Discerning the Quality and Price of a Nesting Doll

With well over a decade of selling dolls, and having sold thousands of them across the globe and to customers from all different understandings about nesting dolls, I have seen innumerable methods used to assess the quality and value of a doll.  There are several important attributes that should be considered by the customer when determining the value of the doll and whether a doll is priced right for its quality.  This article highlights the attributes any customer should be able to assess.

HOW BIG IS THE DOLL?

Taller dolls require more wood, more time to carve and have larger surfaces to paint.  Yes, of two equal dolls, the larger one should have more value and price.  Again - of two EQUAL dolls.  The size of a doll can be a good starting point.  Just remember though, some of the more difficult work on a doll - and hence a higher priced and higher quality doll - often is found when the doll is smaller.  So, don't stop your assessment of the doll there.  Continue with the below list of attributes.

HOW MANY PIECES?

The more pieces in a doll, then obviously, the more painting that had to be done to make the doll and paint it.  This is obvious.  However, Russian stores throughout the world have 10 or 15-piece nesting dolls that are undoubtedly of far less quality than some 4 or 5-piece dolls.  So, do take the number of pieces into consideration and then....

..well, then start taking a closer look at the doll for these other attributes.

THEME OF DOLL - FLOWERS OR FAIRYTALES?

If two dolls are of the same size and number of pieces, the first thing a customer should consider is the theme of the painting of the doll.  Typical dolls (not those with special shapes or non-traditional themes) will generally either have a floral design on the bosom of the dolls, or have people painted on them.  It is very common to see in such a doll a painting that represents the scene from a fairytale. 

The painting with people takes significantly different talent, time and care then most dolls of the same quality category that have just a floral design.  The more simple the design, the more inexpensive the doll.  In most typical markets, the Semenovskaya doll is one of the least expensive dolls available for its size and number of pieces due to the relatively simple floral painting and otherwise solid colors on the doll.

DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS

The more detail in a doll, the more its quality and associated price.  When assessing a doll, consider the amount of detail in the smallest places.  The use of shadows, mixed colors, small lines, addiitonal strokes that provide a more realistic look in the painting than the broad strokes of a flower pattern. 

One place I always like to look at is the doll's face.  To what extent are the details of the doll's eyes distinguished through the care of the painter?  And, how long does the painter keep the amazing detail, distinguishing features, etc as the dolls get smaller? 

If you wanted to select the single most important attribute to consider in the quality/price of a doll, the quality and precision and attention to details is probably the one to choose.

SMALLER DOLL FIT - SNUG OR LOOSE

We go back to the actual carved doll now, regardless of the painting, for this attribute.  As doll quality imporves, you will find two things becoming more and more obvious:

  1. As the dolls get smaller, the wood gets significantly thinner.  It may be easy (BE CAREFUL) to actually crush a doll by squeezing it as the wood becomes so thin.
  2. As the dolls sit inside each other, they fit inside each other snuggly.  The amount of wiggle room of the smaller doll inside its next larger doll decreases more and more. 

This is an indicator that the effort in carving/turning the wood of the doll required meticulous attention and care. 

SMOOTH LACQUER

This attribute is hard to describe in writing - but take a high quality doll and rub it in one hand.  Take another doll - a cheaper one - and hold it in the other.  Feel the difference in how smooth the lacquer is on the doll.  This indicates the care taken to ensure the doll was sanded well being made, painted well throughout the artist's process, and then lacquered with care and detail.

IS THE DOLL SIGNED?

Notice I made this the last entry.  Why?  Beware of putting too much importance on this feature.  Yes, typically, good dolls that are collectibles and intended to be high quality are signed by their painter - often master painters.  But, I have seen customers select one doll as "better" because it was signed although all the other attributes noted above put the unsigned doll in a far better category of quality. 

And, remember this.  ANYONE can sign a doll on the bottom....if you make that important.  Unfortunately, I am aware of some retailers that do that --- just to make sure when the cusotmer turns the doll upside down, they see a "signature" on the bottom.   All one retailer did was put some random letters into initials to claim it as an artist signature.  Buyer beware - if that is what you think will make a doll - then some sellers will give you what you want --- and you may not be able to discern a forged signature from one of a real artist.

There are more attributes and considerations when assessing the doll.  Some require intimate knowledge and understanding of doll fabrication, painting methods and what artists' works are in demand.  The typical customer will not have this kind of information available to them.  If the customer simply considers the attributes noted above, s/he will be armed with enough to make a good assessment of doll quality , value and whether its pricing its reasonable.

Happy shopping!

Published on December 5, 2013.

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