Spotlight on…antique doll collectibles market

The antique doll sector has been described by one collectibles expert as being 'like the wind,' as it is subject to dramatic highs and lows, however interest appears to be currently waning in one traditionally lucrative area of the market – the William and Mary doll arena.

An upcoming auction at Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pa, appears to highlight this trend, says Jay Lowe, the head of the doll department at the auction house. "It's almost like the wind, or almost like fashion," he said. "What people want this year might be different than what people will want 10 years from now."

What people want now does not appear to be the William and Mary doll, which is to appear in the auction house's Toys, Dolls, Marbles, and Figural Cast Iron auction on 23 September 2016. The event will comprise almost 1,300 lots with an estimated value of around $1 million.

The historic wooden doll, which dates from the 17th century, was sold in the 1980s at London's Sotheby's for $66,500, which today would be around $375,000. However, it has an estimate of just $25,000 in the upcoming auction, representing a massive drop of 93 per cent in value. Mr Lowe said: "That really hits home for me. I have a William and Mary doll I bought in 2005 for $46,000; the fellow I got it from paid $103,000 for it in 1992."

Mr Lowe attributes the collapse of the William and Mary doll market to the inverse result of supply and demand, as the more desired the dolls become, the less they come onto the open market. "You can't collect something you can't buy. And eventually if you're a collector, you might become discouraged and start to collect something else. The market sort of fell apart."

Despite the drop in this area of the antique doll arena, the hunger is well and truly there in terms of French dolls, with investors clamouring to snap up some of the very best examples. The Morphy Auction's Lot No. 13, is a "Magnificent Early French Mystery Bebe," and is already generating huge amounts of interest from collectibles investors. "That's one of the hot areas," said Mr Lowe. "Desirability is a factor, rarity can play a factor, and condition is the biggest factor of all. I use the phrase 'Condition is king.' "

Out of all the collectibles sectors, antique toys and dolls are perhaps the hardest to ensure good condition is maintained as they are, clearly, an item that was played with at one point by a child. As a result of this, toys and dolls in pristine condition are especially elusive and, as a result, command serious interest and money. Another factor that is alluring to investors is the novelty value of the item. One of the lots featured in the upcoming auction is a Wooden Smuggling Doll, which appears to date from the mid to late 19th century and contains a hidden compartment in its stomach area, which could be used for concealing documents, money or a map. Mr Lowe said: "When you're at customs between countries, they might search a briefcase but they wouldn't check your child's doll."

Other lots to be featured in the auction include a toy car from the Japanese company Takara's "Diaclone" line, which are said to be the forerunner to the popular Transformers toys. The car, which is still in its original box, has an estimated value of between $6,000 and $9,000 and is expected to pique a number of collectibles investors' interest.

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