Saturday, September 13, 2003

Fashion dolls bring designer prices

Antiques detective

By Anne Gilbert
Enquirer contributor

Long before Barbie, some 18th and 19th century dolls had extensive "designer" wardrobes with matching accessories that included wigs and dresser sets.

Depending on the dollmaker and the quality of the wardrobe, these "fashion dolls" fetch big bucks at auction. At a recent Skinner doll auction, a Jumeau B'eb'e Mabel Rose Welch 11 (France, c.1880) with an extensive original wardrobe sold for $28,200.

European dolls, made as early as the 14th century, displayed the latest fashions and were gifts to royalty. Forget children playing with them; kings displayed them in special cabinets. By the late 18th century, dolls were shipped abroad to display the newest fashions from Paris or Dijon. And by the late 19th century, producing clothes for dolls had become an important industry in France and America. Fashion dolls taught young women proper dress for every occasion. They also showed proper accessories, such as opera glasses, even writing sets and desks, sewing kits and playing cards. Many of the doll-size fans, hats and furniture you see in shops and at shows may have been part of a fashion doll's furnishings.

Unfortunately, many fashion dolls labeled as "all original" may be wearing new clothing and wigs. Look for the maker's mark on the back of the head, neck or back. Since quality can vary within one dollmaker firm, don't pay too much for the name.

The Jumeau B'eb'e Mabel Rose Welch 11 that sold for $28,200 had important documentation. The doll was named for her original owner, Mabel Rose Welch, who bought it while on a European trip with her parents. The body is stamped "Jumeau Medaille d'Or Paris. While the trunk and some clothes are original, many pieces were added by later owners.

There are many talented designers specializing in doll clothes and accessories who use fabrics of the period. When well done, these can add value to a doll without an authentic wardrobe. Don't pass up an old doll without clothing.

Attending as many doll shows as possible is a must for collectors. Invest in reference books, such as 15th Book of Doll Values by Jan Foulke and The Beautiful Jumeau by Florence Theriault.


I am 99 percent positive that my pair of cobalt blue and gold leaf vases are Lalique. The word is very faint on the bottom of each vase.

You will need a hands-on examination by a professional appraiser. It may be worth the cost since cobalt vases have sold for $20,000 each.

Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.

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