Miniature or dollhouse dolls are often difficult to choose, as they are constructed of many materials and assembled in many different ways, with a range of finishes. The majority of dolls are chosen for their costume and pose not their features. Scale fabrics are difficult to source so costume plays a large part in most people's decisions on which doll will move into a scene.
There are several makers of doll kits in resin and porcelain. Kits are fairly easy to assemble and a good way to learn about dolls before you start collecting. In general, modern 1:12 scale male dolls are approximately 6 inches tall and females are 5 to 5 ½ inches tall. There are no standard sizes, which makes purchasing clothing tricky. The Heidi Ott doll range does come in some standard sizes so purchased clothing is possible.
Most modern dolls house dolls are made from porcelain/bisque (unglazed porcelain), plastic, polymer clay or resin. There are also felted, fabric and wooden dolls, as well as some paper mache examples. Materials are important in terms of how the doll looks and what care is needed.
Porcelain/bisque dolls can have very realistic skin tones and expressions. They tend to have soft generalized features. Higher quality modern porcelain dolls have more realistic expressions, better hands and shoes and more detailed wigs and clothing. Several makers produce fully poseable dolls with varying types of joints. Porcelain dolls are fragile, and fingers, heels, may chip or break with use. Doll makers use their own molds, or molds from other makers, so similar dolls are available from several sources. Inexpensive mass produced glazed porcelain dolls are available primarily for play by older children. Porcelain dolls are available as parts, kits, moulds, undressed dolls, dressed dolls and dolls with fully removable clothing.
Plastic dolls are primarily for play. Some have poseable bodies, others have traditional moving arms and legs. Mattel toys now make a range of action figure characters which at 6 inches are slightly larger than dolls house scale.
Polymer Clay Dolls Polymer clay allows the production of highly individualized dolls. Many doll artisans sculpt character dolls from polymer clay and some will create dolls from photographs. Polymer clay lends itself to faces which have wrinkles, sags, and which do not fit the generic face more often found in porcelain dolls. There are some makers who specialize in generic face dolls in polymer clay.
Resin Dolls These are most often found as inexpensive static figures with cast resin clothing. They are useful for simple scenes where several characters are required. There are some doll artisans who work in resin, or who have less expensive resin kit molds of their original polymer clay creations. Resin figures can be cut, glued sanded and reshaped with epoxy putties.
Felt, Fabric, Wood, Paper Mache Dolls Most of these fit the collector or artisan doll category. They are often used for particular period or historic based houses.
Poseable dolls have either wires connecting the various body parts (hands and feet to shoulders and a torso)or ball jointed sockets threaded on wire. Higher quality dolls use stronger, more malleable wire. Inexpensive dolls may use pipe cleaners to connect hands to shoulders. If a doll will be used and reposed often, a better wire construction or a ball jointed doll are advisable. For a doll posed for a long period with few changes, a simple kit doll with pipe cleaner/wire connections may be fine.
Do you want your doll to hold items? At least one hand will need to be posed and your doll will need a separate thumb or separated fingers.
Will your doll wear short skirts or shorts? It will need visible molded knees. Short sleeve or sleeveless dresses or shirts? It will need a full arm or a full torso, instead of just a wrist and hand.
Will you need it to be able to bend or turn at the waist? It will need a bendable waist which allows a turning movement.
Will its neck be covered? If so you can get away without a neck or chest. For a low cut gown or summer t shirt you will need a doll whose head extends down with a neck into the torso. If the neck is not covered, will the head need to move? What type of joints will your doll need to tilt or turn its head into a natural pose?
Clothing is an important consideration for play or display. Scale fabrics are hard to find and some makers specialize in particular period clothing. At the lower end, a costume may be glued in place on the doll. Higher end dolls will have fully removable clothing. Questions to ask before purchasing a doll based on its clothing are:
- Will the doll be dressed/undressed frequently?
- Does the doll's construction allow for easy removal of clothing, or will wigs need to be removed when clothing is changed as well?
- Does the doll's construction allow for all types of clothing? Dolls with cotton fabric bodies may not be able to show off sleeveless evening gowns, dolls with ankle height legs are restricted to long dresses).
- If permanently attached clothing is desirable, will the dolls clothing style restrict poses or placement of the doll? Does this work for your dolls house display?
Will the doll be moved frequently? How will the doll be displayed,on a stand, sitting on a particular piece of furniture? What type of support will the doll need and how can that support be incorporated into the scene discreetly? Will the doll be used in various positions, will it need to hold things, turn its wrists, turn its head, bend at the waist? Will the doll's height or size be important, can its wigging be changed if necessary? Is the doll supposed to represent a particular age group? (Most dolls are either young females, older women or young children.) It is very difficult to find dolls which have the size and physique of teenagers or women/men in their 40's and 50's.
Does the doll need to be fully poseable, will the poses be changed often? If so, the ball jointed dolls of the Heidi Ott type are probably preferable to a doll made with pipe cleaner or simple wire joins. Will the doll need long arms, legs to the knee, a neck and chest or will these areas be hidden by clothing. Will the hair need to be changed (can wigs be removed or are they glued in place).