A bear market with lots of buyers: Conal Gregory on the grown-up demand for toys

CHILDHOOD toys should not be consigned to the attic or village jumble sale. They have become enormously popular with serious buyers, and the London auctioneers have a series of sales starting this week.

'The doll market has not felt the recession,' Bunny Campione of Sotheby's said. German, Swiss and particularly Italian collectors are still much in evidence, although there are fewer Japanese. Bonhams plans a pounds 1m sale of dolls on 10 and 11 November.

The waxed dolls of 1860-1900 were quite difficult to sell until two years ago, according to Julia Harris of Bonhams. Fetching around pounds 400- pounds 600 then, they have jumped to pounds 2,000 if in original costume. Look for Montanari and Pierotti, both English manufacturers despite their Italian names.

'Bisque' dolls are popular and fetch good prices provided they are in good condition. The French firms Bru and Jumeau made good examples, as did the German firm Simon and Halbig. Christie's South Kensington has a 16 1/2 in (42cm) example in a sale on 17 September.

It is estimated at pounds 2,000- pounds 3,000; a similar mulatto doll of circa 1891 made only pounds 352 in 1987.

Post-Second World War dolls are already in demand. The 18in to 20in hard plastic Pedigree examples of the 1950s are pounds 20- pounds 30 each, but the early Barbie dolls are more in demand.

There have been some surprising price rises. A doll obtained by using vouchers in the 1930s, 'Betty Oxo', made by Dean's Rag Book Company, with printed features on her cloth face, is expected to make pounds 400- pounds 500 at Christie's on Thursday. A similar boxed example might have made only pounds 100 five years ago.

Wooden dolls are very sought after. Six or seven years ago an eighteenth- century wooden doll might have realised pounds 1,200- pounds 2,000. Only last year Bonhams sold an 18in one with some costumes, circa 1760, for pounds 7,500 plus 10 per cent buyer's premium. Its next toy sale is on 28 October and doll and bear auction on 14 December.

Doll's houses are holding their prices well, according to Neil-John Leonard of the auctioneers Phillips. Two firms to look for are Christian Hacker and Gosschalk. Six to seven years ago a good Gosschalk cost pounds 250. Today it costs around pounds 4,500 if in good decorative condition and with some furniture.

Teddy bears remain popular, although the price of pounds 60,000 is unlikely to be seen again for some time. This was secured for a 1928 Steiff bear at Sotheby's two years ago. Look for little wear to the plush, dual tone with a dark tip to the fur, a line down the snout, and blue or brown eyes for the best Steiff examples.

Silvery-white 25in Steiff bears make pounds 2,000- pounds 3,000, but 30in honey-gold coloured ones of circa 1910 command pounds 3,000- pounds 4,000. The top prices go for the black teddies ( pounds 8,000-12,000). Check for the Steiff metal disc in the left ear, which should show an elephant design or a plain button for 1904-05, or an embossed Steiff emblem for 1905-06.

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