China-head dolls are now antiques and often very valuable, but in the nineteenth century they were a popular toy for children. China-head dolls are so named because their head, neck, and the tops of the shoulders are made from china. The hands and feet are china, as well, while the body is stuffed fabric or kid, or even carved wood. The china pieces have holes for sewing the appendages onto the body. Unlike many of the dolls that became popular early on, china-head dolls were made to represent women rather than children.
China-head dolls were made with porcelain, which was painted, glazed, and fired for permanence. This gives the dolls' features a shiny appearance. This also means that the white of the porcelain represents the flesh tone of the doll. The dolls often have black-painted hair, china-blue eyes, and lightly blushed cheeks; combined with the white "skin," this coloring scheme gives the dolls an elegant, striking appearance.
China-head dolls do not have real "hair," as many of the later dolls had. Instead, their hair was molded and painted as part of the heads, often representing the most fashionable styles of the times. As a result, the hairstyle of a china-head doll can generally be used to date the doll.
China-head dolls were also dressed in appropriate styles of the era in which they were made. Although it is more common that the clothing -- and the fabric bodies -- have not survived the test of time, a doll with original clothing is considered especially valuable. The dolls' costumes were often very elaborate, including all of the pieces of clothing typically worn by fashionable women. Shoes or boots could be painted onto a china foot, or made of fabric or kid.
China-head dolls were frequently unmarked. When they do have markings, they are often inside the head; identification therefore may require removing the head from the body, which is not advisable as it ruins the originality of the doll. Because a doll's value is related to how original it is, altering it in any way can decrease its value. However, sometimes china-head dolls can be identified solely by the hairstyles and features their manufacturers imbued them with.
Although antique china-head dolls are quite valuable, there are many reproductions available. These china-head dolls are not as old, although they are often made to look as though they were. A novice may not be able to tell the difference, but an individual who is familiar with the hairstyles, facial features, and construction of the original dolls should be able to spot a fake. For this reason, it is advisable to thoroughly research china-head dolls before making a purchase or a sale.