Antique Doll Collection Amassed Over Seven Decades Fetches Record-Breaking $790,000 At Auction

A retired couple’s collection of antique dolls stockpiled over 75 years has become the largest of its kind to sell at auction, fetching more than $790,000.

Austin Smith and his late partner, Margaret Harkins, covered the shelves of their large home in the United Kingdom with more than 1,000 dolls.

A rare and fine 1780s English wooden doll. Photo released May 2 2024
A rare and fine 1780s English wooden doll. Photo released May 2, 2024. (credit: SWNS)

The pair began collecting in 1949 after they rescued a broken doll from a house contents sale in the West Country.

Over a period of more than seven decades, they filled their property with their massive collection, which was rarely seen by anyone but themselves.

Some rare dolls dated back to the 18th and 19th Century and auctioneers described the hoard as the “largest and most valuable doll collection seen for 25 years.”

They were sold over two auctions by Special Auction Services, with the first part selling for $395,000 in February. The second part of the collection has now gone under the hammer and brought the total sale price to a staggering $792,000.

A rare mid 19th Century china shoulder head fashionable doll.
A rare mid-19th Century China shoulder head fashionable doll. Photo released May 2, 2024. (credit: SWNS)

“This was another exciting auction of Mr. Smith and Margaret Harkin’s Antique Doll Collection that was a huge success with many amazing prices,” says Daniel Agnew, doll and teddy bear expert at Special Auction Services. “The collection has now made over half-a-million pounds ($626,000), which is certainly the largest and most important collection of dolls I have ever handled and there will be more items in our other auctions in June and December.”

Among the top-selling items in the sale was a German bisque shoulder head fashionable doll which fetched $18,800 on its own.

A rare 1880s Jean Roullet “Le Berger Watteau” shepherdess with lamb made $17,233 and a French fixed shoulder-head with painted eyes went for $15,980.

In addition, all-bisque dolls’ house Punch and Judy dolls sold for over $3,100 — over 60 times its estimate.

An all-bisque dolls' house Punch and Judy dolls
An all-bisque dolls’ house Punch and Judy dolls. Photo released May 2, 2024. (credit: SWNS)

Agnew says he was previously “blown away” when he first saw the collection after being shown around the property.

“Austin has been poorly, so I was shown around by a relative,” notes Agnew. “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.

“Truly a collector’s dream.”

SWNS reporter Adam Dutton contributed to this report.

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