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”)

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 Civil War Era German Bisque China Head Old Doll Rare One Stunning Antique High Brow China Head Doll - Germany C 1870 18" Tall ~*~estate Find~*~ Old Antique German China Head Doll #2Early Antique High Brow China Head Dolls House Doll Germany C 1860/70 6" High Antique Civil War Era German Bisque China Head Old Doll Primitive13" China Head Doll Marked '1' Cloth Body Nice Condition12" Unmarked Age Unknown China Long Face Doll Cloth BodyAntique China Doll Body And China Doll For RepairSmall German Antique China Head Doll With Amazing Painted Shoes Lot Of 46 Coloured, Damaged Frozen Charlotte Doll Parts, 1890-1920Antique German China Head Doll Esther 23" With 12" Head No DamageLot Of 50 Bisquit Porcelain Dolls, Limbach, 1890-1920Art Deco Half Doll, Porcelain Figurine, Germany.Lot Of 4 Frozen Charlotte, 1890-1920, Sizes About 4 - 4 3/4" (10-12 Cm)Antique Dollhouse Doll Original Clothes Germany China Head Porcelain Plate Early17" Interesting China Head, Nice Costume, No Damage, Unusual ExpressionLot Of 43 China Porcelain Shoulder Heads, Scheibe-alsbach, 1860-1890 Lot Of 53 Coloured, Damaged Frozen Charlotte Doll Parts, 1890-1920 Lot Of 60 Damaged Frozen Charlotte Doll Parts, 1890-1920Antique Porcelain Half Doll And Unusual Miniature Head Doll On Pencil! 1920sLot Of 44 Broken Bisquit Porcelain Dolls, Limbach, 1890-1920~*~estate Find~*~ Old Antique German China Head Doll #3Antique German China Head Doll, Blonde Hair, Handmade Body, Red Dress~*~estate Find~*~ Old Antique German China Head Doll #3Antique China Head Doll, Cloth Body, China Arms & Legs - Civil War Era 50 Damaged Frozen Charlotte Doll Parts, 1890-1920Lot 3 Soulful Antique China Dolls House Dolls Miniature GermanAntique Miniature German China Head Porcelain Doll,2 Frozen Charlotte Lot + MoreAntique German China Head Doll With Rosy Cheeks And Blonde Molded Hair40 X Excavated Vintage Victorian Lovely Painted Doll Head From Limbach Germany Pair Of China DollsKinzbach ? Antique China Hands - Very Detailed Spoon Hands - 2 .75" Long14 Small Bisquit And 4 China Dolls, Max Buchholz, Lauscha, 1890-1920~*~estate Find~*~ Old Antique German China Head Doll #120 X Excavated Vintage Victorian Frozen Charlotte Doll Size 2 - 5.2 Inch Age186050 X Excavated Painted Vintage Victorian Doll Head Age1860 Hertwig German 1 - 3"Antique China Doll 2 Bodies & 3 Heads For Doll Repair 15inch Antique Victorian Blonde-hair China Head Porcelain Doll, Nr16" China Head Doll Stamped Hairstuffed Body Leather Arms Mitt Hands Antique Germany China Head Hands Feet Garters Stuffed Body Doll 14.5in As-found100 X Excavated Vintage Victorian Doll Head Age1860 Hertwig German 1 - 3 InchAntique German China Head Doll, Broken With Handmade Body, Make Do ToyAntique German Marked China Head Doll With Cloth BodyChina Head Doll Collection Need TlcLtd Toy Stamp & 1880s German 11.5" Low Brow China Head Doll W Cloth Body #1910" Antique German Porcelain Head Covered Wagon Doll Original Clothes 1890sAntique China Black Hair Dolly Madison Mini Doll Shoulder Heads LotAntique Porcelain 16" Head Shoulders Arms Legs With Cloth Body Blond Hair DressGerman Half Doll Grey Hair Damage On BottomRare Parian Conte & Boehme ? 17" 12" China Head Doll Marked '0 K' On Pink Cloth Body. Vintage Mini German Porcelain Dutch Girl Half Doll Germany1900's Japan Bisque China Head Blond Girl Doll Red Cloth Body Sweetly Painted