How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls

Written by keely brown
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How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls
These 1800s dolls are made from papier mache, a forerunner of composition. (Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images)

While many beautiful antique dolls have survived with their maker's marks intact, a large number of them are either unmarked or have had their original marks obliterated by time. Wax and composition dolls are particularly prone to this type of wear, as mould marks often rub down or peel off of these fragile materials. It's also true that a great many wax and composition dolls were never marked to begin with, particularly the more inexpensive, mass produced models. Dolls were typically marked behind the neck, but collectors know that there are other places to find marks as well.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass
  • Reference book

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Instructions

    Identifying Wax and Composition Dolls

  1. 1

    Turn the doll over and gently lift its wig. There may be a mould number or company name or abbreviation on the back of its neck or just under the wig line. Antique doll reference books, such as The Collector's Encyclopedia of Dolls by Dorothy S. Coleman, are a great help in correlating mould numbers to specific companies and deciphering company abbreviations.

    How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls
    Many composition head dolls like this one are unmarked. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Look for a country of origin marking. In 1891, U.S. trade laws required all imports to be marked with the country of manufacture. Many wax dolls were English or German made. Early composition dolls were often German made, but many mass produced 20th century composition dolls were American made.

    How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls
    This composition "Patsy" doll by Effanbee was a best seller in the 1930s. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Check other places on the doll, such as the lower back (where many composition Shirley Temple dolls were marked), the balls of the feet, and the upper thighs and arms. If the doll has a cloth body, check for ink stampings. Several prominent 19th century British wax doll makers, such as Lucy Peck, marked their dolls by stamping the company trademark on the body in ink.

    How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls
    Many antique dolls, such as this bisque girl, have a maker's mark. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)
  4. 4

    Look at the quality. Famous British wax doll makers, such as Montanari and Lucy Peck, made high quality dolls with inset glass eyes and individual hair strands inserted in the scalp. Prominent American composition doll companies, such as Ideal and Effanbee, nearly always marked their dolls. If a doll is purported to be a genuine unmarked Ideal "Shirley Temple" or Effanbee "Patsy," the quality will reveal if it's genuine or an imitation from a cheaper company.

    How to Identify Wax or Composition Dolls
    Antique dolls should always be taken to experts for repair and cleaning. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Tips and warnings

  • Never attempt to clean or repair a wax or composition doll, as both these materials are fragile and the wrong compound or solution could ruin the finish. If any cleaning or restoration is needed, always seek help from a professional doll repairer.

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