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    

Fantastic Antique 19" German #136 China Boy Doll With Great ClothingAntique China Shoulder Head Boy Doll C 1860 - Original ClothesRare Porcelain Very Large Stunning Ernst Bohne & Sons Marked Half Doll, Germany.Very Early China Head Doll Smiling Face Strange Hair Style Bun Unusual Pensive Antique 18" Flat Top China Head Doll Orig Body Leather Arms All AntiqueVintage Antique Porcelain Marked 1920s Doll Head Blonde 4" Collectors PieceArt Deco Half Doll Porcelain Lamp Figurine With Rose.Vintage Antique China Shoulder Head Porcelain Doll 15" Elaborate HairdoLovely Galluba & Hofman Half Doll With Flowers, Porcelain Figurine.Antic Old Half Doll From Dressel & KisterAntique Doll With China Head And Cloth BodyJ.d.k. Kestner #10 Porcelain Doll - Made In Germany Vintage - Restoration Parts23" & 24.5" Antique China Head Gentlemen Dolls C1890--you Dress Them--perfect!Art Deco German Porcelain Bathing Beauty Belle Pin Cushion Half Doll RelatedLovely Heubach Half Doll, Porcelain Figurine, Germany. Antique Rare 1880's Rare China Head Doll German Wonderful Small 1800s Doll Body China Papier Mache Plus Beautiful Goebel Half Doll, Porcelain Figurine, Germany.Lot With Two Early Bisque Or China Dolls And A Pile Of ClothesAntique Late 19th C Hertwig China Pet Name Marion Porcelain Doll Germany Nr YqzAntique 1800s Victorian Hand Painted Porcelain China Head Cloth Lady Doll 20"Antique Chinese Dolls Set(6)porcelain Heads Miniature Silk-clothes 1900s Lovely!Antique German Mignonette Doll China Head Cloth Body Plus Wardrobe13"china Head Doll, Coming Just In Underwear , No Damage Vintage Japanese Doll HeadBeautiful E8j Porcelain Jumeau Doll - Artist Kelly RhodesAntique 17 1/2" Abg Or Kling Blonde China Head Boy Male Doll Exposed Ears ~ Wonderful! Antique/ Vintage Leather Hands For The Cloth/leather Body Doll ~Antique Vintage German Frozen Charlotte China Doll In Glass Bottle OrnamentLovely Sitzendorf Germany Porcelain Figurine With Letter, Half Doll.Antique China Doll Head Low Brow Head Shoulder Doll German Black Hr Blue Eyes #1Rare Antique German Porcelain Doll Hand Pin Cushion Sew Figural Figure SleeveAntique China Head W / New Body Plus Antique Blonde China ..head Only Antique Miniature German Porcelain Half Doll Vintage German China Doll Head / TorsoAntique German Porcelain 8 1/4 " Doll Arlequin Pin CushionAntique German Porcelain Fairing W/child Doll Putting On Sock And Florals!Antique 24" Selvage Roller Print Cute Cotton Chinas MachesPorcelain Half Doll Flapper Brush Vintage Garment FashionAntique German Porcelain Half DollAntique Porcelain German Half DollHand Painted Numbered 1059 Glazed Porcelain Dolls Head With Fur Hair BisqueAntique China Head Doll Cloth Body 14-1/2" Velvet On Legs Leather Shoes 1800's Doll Miniature Infant Baby,porcelain German Cotton Gown Hat Diaper Shoes RussVintage Germany Half Doll Powder BoxAntique Doll Butlers Brothers Educational Abc Body 1905-1907 China Doll 13 ½”Antique Vintage China Head Doll 12" Arms Legs Stuffed Body Shoulder PlateAntique Porcelain German Half Doll