth Gibbs, Emma Clear, and Mark Farmer.

Final thought

Keep in mind that these dolls can be really pricey; some pieces were sold for thousands of dolls during auctions. So, if you intend to buy an antique china doll, make sure to check its origin beforehand. Use the tips provided in this article. If you’re still uncertain or don’t want to take a chance, you can always contact a porcelain doll expert who can clear things out for you!


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