Composite became popular in doll making in the early 1900s because the material was less fragile than the porcelain previously used to make dolls. Because Germany was the primary manufacturer of porcelain doll heads, the switch from porcelain enabled countries to start their own doll manufacturing. The challenge of collecting vintage composite dolls is identifying the composite types because composite bears distinct similarities to hard plastic materials.
Years of Production
Composite is a hard material made from mixing sawdust and glue together. Some dolls in the late 1800s had composite bodies, but composite doll heads were not made until later. The production of composite heads began in 1909 and lasted through the early 1950s when hard plastic dolls became the dolls of choice. Vintage hard plastic dolls have post-World War II production dates, so anything made before that is probably composite or porcelain. Porcelain is very distinguishable, and it is unlikely that anyone would mistake it for composite.
Look for Appropriate Signs of Ageing
Composite vintage dolls age differently than hard plastic dolls, and that gives shoppers clues about the material. As composite wears down, fine cracks appear on the surface. If the doll was handled a lot or exposed to extreme temperatures, it may have deep cracks. The paint used on composite dolls flakes and peels easily over time. Hard plastic, on the other hand, is susceptible to stains, odours, and scratches. Dolls with a bit of damage offer clues to their materials, as well. Chips on a composite doll often reveal wood fibres underneath the surface, but plastic looks the same inside and out. Composite dolls also wear differently at the joints than plastic dolls. Plastic usually has discolouration or scuff marks around the joints. Composite does not mark as easily, but chips and faded paint are common.
Look at the Details
Historically, moulding a composite doll was more difficult than moulding plastic. Because of this, composite dolls have fingers, toes, and faces with less detail than plastic dolls. Buyers can also look for a stamp with the manufacturer's name and possibly a date on it. The embossed area usually appears on the back of the neck or on the doll's back. Many composite dolls featured moulded, painted hair, although some did have wigs with human hair or mohair. Vintage plastic dolls typically have synthetic wigs.