What Determines the Value of a Collectible Doll?

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Dolls from Cotillion Auction. Theriault's.com

Knowing what price to set or pay for a collectible doll is very difficult. It was not always the case, but online sales changed the market drastically. Now, you will see a wide variation in the prices asked and paid for the same doll. It takes a great deal of research to see what was paid recently so you have an angle on the right price.

In the not-too-distant past, doll values were easily agreed upon. Doll price guides basically set the market. Most sales took place through dealers and collectors via classified ads and doll publications. Dolls traded with relatively narrow price fluctuations.

Today's Liquid Doll Market

Thanks to eBay and other online sites, dolls are traded around the clock in an unbelievably liquid market. A person who finds a doll in an attic in North Carolina can sell the doll the next day to a collector in Switzerland. This has had a drastic effect on prices, and it has made it somewhat difficult to determine what the value of a doll actually is at any given moment. Is the value of a particular doll the value in a price guide, the price a dealer is asking, or the price on eBay?

The Odyssey Of A Googly Doll

To get a sense of the complexity of doll pricing, consider one Armand Marseille 323 Googly doll (a rare bisque-headed doll with large, sideways-glancing eyes) purchased at an auction for $400. The same doll was later sold to a collector through a doll shop for $700. A year later, the collector tired of the doll and wanted to sell it to have the funds to buy another doll. So, on commission, the doll was sold on eBay for her for $900.

Is the actual value of the doll $400, $700, or $900? This is just a single doll, sold multiple times over a single year, so condition was not a factor in the wide discrepancy on prices for this doll. Research suggested that the doll usually sells for somewhere between $700 and $900, with the auction price being an anomaly.

The Case of the Modern Barbie

To make matters even more confusing, prices can vary widely just on one venue for one specific type of doll. In one week on eBay, you could find the following prices for a mint, never removed from box (NRFB) 1988 Happy Holiday Barbie: $435, $355, and $225. Research showed most prices on eBay were between $200 to $300, although dealer and show sales were higher.

The situation for other collectible modern Barbie dolls is similar. For instance, prices on eBay for an NRFB Munsters Barbie gift set in mint condition range from $130 to $255: a doubling of the price from the low range to the high. Prices vary so widely based on who is selling the doll (a recognized dealer with a stellar reputation will get higher prices), how good the photos are, who is online and actually sees the doll for sale, even what is on TV the night that the auction ends.

The Bottom Line

How can a collector figure out the value of their doll? No matter what any price guide tells you, or what the last 20 auctions on eBay brought, the value of a doll is what any one person will pay for it.