Despite their fragile nature, antique china dolls are treasured by serious doll collectors and children alike. These classic playthings made from glazed white porcelain were initially popularized in Europe during the 1700s.

Porcelain was invented in ancient China, made from a hard, white clay known for its fineness and strength. This ceramic material proved so useful, particularly for dinnerware, it spread across the world, nicknamed after its country of origin. When it comes to dolls, antique figures made from glazed porcelain are referred to as china, while unglazed designs are called bisque. Contemporary dolls made out of the material for the collector market are generally referred to as porcelain dolls, leaving the word china for the vintage and antique pieces.

In Europe, china was first made around 1710 at the Meissen factory near Dresden, Germany, for household objects and figurines. Eventually, major deposits of clay throughout the Thuringia region would make Germany a center for porcelain production. However, most porcelain manufacturers only produced doll parts as a small segment of their business.

By the 19th century, porcelain had become the favored material for doll heads, and starting in the 1830s, high-quality china dolls hit the market. Most of these were made in central Europe, and often the assembly work was done by individual families, which is why many antique china dolls are not marked.

German-made china dolls usually have black molded hair and blue eyes. The oldest have high foreheads and hair parted in the middle, smoothed down into rows of curls or ringlets around their ears. These dolls also had sloping shoulders, suitable for the low-cut gowns in fashion at the time.

Between 1850 and 1870, dolls crowned with the extravagant hairstyles worn by Parisians were all the rage. After 1870, the molded hair was replaced with wigs, which were thought to be more natural in appearance. In the 1880s and 1890s, these dolls tended to feature bushy hair with bangs covering the forehead, smug-seeming features that appear almost too small for their faces, and stocky necks.

As a material for a child’s toy, china was never ideal; it was easily chipped or shattered if the doll was thrown to the floor. Thus, by the early 20th century, new composition materials and, eventually, plastics largely replaced porcelain for most dolls.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

19" Antique Brown Eyed, , Pink Luster China Head Doll Old Clothes C.1860-1870sNice Antique *cloth Doll Body* For China Head DollChina Head Vintage/antique Blue Eyes German High Brow 16 Inches Antique China Doll (head Repaired) On Heavy Linen/cotton Hand Sewn BodyAntique Blond *china Doll Head W/ Exposed Ears* Shoulder RepairGenuine Old Porcelain Half Doll Standing Legs Gold Shoes Petite 2.75" TallVintage Bisque Pin Cushion Half Dolls As Is All Broken. Lot For Crafting Etc.Antique *flat Top China Head Doll* Made In GermanyVintage Bisque Pin Cushion Half Dolls All Marked Germany Lot Of 6 Lovely.3 Antique China Doll Heads W/1 Doll Body, Alt Beck & Gottschalck, Hertwig, Nr!!Antique Porcelain Ruth Gibbs 7 Inch Doll.~ Two! Antique As Is For Restore China Doll Heads... Heads Only ~Rare Antique Japanese Meiji Era Porcelain Head Doll Late 1800'sRare Art Deco Night Lamp Editions Half Doll Related MedievaleLarge 1800s Antique China Head Doll 24inAntique German Hertwig China Head Doll Flags Of All Nations~ Gorgeous!! Antique China Doll W/horsehair Stuffed Body & Leather Hands ~Rare Antique German "china Doll"-lg.head & Shoulder W/exposed Ears In Mint Cond.Antique German Porcelain China Head Doll 19th C Flat Top High Brow Blue EyesSmall Antique China Head Doll Germany Rare Printed Cloth Body Large Antique German China Shoulder Head Doll Late 1800's Cloth Leather 30" TallAntique Porcelain Kestner German Doll Jointed 19 Inch5 Antiqu China Heads For Parts/repair-some Perfect!!Haunted Doll Gabby From Enchanted Garden Porcelain Dolls 26 Inches HightAntique Frozen Charlotte DollGerman Antique 11 1/2" China Doll With Wrestler Legs And Patterned Cloth BodyAntique Porcelain China Head Bisque Hands & Feet-cloth Body Doll-7.5"37" Mary Benner Airielle Porcelain Doll #370 Of 450 Rare Collectible Low ReserveAntique 1 3/4" Frozen China Doll In Antique Oval BoxVintage Antique Kling Low Brow China Shoulder Head Doll With Leather BodyAntique/vintage Cloth Doll Body #3Antique German China Head Doll Leather Body Saw Dust Filling 19" 2 Vintage Germany China Shoulder Head Dolls4 Small Antique Bisque Socket Heads China Head Doll Parts3 Small Antique Shoulder Plate German Doll Heads Nine Inch German China-head, All Original Antique Ready To Dress!Antique German Porcelain Pink Dress Flapper Look Pincushion Half Doll #3248/3Erphila German Porcelain Black Hair W/comb Spanish Flair Pincushion Half DollRare Tiny Antique 1 3/8" German China Frozen Charlotte DollRare Frozen Charlotte Porcelain China 5" Doll Very Good ConditionVintage Bisque Pin Cushion Half Dolls Lot Of 14, Pristine ConditionRare & Beautiful Large Antique China Head Doll