Q: What is today’s value on my doll? She’s in good shape; there are no chips on her bisque head and there has been very little restoration. She has only a petticoat, but I have old material that could be used for clothing.
A: Along with color photos, the reader sent copies of two letters, dated 1969 and 1984, from doll experts. One is from a museum curator who wrote a book on dolls; the other is from a doll auction.
Full disclosure: Dolls are not an area that I choose to know a lot about, but I do think there’s a lesson here for smart collectors.
Clearly, the reader has wondered about her doll for years, including its value. Both letters ID the doll as an “autoperipatetikos.” Break the wording down, and the doll is an automaton that is peripatetic. It moves.
Sure enough, beneath the petticoat, a mechanism at the bottom includes a winding key and metal feet. Paper covering the mechanism is stamped Dec. 1862. The doll is 10 inches high.
The museum letter informs our reader that the doll was patented on that date by Enoch Rice Morrison of New York City. Walking dolls were a novelty then, and were made by several companies.
In the doll world, having an original head and arms (legs, too) matters. These look original to the doll and that’s good.
But the auction letter states that while walking dolls and related automata are attractive to buyers, desirability depends on the complexity of mechanism and “that nebulous quality, ‘appeal.’ ” The letter goes on to explain that “pretty” automata with French bisque heads and lavish costumes are most wanted. And the absolutely most wanted (translation: valuable) perform elaborate motions. They dance or twirl.
The 1984 letter describes conditions of desirability not likely to change with time. And it values the reader’s doll at $800 to $900.
Fast forward to 2013. The condition of the doll is, hopefully, unchanged. Perhaps our reader hopes that with the passage of some 30 years, her doll has become older and therefore more valuable. But conditions of desirability remain the same. The doll has a bisque head, but there is still no elaborate costume nor mechanism.
Dan Morphy, of Morphy’s Auction, Denver, Pa. (morphysauctions.com), has regular doll auctions; the next premier sale is in March 2014. Last month he sold an elegantly dressed French Bebe Bru early bisque doll for $18,000.
Jan Foulke, a seasoned expert who is Morphy’s doll consultant, looked over the photos sent and described the reader’s doll as a fairly common style. The doll mechanism is clockwork. Her estimate of current value: $600 to $800 if in working condition.
“Whether the vintage fabric adds value depends on the type of fabric, quality, and if it is appropriate to the doll. If so, it might add $25,” she added.
The lesson for smart collectors is that antiques and collectibles do not automatically increase in value with age. Sometimes they do; often they simply deteriorate or become damaged. When an item is traditionally ranked on certain criteria, those are unlikely to change. Tastes change and affect pricing, but basics do not.
FYI: Check the Morphy site for scheduled appearances. Foulke’s doll book is available on jansdollbook.com.