Auction Insights

Hello Dolly

For what price would you sell your first doll or teddy bear?  Whilst you are thinking about that, many people when faced with emptying the family home, a nest from which they themselves have flown long ago, are brought to tears when they chance upon objects that, in an instant, transport them back to their earliest and often happiest days - their childhood.


Such sentimentality might explain why the middle aged sometimes collect, and pay handsomely for, the toys of their childhood.  It is easy to see that once bitten and smitten with   dolls and teddies they begin seriously to collect.


The  bisque, glazed porcelain  or wax-headed dolls that were made in France and Germany from the mid 19th to the early 20th century are familiar to most people.  Some of the French dolls represent the finest and most valuable in existence. One Parisian beauty of 1915 by master doll maker Albert Marque sold at auction in America in 2015 for $310,000.  The current world record price is £242,500, paid at auction in London for an extremely rare, frankly creepy, Kammer & Reinhardt doll in 2014.  Ostensibly similar versions can be picked up for £200, or less.


The prices of collectable dolls over the last ten years has yo-yoed, the value of the finest such as those by Bru spiralling upwards but the prices paid for mass produced dolls by German makers such as Armand Marseille – whose doll’s heads are always marked ‘AM’ followed by a  mould number -  falling by two thirds.


A cabinet of antique dolls is quite a sight, what about an entire house full?


Over the years I have known many collectors of dolls but none so extraordinary or for that matter so utterly charming as the three elderly Nottingham sisters, the Misses Morrison.  They lived together in the Victorian terraced house their grandfather had built in Hyson Green for their entire lives.  The youngest, Nora, who died aged 98 in 2016 dedicated her life to dance and was a gifted ballet teacher.  Many Post readers will have fond memories of the Morrisons School of Dance in Clarendon Street, but how many knew that behind the front door of their house off Gregory Boulevard was a veritable museum of dolls.  There were hundreds of them dating from the 19th century to the present day, a huge family of ‘children’ for three childless women who spent their long lives bringing the magic of dance to Nottingham youngsters.  Eventually, even they had to part with some and around ninety went under the hammer at the Auction House.  A Kammer & Reinhardt bisque headed character doll with weighted hazel glass eyes, complete with pink kid leather shoes sold for £2,200, but I was amazed when that hammer price was matched by a Daily Mirror felt Teddy Tail doll of the 1930s or 40s.


Last month a delightful group of seven small 19th century painted wood ‘peg’ dolls, in their original clothes caused a stir at Mellors & Kirk when the price shot to £8000 (£9600 with buyer’s premium).  The explanation lies in the fact that these are true examples of folk art but are also highly desirable to doll collectors.


Some of the best public collections of antique toys and dolls   are in the Museums of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum (Bethnal Green), Edinburgh and nearer to home, the National Trust’s Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire.


Much research has been done into the reason why dolls of whatever kind are important in a child’s development.  What is certain is that ancient Egyptian children had them over 4000 years ago and dolls with moveable limbs that would be familiar to us exist from as early as 200BC.  Across all cultures over recorded history dolls have been to children a ‘little friend’.  Simultaneously runs the long history of dolls made for magical purposes or rituals but that, as they say, is another story.


Nora Morrison and her sisters lived in a real, silent dolls house devoid of  the laughter of real  children.  But that,they brought to many others through the magic of dance.  “Nora, darling you’re dancing as if your life depends upon it”, a famous line from Ibsen’s The Dolls House, may also be said of this much loved Nottingham character.

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