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Composition Dolls - A Charming Collectable

Updated on November 8, 2015

Delicate Beauty

Composition, or composite, dolls were manufactured in the early 20th century. They have a unique charm and look all their own making it very easy to fall in love with these wonderful dolls.

Composition dolls were originally labeled as "unbreakable." Unfortunately time has shown that this just isn't true. The dolls have proven to be just as fragile, if not more so, than the china and bisque dolls they were designed to replace. These poor babies can literally disintegrate, or "melt," if left out in the rain or given a bath!

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In 1892, a Russian immigrant named Soloman D. Hoffman was granted a patent for a composition material to make dolls with. These dolls were referred to as "Can't Break Em" dolls. By 1910, E. I. Horsman & Co had acquired his company and was using this material to manufacture dolls.

Different companies had their own recipes for the composition material. These formulas usually consisted of sawdust, glue, and possibly resin, cornstarch, or wood fibers.

Prior to World War I, Germany was the chief importer of dolls. With the outbreak of war, American composition doll manufacturers stepped in to fill the void.

These dolls were widely manufactured until the late 1940's, when plastic and vinyl dolls took their place.

In the first half of the twentieth century many companies produced composition dolls. The result is there are now a wide variety of dolls available with something for everyone, no matter what your budget.

Dolls by well-known companies or of well-known characters (such as Shirley Temple or the Campbell Kids) can go for several thousand dollars. On the other hand, I've seen small, no-name dolls sell for just a few dollars, and most composition dolls are still very reasonably priced. As with all antique dolls, condition and rarity can greatly affect the cost. Do your homework before you spend a large sum of money on a single doll.

Starting a Collection

It's not hard to find dolls for sale. They can be found on the Internet, with Ebay being a great source. They can also be purchased at antique stores and auctions. Occasionally, they can even be found in attics!

Before you buy any doll, be sure and study all you can about the type of doll you're interested in. Remember, not all old dolls are valuable and not all valuable dolls are old.

Caring For Your Composition Doll

Composition dolls are very fragile and should be handled carefully. If at all possible, display them in a cabinet. Drafts or extreme temperature changes can cause the composition material to crack or "craze."

Never, ever, wash a composition doll. These dolls have been known to disintegrate in water! I imagine that more than one little mother was left with a broken heart when a baby accidentally left outside was rained on. Do not even rub the doll with a wet cloth.

It is best to lightly wipe the doll with a soft cloth, but If you feel you absolutely must clean the doll, there are composition doll cleaners sold on Ebay. Collectors in the past have also used car wax or cold cream, although these should be used sparingly and with great caution. Test in a small, inconspicuous area first.

A professional restoration artist should do any repairs to an antique doll. Many dolls have been ruined by bad repaints and amateur work. Remember, less is more when talking about antique doll repair. A vintage, well-loved doll can actually have more character and charm than one which has been restored.

Types of Dolls

Composition dolls came in all shapes, sizes, and types. There were small, rigid dolls made as well as large, soft-bodied baby dolls. There were dolls with "mama" boxes, dolls with teddy bear bodies, cheap souvenir dolls, and elegant young lady dolls. There were even dolls with animal heads! Dolls were made completely out of composition or some were made with cloth bodies, composition head, hands and feet.

Today, collectors can find well made dolls with beautiful wardrobes or small, nude dolls included in a sewing kit designed to teach young ladies how to handle a needle and thread.

That's part of the fun of collecting composition dolls - there is literally something for everyone and you never know what you'll find!


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    • smw1962 profile image

      smw1962 2 years ago

      I'm not sure if there is a profit to be made. Like any collectible, there are various factors which impact value, such as condition of the item or if there is a demand in the market.

      If you are considering collecting composition dolls (or any doll for that matter) buy what you would enjoy owning. You may or may not see a return on your investment.

    • Flipsgeraldine profile image

      Yvette Marshall 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Is there a profit to be made from collecting these expensive dolls? Just asking.