May 262013

Vintage dolls at a live auction.
Photo courtesy of Withington Auction, Inc.

I receive a lot of questions regarding how to go about selling a doll collection from collectors who are ready to downsize, and from other folks who have inherited a collection and need guidance in how to dispose of it.

Since there is no single answer to the question, “How do I sell these dolls?” this article outlines the various options.

The right way, or ways, to sell a collection depends first and foremost on what you hope to achieve. Do you want to get the most money for your dolls? Do you want them out of your living room as soon as possible? Or do you need to find a solution that brings the most return without taking over your life?

Show Me the Money
In order to get the most money for your dolls, you will need to sell them individually. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. You can set up at a doll show in your area. You can also rent space in an antique mall, or set up at a flea market. These options require some money from you up front. You can advertise them in the newspaper or on Craigslist. Or you can sell them online. It used to be that eBay was the only game in town for selling online, but now there are a number of options, including Etsy, Rubylane and other portals.
Of course, there is a tradeoff to getting the most money for your collection, and that tradeoff is time. Selling dolls one at a time, especially online, where you have to research the dolls so you can describe them correctly, then deal with taking and uploading photos, answering email questions, and packing and shipping, is very time consuming. (In the case of advertising the collection on Craigslist or in the newspaper, you also want to take safety into consideration before inviting strangers into your home, especially if you are a single woman.) Only you can decide if you have the time to devote to researching and selling the dolls one at a time. If not, read on…

Just Get ‘Em Outta Here!
At the other end of the selling spectrum, there are people who will come and purchase your dolls, or take them on consignment, and get them out of your way. Antiques and collectibles dealers, and dealers who specialize in dolls, will purchase the entire collection and sell them individually, by any or all of the methods outlined above. A reputable dealer (like me!) will pay you one-third to one-half of what they think they can sell them for. This might not sound like much, but once you have tried selling them individually yourself, you will appreciate how much work and expense goes into it. Dealers might advertise in the newspaper or on Craigslist; or you can contact online dealers who specialize in dolls. You can also ask around at a local doll show or antique mall.
An auctioneer in your area will take your dolls on consignment to sell at a live auction, and take a commission. Most auctioneers will not set reserve prices, so there is some risk involved. Many auctioneers will purchase collections outright as well. You can find auctioneers in your area by going to Auctionzip. There are several auctioneers around the U.S. who specialize in dolls; they are mainly looking for high-end antique and vintage dolls. These auctioneers advertise in doll magazines.

A Happy Medium
If the first option is too much work, and the second option is too little money, the right way for you to go might be with a combination of strategies.
Right now I am in the process of advising a friend of a friend, who has a very large collection (literally thousands of dolls) inherited from her mother, on how to dispose of it. She began by separating those dolls that she wanted to keep for herself and other family members. This should always be the first step. Many of the remaining dolls are modern “collectible” porcelain dolls that don’t have much value, and she is going to begin by thinning some of these out at a yard sale. What’s left over from the yard sale will go to a local auctioneer, who will probably sell them in box lots.
Once she has some room to move, she will concentrate on researching the better-quality modern artist dolls, and perhaps selling some of these individually, or consigning them to someone to sell individually for her. She may set up at a doll show or in a shop. She will probably have more yard sales throughout the summer, and consign the leftovers to auctioneers. I will advise her to spread them around – you don’t want to concentrate too many dolls in one place at one time, because a “saturation point” can be reached. I will make her an offer on the more interesting vintage dolls in the collection, which I will document for this site and then resell.
So piece by piece, her mother’s dolls will find new loving homes with the next generation of collectors. She will get the most she can for them, without making it her life’s work to sell them.

I would love to hear your comments on how you downsized or disposed of a collection.

  16 Responses to “Selling a Doll Collection”

  1. I have a collection from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s I’m trying to sell and I live in a remote area. Your tips will help me lots.. Thanks from Bugsy

  2. My mom gave me her large doll collection…there are ashton drakes, franklin mints and some others…totalling about 40-50 dolls. Would you be interested?

  3. I have a collection of 20 Nancy Ann dolls …

  4. I also have a collection 20-30 Storybook dolls mostly from the early 40’s all with boxes and most still have the labels. Is there still a market for these dolls?

  5. Hello, I have inherited a collection of about 35 Nancy Ann Storybook dolls that I am looking to rehome.

    • If you are asking me if I am interested in buying them, I might be if you live in Maine, as I only buy things I can see in person. If you are located elsewhere, the above article should give you some suggestions to get started.

  6. My mother die a year ago and was an avid doll collector with 5000 to 6000 dolls. Some older some newer. I live in southwest Wisconsin and was wondering if you could point me in the right direction on contacting a dealer or an auctioneer around the area. I searched auctionzip and came up with nothing. I don’t know what to search for now. Any information would be advantageous and greatly appreciated.


    • Charles, not sure what you used for a zip code or search radius, but I just tried Auctionzip and came up with 49 names of auctioneers within 50 miles of Madison, WI. Even if they are not that close to you, most auctioneers would be willing to travel for a collection of that size. Give it another try!

  7. I am executor of my mother’s estate. I have approximately one hundred dolls ranging from civil war period to the early 1900’s. French and German bisque. Also old china dolls, heads and body parts. There are a few “newer dolls”, composition and such. I live in middle TN and need to sell the collection in the next few months for estate purposes. Thank you.

  8. I have seven Nancy Ann storybook dolls – all are used and certainly not in mint condition. Three are bisque, frozen leg and body – one with tag on her arm (153 Little Boo Peep). They have the safety pin on the back. The other four are plastic jointed legs -one is African American. Can you advise as to how to sell and worth?

    • Margie, regarding selling your dolls, please take a few minutes to read the above post outlining the various options. Only you can decide what your priorities are. As far as value goes, identifying individual Storybook dolls is a very time consuming process as the company made hundreds of different outfits for the dolls (which is generally the only way they can be identified) and used the same names and stock numbers over and over. Since some NASB dolls in certain outfits are rare and valuable, and others are common and not valuable, no generalization can be made about them, except that dolls in played with condition will be worth much less than the same dolls in mint condition (which is true of every doll). The Black Nancy Ann dolls are a lot less common than the white dolls, so she would probably be worth selling individually, whereas you might decide to sell the others as a lot. But again – it all depends on your priorities regarding time and money.

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