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Antique Doll Marks 101

"Cracking the Code" What Do They Mean??


Marks on an antique doll can appear on the back of the head (often hidden by the wig), on the shoulder plate, on the chest or back, or even on the soles of the feet (as in Lenci dolls). They can be incised into the material, raised, stamped, or attached in the form of a label, sticker, or decal. Often the marks on the head and bodies do not match because few manufacturers made both the head and the body, finding it more efficient to order one or the other from another maker. The law was subject to wide interpretation, however. Sometimes packing materials, rather than the dolls themselves, were marked; or the ID might be in the form of a paper label or tag affixed to the doll!

A large percentage of dolls made prior to the 1890's were not marked at all. In 1891, a U.S. trade law required all imports to be marked to indicate country of origin. By then the great majority of dolls manufactured in Europe, Britain, and Asia were destined for American, making identification of post - 1891 dolls easier for today's collectors. They are marked!

One of the challenges of doll ID is that few generalities can be made about the appearance of marks, the way in which they are applied, or their location. Marks come in all shapes and types: Initials, numbers, names, phrases, figures, symbols, or combinations of them all. Many firms, i.e., Simon & Halbig, Armand Marseille (A.M.) and Hertel, Schwab concentrated on supplying heads for other companies; in these cases, you'll often find a combination of the porcelain factory's mark and that of the company for which the head was made, incised on the same doll.

It is important to recognize the difference between a mold number and a size or patent number. A patent number is generally easy to spot. Most frequently, the multi-digit number is preceded by the initials D.R.G.M (i.e. Deutsches Reichsgebrauchmuster or German design patent). The sample Armand Marseille mark below shows both a mold number and the size of the doll, in addition to the company's ID. As in this case, size numbers are usually single- or two-digit numbers, often incorporating fractions and / or letters.

ARMAND MARSEILLE = company name
Germany = Place of origin
390 = mold number

A. 12/0 M.   = company's initials on the outside (A.M.) with the size number in the middle 12/0

While a company may have introduced a specific mold number in a given year, often the mold was used for a number of years thereafter; it is therefore difficult to date a doll precisely using just its mold number. The same rule applies to trade names. While a trade name may have been registered in a particular year in one country, it might have been registered in another year in another country!

One of the problems of American collectors is that the marks are made in the language of the country of manufacture. Even though most dolls intended for the American market were marked in English, some of the most prevalent words, phrases, and initials you'll fine in French are:

Brevete' = patented
Depose' (or DEP) = registered
Fabrication francaise = french-made
Marque depose = registered mark
Medaille d'or = gold medal-winner
Poupee' = doll
SGDG = without government warranty

Some German words you're likely to find are:

Deponiert (or DEP) = registered
DRGM = registered design
Fabrik-marke = trademark
Ges. Gesch. = patent rights registered
Holzmasse = wooden composition
Schultz marke = trademark
Many French company names end in Cie. (abbr. for Compagne, French for company)
A German firm is often a Puppenfabrik (doll factory) or Porzellanfabrik (porcelain factory)

In my opinion, one of the greatest jokes played on the beginner collector is to tell them that a doll marked DEP denotes a doll made for the French trade! As you can see by the marks above, DEP, both in France and GERMANY simply denotes that the mold is REGISTERED !!

Yes, sometimes, dolls that are simply marked DEP have elaborate, heavy eyebrows and wonderful bisque. In those case, perhaps that is true...but there is no way that the statement can UNILATERALLY be made that ALL dolls marked DEP are dolls made for the French trade ! It's just another marketing tool. Be informed when you leave home with your check book or credit card!!

Study your dolls, study the different manufacturers' traits, and always look to quality first. A good bisque doll should have an even coloration of all the bisque. No chips or cracks unless priced accordingly, nice detailing, including tiny red dots in the corners of the eyes, nose and somtimes outlining the peaks of the mouth (in a fine french doll). Multi stroked eyebrows and/or pierced ears in the better dolls.

When I buy an antique doll I want the head to be perfect. I want it to have the old eyes and the appropriate old body. While I would love for them to be original to the doll, I don't care so much about the hair or the clothes...they can be replaced. Buy the best example that you can afford, of what you like. Buy "fewer, but better" dolls and you will have a nicer collection in the end!

Avail yourself to "layaway" terms often offered by a dealer of higher end dolls.   Save your money to buy just one GOOD doll....don't be suckered into buying any doll because you "need a fix" that day!! Pay more for a doll with no "problems"...for if the occasion comes when you want to sell it...there will be no excuses a potential buyer can make that will drive down its resale value!!

AND, You can never have enough research books!