Edited by Ellen Tsagaris, Expert Guide Doll Collecting
In the not-too-distant past, doll values were easily agreed upon. Doll price guides basically set the market, and with most sales taking place through dealers and occasionally from collectors through classified ads and doll publications, dolls traded with relatively narrow price fluctuations.
Todays Liquid Doll Market
Compare that not-too distant past with the very liquid, universal, and instant doll market of today.
Thanks to eBay and other Internet sites, dolls are traded around the clock in an unbelievably liquid market in which a person who finds a doll in an attic in North Carolina can sell the doll the next day on eBay 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 today. Is the value of a particular doll the value in a price Guide, the price a dealer is asking, or the price on eBay?
Contemplating Doll Prices
I've spent the last 18 months of my life working on a Guide to Doll Collecting for a major publishing house. This Guide will include doll values. Therefore, I've spent the last 18 months of my life contemplating doll values and, in fact, trying to assign values for literally thousands of dolls. This can be a very thorny problem.
The Odyssey Of A Googly Doll
For instance, consider one Armand Marseille 323 Googly doll that I purchased at an auction for $400.
I later sold the same doll to a collector through my 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 in my shop. So, on commission, I sold the doll on eBay for her--this time, for $900. This leads to a very sticky question.
What is the VALUE of the doll--$400, $700, or $900? This is just ONE doll, so condition was not a factor in the wide discrepancy on prices for this doll. In my research for the book, when I looked at many, many sales for Armand Marseille 323 Googly dolls in the 7" size, I arrived at a price of $700-$900 for my book. The $400 purchase of the Googly that I made at auction was a lucky one, and an anomaly, which can sometimes occur at an auction. Although some prices for this doll were below $700 and some prices above $900, the range for the doll, over time, was consistent.
The Case Of The Modern Barbie
To make matters even more confusing, prices can vary widely just on ONE venue for ONE type doll. In one week on eBay, you could find the following prices for a mint, NRFB 1988 Happy Holiday Barbie: $435, $355, and $225. I can even confuse matters further for you--last summer when I first researched 1988 Happys Holidays Barbie prices on eBay, almost all of them were between $200 to $300, although dealer and show sales were higher. So....again, what is the VALUE of this doll? In my book, I've settled on $300 to $400, but that isn't very helpful to the unfortunate person on eBay who only sold their doll for $225.
The situation for other collectible modern Barbie dolls is similar--for instance, prices on eBay for a 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! So, between eBay auctions, dealer and show prices, live auctions, and price guide prices, how can a collector figure out the value of their doll today?
So, What IS The Value Of A 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.
That may seem obtuse, but its something to ponder this week while you wait for Part II of this article. In Part II, we consider the effect of what the doll value is FOR--do you need to determine the value of a doll to evaluate a doll for insurance purposes? To set a price on eBay? To make an offer for to someone to purchase the doll for your collection? To determine if the price a dealer is asking is fair? What you need the price FOR can effect how you go about researching your doll's value and how you evaluate the information you find.