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    

Antique 3 Hole Pink Tint Adelina Patti C1870 24" W/orig Body, 6 1/2" Head NrAntique Porcelain China Head Doll W/ Black Flat Top Hair Original ClothesRare 28" Brown Eyed China Head Doll W/old Stuffed Body Antique Baptismal DressPretty 19 Inch Black Hair China Head Doll - 1860's 19thc China Head Doll Kling Antique Germany Cabinet Size 16" Blonde Mold Home IsAntique Perfect 13" Hertwig & Co C1890 Very Rare Bonnet Head China Head Doll NrAntique Ca 1870 Chinahead Doll (lowbrow) NrAntique Large German Germany Porcelain Nude Bathing Beauty Doll W/ Risque PoseNice Early Body With Wooden Limbs - 5.5" LongAntique Original C1850 China Head Doll China 3 1/4" Arms & 3 1/2" Legs Perfect Antique Cream Wool Lined Silk Cape & Bonnet For French Fashion - China Head DollAntique Excelsior Stuffed C1860 15" China Head Doll Body W/china Arms & Legs NrAbg C1870 Adelina Patti 3 Hole China Head Doll Head Pink Tint Exposed Ear NrLovely Vintage Silk Doll Dress For China, German, Or Fashion DollAntique Porcelain Doll In Orig Wardrobe Antique Earlier C1850 3 1/2" China Head Flat Top Civil War Era Doll NrAntique Herwig & Co C1890 5.5" China Head Doll Head W/provenance Named Laura NrBeautiful Well Dressed China Shoulder Plate Doll Must SeeVintage Firmly Stuffed 16" China Head Doll Body W/china Arms & Legs NrVintage Firmly Stuffed 14" China Head Doll Body W/china Arms & Legs Nr15-1/2" Antique China Head Lady Doll 1860s Original Cloth BodyAntique Blond Herwig & Co C1870 5" China Head Doll Head, Rare Hairstyle NrRare 16 1/2" China Head Boy Doll Rare Hair Style Old Body Vintage ClothesAntique Porcelain China Doll 18" Tall-rare Original Excellent High Glaze FeetAntique China Head Boy Doll With StandAntique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Doll Head~ Beautiful! Antique China Head Doll ... Head Only ~Huge 5 1/2" Hertwig & Co C1880 Bertha Pet Name China Doll Head Exposed Ear Nr23.5" Large Antique China DollLarge 25-1/2 Inch 1860's Black Hair China Head Doll Antique Doll - Maid / Teacher Doll? Muslin Fabric DressAntique Dollhouse Tiny China Doll, Orig.great Dress,fancy Hairdo,pink BootsLarge 22" Antique Blonde German China Doll With Original Body And UndergarmentsAntique 13" Porcelain Dancing DollsAntique Doll With Porcelain Head Hands And FeetAntique Susie Doll Leather Jointed Body Tin Head Porcelain Hands Old HauntedLittle 3.5 Cm Antique China Head W/ Issues Still Cute 1 3/8"Antique Blond China Shoulder Doll 4" Head Molded Blouse Germany Turned HeadCivil War Era Antique China Head Doll Cloth Body / 26 Inches Long A Pair Of Porcelain Tie-on Arms Thumbs Out No Chips 3 3/4"Pair Of Porcelain Legs W/ Green Shoes Textured Stockings 3 1/2"Vintage Papier Mache Blonde Hair German China Shoulder Doll Head ~ Pretty! Antique China Head Doll Pet Name: Dorothy .... Head Only ~A Pair Of Porcelain Tie-on Arms Bent Wrist No Chips 2 3/8"Child China Shoulder Plate--16 Inches.. See NoteLovely Antique Lace Underclothing Full Slip French German Or China DollRare Find Antique Porcelain 1/2/half Doll Legs For Pin Cushion Or Powder Puff Porcelain Half Doll With Legs To Match!Antique 1800's Lissi China Doll Original 4 Pc Velvet Clothing Bonnet Dress 18"