Here are a few very biased and hardheaded rants (from a dummymaker's perspective). These were written in response to question on the Ventriloquism List:
Anything that is durable...more important than what it's made of is "does it look good and convey the character you want?" These days figures are made of carved basswood or jelutong, fibreglass reinforced resin, plastic wood (which is NOT the same as "composition"), papier mache, neoprene & filled latex rubbers, or various new polymers & resins.
Many vents argue in favor of wood, and equal number swear by fibreglass or other materials...it's purely a matter of personal preference. Any good figure regardless of what it is made of will hold its value or increase in value if it looks good and is mechanically well constructed. (McElroy figures made in the 1930's from Plastic Wood have sold for as much as $10,000.00 in recent years! Good, vintage Frank Marshall basswood carved figures have lately sold for around $2500.00).
Some colleagues I hold in high esteem are: Tim Selberg, The Maher Studio, Brandt Gilmer, Jerry Layne, Craig Lovik, Greg Classen, Ray Guyll, Capt. Dick (Wightman), Conrad Hartz...have I left anyone out??
Frank Marshall, Insull/Davenport, John Carroll, Revello Petee, Kenneth Spencer, Glenn Cargyle, Brian Hamilton. Even if they're in bad shape, they can usually be spruced up and put to work.
For a good NEW figure, the range is pretty wide...anywhere from around $500 to around $7000.00, depending upon whether it's a stock model or custom built, and depending upon the number of mechanical effects installed. The material from which the figure is made can sometimes (but not always) be reflected in the price.
William Anderson and Ray Guyll have both written excellent pamphlets about dummymaking. Paul Winchell's "VENTRILOQUISM FOR FUN & PROFIT" gives EXCELLENT instructions on making a dummy. Also, any decent book on puppetry can get you started. I won't say it's easy, but it is imminently satisfying to perform with a dummy or puppet of your own making.
The Dummy Doctor