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Most valuable antique doll collection estimated at £500k under the hammer in Newbury today





The Doll and Teddy Bear Specialist at SAS said he was “blown away” by the antique lots in a forthcoming sale at their auction house at Nexus Park, off Hambridge Road.

The largest and most valuable doll collection to been seen at auction for 25 years will be going under the hammer at Special Auction Services in Newbury on Thursday, February 22 and in April and is expected to realise £500,000.

Austin Smith and his late partner Margaret Harkins began collecting in 1949 after they rescued a broken doll from a house contents sale in the West Country. The collection was displayed in several rooms in their large house and was rarely seen by anyone but themselves.

The top lot in the sale is Peggy an English wooden doll (c.1765) who is expected to fetch £10,000-£15,000. Although she is legless, she is wearing her original clothes and is being sold with family provenance.

A very rare English wooden doll circa 1740 £8,000-12,000
A very rare English wooden doll circa 1740 £8,000-12,000

Doll and Teddy Bear Specialist at SAS Daniel Agnew was blown away when he first saw the collection. He said: “Austin has been poorly, so I was shown around by a relative. I was staggered by the first room which was full of the best antique dolls you could imagine, then shown a corridor full of wall mounted cabinets of small dolls, then another room of dolls’ houses, a room of automata, then a further two rooms of dolls. Yet to be counted, there must be over 1000 dolls, and many smaller items too. Truly a collector’s dream.”

Another 18th century doll in a beautiful yellow gown, with her petticoat made from a broadsheet newspaper which features the murder of a young maid by her mistress and daughter, carries an estimate of £8,000-12,000.

There are a further eight English 18th century wooden dolls in the collection, as well as early German wood dolls, known as Grodnerthal dolls, as they were carved in the Grodner Thal (valley) in Southern Germany/Italian mountain. Examples include a doll with rare painted decoration around her décolletage and an exquisite pedlar doll with an intricate tray of wares both estimated at £2,000-3,000 each.

A Smiling Bru gentleman fashion doll 1870s
A Smiling Bru gentleman fashion doll 1870s

Not only were the rooms in Austin’s house full of dolls, but there was also one dedicated to their collection of automata. Highlights include a Vichy ‘Lady at her Toilette Table’ (estimate £4,000-£6,000) and a Leopold Lambert ‘Elegant Lady Reclining on a Recamier’, circa 1890 (estimate £3,000-5,000).

Another highlight of the auction is a portrait pair of Pierotti King Edward VII and Queen Alexander in Coronation robes circa 1901 which are expected to fetch £1,500-2,000.

Special dolls from the 19th century include a mid-19th century German papier-mâché soldier in red British uniform with bicorne hat which is estimated at £800-1200, and a KPM (Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur) boy doll with moulded brushed forward ‘boy band’ hair which could make £800-1,000.

Automaton £6,000-8,000
Automaton £6,000-8,000

Fifty French Fashion dolls (the 19th century predecessor of the Barbie doll) from the 1840s to 1870s will also be offered for sale. These bisque-headed dolls with women’s waisted bodies were designed to wear the up-to-date French fashion of the day and it is rare to see so many at auction. These would have been very expensive dolls in their day and their clothing is exquisite and their layers of underwear provides a real insight into what society women were wearing at this time. This group also includes a few dashing men, but these are just female dolls, dressed as men with bumps in all the wrong places! Estimates range from £800 to £3,000.

Also on offer are the Bébés, which are French dolls of children, which were very expensive when first made. Makers include Jumeau, Steiner and Bru. Examples include a small size Bru Bébé expected to fetch £4,000-6,000 and a Francois Gaultier Boy in sailor suit worth £2,000-£3,000.

Additionally, the auction will comprise early 20th century German ‘Character’ dolls modelled by artists after real children, often with sad or pensive faces. Perhaps the best known and sought after maker is Kämmer & Reinhardt and an unusual small boy marked K, with a very pouty expression, a shock of ginger hair, wearing a sailor suit is estimated at £800-1,200; an Eisenmann & Co (Einco) googly-eyed baby is expected to make £1,500-2,000; while a Gebruder Heubach with an open/closed smiling mouth showing two bottom teeth is estimated at £400-600.

A very rare exhibition quality Pieroti wax shoulder-head King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in Coronation Robes circa 1902 £1,500-2,000
A very rare exhibition quality Pieroti wax shoulder-head King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in Coronation Robes circa 1902 £1,500-2,000

One room of Austin and Margaret’s house was also dedicated to dolls’ houses and dolls’ house dolls. Examples include a lovely 19th century house by Gottschalck (estimate £800-£1,000) with a blue roof comprising unusually two semi-detached houses and an early grand Victorian house (estimate £1,000-1,500) as well as over 100 dolls’ house dolls and all sorts of chattels.

Only a few lots in the sale are dated post-1930 and they are two very rare Lenci pottery figures of child dolls, a sad boy and a girl clutching a doll which are expected to fetch £3,000-4,000 each.



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