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Antique Collectible

Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Bru 10 Jne bebe; paperweight eyes; blonde mohair wig; powder-blue costume; lamb’s wool muff and stole; sold for $9,460. Photo courtesy of Sweetbriar
She is the kind of doll that makes you stop and take a second look as though you might actually catch her taking a breath.

Large almond-shaped eyes, blonde curls, rosy complexion, plump cheeks, and just a hint of chin protruding out above her red velvet courtier costume, she is an aristocrat in the doll world.

There is aliveness here as though time stood still long enough to catch flesh and blood in bisque. A study in turn-of-the-century elegance. A fashion doll.

We meet in miniature everything we find in life-size. Miniatures are manageable, whether it’s dolls and houses or tin soldiers and tanks. Unlike their life-sized counterparts, they have the capacity to be kept out of harms way.

Doll collecting is now considered the second biggest hobby in the United States after stamp collecting. Dolls have played a role in almost every civilization.

Even Louis XIV played with dolls. Among his playthings was a doll’s house with tiny enamel figures, nine market shops and two wooden theaters.

Until the 20th century, most dolls were made to look like miniature adults with fancy wigs, costumes, and stiff, self-important expressions. Children didn’t look like that.

Their purpose was to groom little girls in the ways of 19th century etiquette. Even “baby” dolls were small versions of adults. Dolls reflected a Victorian notion of children as having little imagination and even less emotion.

With the teachings of Freud and Jung cultural postures changed. The look of dolls changed too. Around 1910, character dolls, modeled after real people, not idealized versions, began to appear. Dolls became personalities.

With the mass-production of the 1930s, dolls started to look and sound like real babies. By the 1960s, they ate, cried and wet their diapers. Adult dolls were still popular, but even they were redesigned to appeal to contemporary children.

The Germans and French were the aristocrats of the bisque era. The dolls they made during the golden years of manufacturing (1860-1890) are some of the finest.

Names like Jumeau, Bru, Simon and Halbig and Kestner are trademarks in the industry. The difference in quality between a German and French doll is usually negligible.

But, the better dolls keep their eyes open and their mouths shut. That’s the collector’s euphemism for rating vintage dolls. Bisque dolls produced by the French company Bru are considered hauntingly beautiful, thus highly desirable.

Collect what you love. That’s the best recommendation I can offer. The number one thing to look for is the condition of the doll. The more original the doll and clothing, the more sought-after the doll will be. In terms of value, mint is best. Original boxes, tags and packing material can double the worth.

A collection of antique French and German bisque dolls went on the block at Sweetbriar in Earleville, Md., on March 15. Here are some current values.


SFBJ 235 boy; molded hair; inset dark brown jewel eyes; original navy blue woolen sailor costume; 16 inches high; $880.

Bru Teteur bebe; JNE4; blue sleep eyes; red mohair wig; nursing mechanism with metal key; cotton and lace baby gown; 14 inches high; $1,815.

JDK 243 Oriental baby; dark brown sleep eyes; black human hair wig in a pigtail; silk costume trimmed with beads and tassels; 13 inches high; $2,310.

A K*R 101 Marie Character child; painted eyes; closed pouting mouth; red mohair wig in coiled braids; 18 inches high; $2,805.

Bru 10 Jne bebe; paperweight eyes; closed mouth; blonde mohair wig; powder-blue costume; lamb’s wool muff and stole; 22 inches high; $9,460.

Jumeau portrait bebe; bisque socket head; paperweight eyes; blonde mohair wig; factory cream wool and silk costume; 14 inches high; $9,790.

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