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Vintage Dolls - History & Ways to Identify Them

Vintage and antique are two words that mean almost the same thing in regular English but mean completely different things when we are talking doll collections.

Generally, the term vintage dolls refer to those dolls that were made between 1925 and 1979. This period in the history of doll making was a time when dolls became more of brand items and saw the release of several dolls that were popular household names in their time and still remain famous collectible items today.

vintage dolls

Popular vintage dolls

Effanbee dolls are considered Vintage in some collectors’ books while some prefer to call them antique. While production for these dolls started as far back as 1912, the doll makers continued to release more of the dolls throughout the 20th century. The Large Boudoir dolls are popular dolls from this era as well. They were popular between the 20s and the 40s and the giant dolls were big enough to be placed on their owner's bed.

The Shirley Temple Dolls are also from this same era and their production spanned almost throughout the entire 1900s. The American classic dolls like Betsy McCall arrived on the scene in the 60s, almost at the same time as the talking dolls such as Chatty Cathy.

The Fashion dolls, most notable of them being Barbie, are perhaps the very last entrants in this category. Barbie is one of the most popular vintage dolls among collectors today.

How to tell if your doll is vintage

Vintage dolls like Barbie can often be identified using marks on the dolls’ body. This can be found on different parts of the doll's body like the torso, neck, legs or pretty much everywhere else. However, even those these markings usually include a date, you might be wrong to classify a doll as vintage simply because a mark on its body says so.

More often than not, the marking on a doll’s body is usually the date the copyright date of that particular line of the doll. So people who look out for doll markings on Barbie dolls with the “1966” stamp as a sign of them being vintage are most times very wrong. While there are some Barbie dolls with the 1966 mark that is indeed vintage, most dolls with the mark were actually made long after that.

One good way to tell is to reconcile the age with the country of origin which is usually stamped on the dolls alongside the date. A doll with a 1966 marking but is from Mexico, China or Malaysia isn’t a true vintage doll even though it bears the trademark year. Most of these types of dolls were made after 1972 which was when production started in these countries. Prior to this time, Barbie dolls were made mostly in Japan and some were made in Hong Kong or Taiwan. These are the true vintage dolls. Reconciling the date this way works not just with Barbie but with other types of dolls as well.

Other clues

The marking on a vintage doll will usually contain more information than the one on later dolls. Another way to spot true vintage dolls is with their appearance. Most dolls evolved with time and their appearance changes as the years progressed.

Early Barbie dolls, for example, had arms that cannot be bent at the elbows. They also had closed mouth instead of the wide grins you see on later Barbie dolls. Knowing how a particular doll has evolved over time in terms of appearance is one key way to spotting a true vintage doll. 


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