- 3 min read

Collectible Dolls and Toys

A popular hobby for adults!

Some people are surprised to learn that doll collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. About 15 to 20 years ago it was the second most popular hobby after collecting stamps, particularly in the USA. Thousands of doll clubs existed there, and they were united by the UFDC – the United Federation of Doll Clubs. At first, the main object of collecting was to source antique dolls – dolls over 75 years old – but later on, doll collectors started to collect modern varieties as well. Among those modern dolls were Barbies and other fashion dolls created by modern designers, BJD (ball-jointed dolls), souvenir dolls representing different countries, and unique dolls created by artists.

Japan is a country where doll making has a long history and deep traditions. In Japan, dolls are not just toys for children, but pieces of art and objects of admiration. Some villages produce dolls; some families produce doll heads, another may produce wigs and hairdos, or kimono made from Japanese silk. In special galleries and antique shops, it’s possible to find really good antique dolls. In small towns, these dolls are often less expensive than in Tokyo and Kyoto. Among Japan's traditional dolls, wooden kokeshi dolls are often collected separately. Kokeshi dolls are especially popular in the north of Japan, where each region has its own unique doll shape and painting style.

Antique doll at a gallery in Kyoto
Antique doll at a gallery in Kyoto

Oshie dolls were popular in the Edo Period, but are quite rare now. However, they are still produced in the shop-studio Bell Ami in Matsumoto. In Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto, making Oshie dolls was a craft that every lady must be able to create, but over time this type of doll almost disappeared. In Bell Ami, there is a great display of old oshie dolls and new dolls in that technique for sale. Oshie dolls made using old traditions are valuable items for collectors.

In Japan, manga and anime are quite popular, with almost cult-like followings, and many people collect character figurines made from modern plastic. A lot of figurines can be found in the shops of Akihabara, Tokyo Dome City, and other places. Brand new items can be quite expensive, but inexpensive figurines can be found in resale sections from private collectors. I was fortunate to find good samples there, and to my surprise, I found that collecting anime figurines is popular among men of all ages! They also collect teddy bears, robots, and other toys. Unusual and funny animals can be found at the annual exhibition ‘Fantanima!’ held in Tokyo during Golden Week.

Kitsune by Japanese artist Noe at the exhibition Fantanima!
Kitsune by Japanese artist Noe at the exhibition Fantanima!

The next popular type of collectible doll are ‘fashion dolls’ – a doll-model with a wardrobe of outfits. Among them, BJD (ball-jointed dolls) are particularly popular. A great variety of BJD dolls can be found at the Mirai Store in Tokyo. The prices are high, but dolls of such impressive quality are definitely worth that.

The youngest type of collectible dolls are ‘artist dolls’ – they are usually unique (one-of-a-kind) or LE (limited edition) dolls entirely created and made by a doll artist. Such dolls appeared in the late 1980’s and a first their prices were not high. Later on, they received appreciation from many collectors, even celebrities, so the prices grew as high as what you may expect for an art piece.

Artist dolls
Artist dolls

As I’ve mentioned above, all types of collectible dolls and toys can be found in Japan, and some collectors travel to Japan especially to "doll hunt"!

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