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The Austin Smith and Margaret Harkin Antique Doll Collection - Part 1

Teddy Bears & Dolls

  • Newbury, UK

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The Austin Smith and Margaret Harkin

Antique Doll Collection


I probably first met Austin in the 1990s, I was working in the toy department at Christie’s South Kensington, but having a great interest in dolls and bears, was always hanging around the other end of the department.

When I took over the running of the doll department in the late 1990s, with Olivia Bristol as consultant, Mr Smith (as I have always known him), was a regular buyer and vendor, often just turning up at CSK’s famous valuation counter with goodies, he was always very relaxed about estimate and just let us get on with it. An ideal client and a perfect gentleman!

Always a little bit of a mystery, we knew he was a dealer and presumed he had a collection of sorts, but nothing prepared me for my visit in early 2023.

Austin had been unwell and I was called in to see the collection and was shown around by a relative, I turned up at the large rural house near Bath, Somerset and was shown a few interesting dolls downstairs, but  was then taken upstairs and shown a large 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 nursery set out with life size dolls, a room of automata, then a further two rooms of dolls; it was extraordinary. Yet to be counted, but there must be over 1000 dolls, but many smaller items too.

By the time I returned to spend a week wrapping the collection, Austin had improved and moved back home with a carer. He is now virtually back to his normal health.

This remark collection was built over the last 75 years and began in 1949 when Austin and his late partner Margaret Harkins, rescued a broken doll from an attic house contents sale in the West Country.

Having collected over such a long time, Austin and Margaret tended to buy items via auction, where they were entered direct from the original family who owned them. The collection was very private and not shown to anyone, so the collection is very much fresh to the market.

Part two is on the 25th April and there will still be more for our 18th/19th June 2024 auction.

I am now pleased to say Mr Smith is now Austin to me, having spent some time with him and it is an honour to find new homes for his and Margaret’s wonderful doll collection.


Daniel Agnew - January 2024

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