Sooner or later, every doll collector comes across a doll that is proving hard to identify. In this case, a good doll identification guide is your best bet for figuring out the doll’s identity. A magnifying glass also comes in handy as well. Here are some important steps you can follow a guide to accurately finding out the doll’s name or manufacturer.
What do we have here?
The first thing to do is to examine your doll thoroughly. Always do this under good and clear lighting. Consider the doll’s size and the material it is made of. Also, look at the type of eyes, as well as the details of the hair and clothing.
Once you are done with this, check the doll’s body for markings. You will most likely find this at the back of the dolls head, on its torso or on the feet. You are looking for a letter symbol or even a number; Anything that might point to the origin of the doll. Even labels on the doll’s clothing can be important.
Who made this doll?
Usually, the marking will contain the name of the doll’s manufacturer or their symbol. If this is the case, you are halfway there already. Modern manufacturers like Alexander, Madame, Mattel, ideal, and others usually mark their dolls with their name as part of the mark or the only mark on the doll. For older dolls from doll makers like Armand Marseille or Simon and Halbig, you might be lucky enough to find their name on the doll’s head. Although this is not always the case. Most dolls with manufacturing dates later than 1891 are usually marked with the name of the country the dolls were made.
However, if you are unable to find the manufacturer's name as part of the mark, you can check out reference books to determine what the mark on the doll is. In many cases, this is listed in the appendix of the doll book in alphabetical or numerical order. Some dolls also have a mold number which is enough to accurately identify the maker of the doll in some cases.
No marks? What next?
If you come across a doll with no marks, then you have to go through a more difficult process to identify it. Visual identification is your next course of action. bring out the books and try to identify the doll visually. Sometimes, having an approximate date the doll was manufactured will help. A quick way to narrow this down is to find out the date of the doll’s original purchase. For example, if the doll belonged to your grandmother as a child then it was most likely manufactured within a few years of her birthday. With tips like this, you should be able to narrow down your date to within a decade or even get a precise year. Check online references like DollReference.com, eBay, Doll shops United, Ruby Lane and other similar sites.
If you are able to get the doll’s manufacturer, you can look further in reference books both online and offline to find the doll.
If you are lucky, the marking is all you need. A marking written as AM 390 means the doll was made by Armand Marseille and is Mold number 390. In other cases, you will have to make use of the doll’s characteristics with photos to determine the identity of the doll.
If all of these methods fail, you can get to an expert at a doll appraisal. This can be at a doll shop, a doll show or an online doll appraisal. Some of them offer free services and in some cases, you will have to pay a fee.
When all else fails...
Bad news, not every doll can be identified! Dolls with no mark of any kind can be especially difficult to find. This is usually the case with tourist dolls or cheap supermarket or drug store lines. In some cases, all you will ever be able to find about the doll is an era or the type of doll and nothing else such as "1940s Composition Child".
Although it can be frustrating to find out that the only thing you know about your doll is that it is a "French celluloid tourist doll from the 1930s", but sometimes that is the best you will ever get unless the doll has been previously found in its original packaging by another researcher or collector who then published the information. Many dolls of Asian origin from the last 3 decades are also quite difficult to identify since most of them are sold through gift shops, magazine ads or general retailers.