Doll Collecting 101 with Billye Harris

Billye Harris has been in the antique doll business since 1998. She is a consummate expert and trusted appraiser in her home state of North Carolina and cities across the US. Billye owns Ashley’s Dolls and Antiquities and is a life-long antique collector. She is a member of the National Antique Doll Dealers Association (NADDA), United Federation of Doll Clubs, Les Rubans Aubergine International Doll Club, and a Local Doll Club President.

Billye invites inside the world of antique, rare, and collectible dolls. Here’s what we learned.

What are some notable discoveries that have been made recently in your area of expertise?

Discoveries are made nearly every day as more information is obtained from eastern Germany where many of the German bisque and china doll factories were built. New information about the design, production, and assemblage of antique dolls is constantly updated as researchers dig through the records and archives of old factories, towns, libraries, and museums.

What are your top tips for an aspiring collector in your area of expertise?

Collect only what you love! You will always be happy regardless of resale potential or market value.

What should a collector ask to identify an item and avoid common pitfalls?

If you’re considering expanding your collection, it’s important to work with reputable individuals and resellers. Provenance is often a useful place to start and can help establish a seller’s credibility. I would recommend asking the following questions. How did you acquire the doll? What do you know about the doll? What are your qualifications for selling antique dolls?

As a new collector, I would also be sure to identify any condition issues before purchasing. To start, I might ask is the doll in its original condition with no replaced parts (including antique replaced parts)? Is the clothing original or has it been replaced? Does the doll have any hairlines, chips, or restoration? Always run a doll under a black light for restoration or repaint and invisible hairlines. Be sure to inspect the doll with a light and magnifying glass for any flaws especially under the wig, at the eyes and face. Ask the seller to remove all of the clothing, if possible, to inspect the body carefully. If possible, remove the wig and pate (cap) to see inside of the head for repairs or damage.

What questions should a collector ask to determine the fair sale price of an item?

These are fairly straightforward, but important nonetheless! How old is the doll? Who is the maker? Is it this an antique or reproduction?

What is selling best in today’s market (which particular makers/styles)?

The most popular dolls in today’s market include French fashion dolls, antique bisque character dolls from the Art and Crafts Movement (circa 1900 to 1910), dolls that are cabinet sized (12 inches or less), and very large antique bisque dolls over 36 inches. In the vintage doll market, Barbie remains very popular.

What other questions do people ask you most frequently in your area of expertise?

Dolls, like many other collectibles, capture our attention because they often have a story to tell! Many folks are interested in learning more about dolls in their collections. I’m frequently asked “how much is my doll worth?” “How can you determine the age of the doll?” “How can I repair my doll?”