Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Doll collecting.

I've been collecting dolls since I was ten years old, give or take a few years. Long before the internet, I'd check out the latest edition of Doll World magazine, always skimming the fascinating articles, pictures and collector's stories of what inspired them to collect dolls. Shirley Temple didn't appeal to me, but do recall I read and noticed more pictures and stories of that particular doll than any other. She was a famous child star, and one that was way before my time. That's pretty much all I grasped about her as a kid growing up. Ever since my mom had told me about the dolls she had as a girl, which were quite impressive: Thumbelina, Suzy Smart and Chatty Cathy, I was on a mission to find those particular dolls. As luck would have it, mom and I stopped in a corner junk store late one evening. Rushed as usual mom reminded me, "Don't take forever in a day looking at stuff." Mom had worked all day long and she still needed to make supper, get a load of laundry in the wash, plus make sure we kids were tucked in on time during the school week. One man's junk is another man's treasure... I often heard the adage quite frequently. And there she was sitting on the shelf, a pitiful sight of a Chatty Cathy doll, circa 1950's and hardly any blonde hair left on its head. I pointed out the doll to my mom, who couldn't believe what I just discovered. The price was expensive. $10 for a non-working doll. Mom didn't want to tell me it would have been a waste of money and back in the late 80s, ten dollars was a considerable sum for an old doll. And why should I get a doll and leave out my other siblings? Did I do anything special to deserve this particular doll other than flash my puppy dog eyes? My mom glanced at the old lady behind the counter, who appeared as though she would chew iron and spit nails. And would she even consider doing any less on the doll? I prepared my little mind that the old lady would like snap at me like a grouch and holler, "No!" Instead, I was quite surprised when my mom haggled on the price and we got out of there with my first true "antique" doll for $5. I was overjoyed and have one photo of that very doll. The image is blurry. The doll in the green dress is unknown.
I pretty much gravitated to dolls that were banged up, well played with and so worn out that no collector could possibly want to proudly display them in their great ancestor's hand-me-down Curio cabinet. My young eyes saw potential, not in dollar signs so much, but from a personal restoration and appreciation stand point. With my eldest brother's help, he tried to fix the first Chatty Cathy doll in my collection and I looked on as his personal assistant. However, neither of us could make out the garbled messages the doll was suppose to rattle off. In fact, this remained a mystery to me until I purchased a third Cathy Cathy doll from a thrift store some twenty-five years later that still talks when the string is pulled. The first doll lot I won from an eBay seller was for $8. The dolls weren't antique, per se, just vintage or old by a few years and one in particular I adored. She wasn't very tall, maybe about fifteen inches, with pale white parian-like head, arms and legs, blue dress and long straight blonde hair. Her eyes were dark blue and I recall that it creeped out my better half, so I stored them in the garage. My doll collection grew, waned and I downsized considerably. My primary focus was on the dolls that came before the 1930's whenever possible, although a few of my bed dolls might date around that time frame. I seem to like the older antique dolls, circa 1890's-1900's the best. I don't have any celluloid-made dolls in my collection. The reason for this is because celluloid was comprised of camphor and nitrate, and if subjected to extremely high temperatures for long periods or heat, can combust. Here in the U.S., celluloid dolls were banned in the 1940's due to the volatile nature of the chemicals. Do I have anything against dolls post-1930s? None at all. They just don't appeal to me (collector-wise) too much nowadays. Oil cloth dolls; are they worth the investment? Sure. However, conditions vary from excellent, fair and poor condition due to their age. I have one Harold Lloyd oil cloth doll that was given the nickname, "small fry" and he's been out-beaten by a small and fragile rival: a ten-inch low brow China head doll. She's no bigger than a modern Barbie doll by comparison. I recently came upon another large China doll head for $4. I also snapped up a random 1970's bisque jointed, cloth-bodied doll and utilized that for my first doll repair. The bisque head from the other doll will go up for auction in the near future. And this is how my first large China head doll turned out:
The big low brow China head doll donning a fashionable 1970's brown dress. The other China head doll is unmarked as well. Most of these China head dolls were produced in Germany. Some had marks: "Pat. Applied for... Germany". Other had "Germany 6 ", for example and others, like mine, have no identifiable maker's mark other than the pock-marked appearance of the glaze, rosy apple cheeks, painted on imperfections on the China head, etc. The blonde-haired "pet name" China Head doll, "Helen" was likely produced in 1905, give or take a few years. As far as I know, neither doll has its original cloth body or limbs, which makes them special, in my opinion. The "girls" are crowded. I didn't want these bed dolls to be accidentally knocked off the sofa, bed or any other everyday furniture. Sure, it means more to dust and work to tend to these beauties, but they're worth it. As my late Great-Grandmother told me, "Do you want my bed doll? She's old and very beautiful." Indeed, she is!
And she scared the pants off me when I received her in person. I didn't know what a bed doll was at the time. All I remember seeing were Great Grandmother's Kewpie dolls donning crocheted doll dresses. It took me some time to alculmate to the bed doll, during which time it didn't long for the composition to crack like an eggshell. I didn't bother to restore her nor do I intend to. Some dolls were meant to be left undisturbed by "miracle" do-it-yourself composition repair that was, for a while, a hot commodity. I've since learned that the composition material is highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations. If its too dry or too humid, this reeks havoc on composition dolls. I've since acquired a few more bed dolls from other relatives. The composition material crazing varies from each doll, which is to be expected, given over time where (and how) these dolls might have been stored. And I'm well aware that basements and attics are no-no's for composition dolls. This will do harm to their features. However, sometimes people just have to make do where they live; be it basement dwelling or a glorious attic room. I've been asked, How do you sleep at night with these dolls in the same room? I'm not spooked by the bed doll anymore nor any of the other dolls in my collection. I have heard stories (be true or embellished) of the all-too-familiar, "Haunted doll" being sold on online auction sites. However, the market has been over-saturated with so many haunted dolls that it's lost its luster. So, how much is too many dolls? Dolls can over-run a small space in no time like anything else and I'd recommend no more than can be displayed in a single curio cabinet; two or three if one has enough room for that many cabinets. And I did save the best doll for last. (Drum roll, please)...
What is it? It's a tin head doll, produced anywhere from 1800s-1930, by Buschow & Beck, a German company. These dolls are also known as "Minerva" or tin head dolls. They were more durable that China head dolls and bisque. However, since these doll heads were made from pressed tin, most of their painted features have flaked and chipped over time. One interesting thing about these particular tin head dolls were their body styles. Think of it like designing your own car. The tin head could vary in style with painted on features, glass eyes, or a mohair wig. Other features also included a custom-made body. These dolls were also sold through Sears Roebuck mail order catalogs, too. What makes them fragile: the paint and when it was applied didn't fair well over time. Some of the faces have rust, missing almost all their original paint and this was the first tin head doll I had ever laid eyes on. What's with its oven-mitt sized hands? The all cloth body was likely custom-designed back in the day. And don't ask what child wanted their doll to have large cloth hands. As far as I can tell through a visual inspection, the doll appears to be complete with no added Frankenstein limbs. The head is stamped in front and back. However, due to the chipped paint, it is difficult to tell if this tin head doll was produced by Buschow & Beck. The shoes are definitely fragile and the leather soles are paper consistency. The black stockings are excellent for their age and the gray jumper is in good condition (appears to be machine sewed). It was attached with a tiny brass antique doll safety pin with an etched design. I removed the pin and put it away. It sure gives a new name to "metal head".

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