I collected dolls for years, but collecting is easy. Restoring is more of a challenge and before I gave up collecting, I learned to restore old dolls.
Composition was the material favored by quality dollmakers such as American Character and Madame Alexander before the 1940s when hard plastic became the material of choice. The changeover from composition to hard plastic was gradual. Some composition dolls were produced as late as the 1950s, though not many.
Composition is basically sawdust, glue, varnish and paint. It is a very good molding material, but it disintegrates over time. Dampness rots it. Excessive heat will destroy it. Time will have its way with it. Many dolls I love are old composition dolls. Finding these dolls in pristine condition can be impossible. If available, they are costly. Lacking money, I decided to learn to fix them. Old composition dolls in a state of deterioration are not difficult to acquire. If you can repair them yourself, you can get rare dolls for short money … but you will invest many long hours of yourself.
Ana McGuffey (of the reader of the same name) was one of Madame Alexander’s most popular character dolls for decades, from the 1910s through the 1940s. Although her face changed with the times, she always had her hair in braids. She wore a pinafore with a floral print dress. Stocking and buttoned shoes.
I finally got a 20″ Ana McGuffey. Half of each foot was rotted away. The paint on her face was chipped and faded and her wig and clothing were gone. She was in pieces and needed restringing.
I replaced her feet by modeling them using a clay-like epoxy material. This stuff is used for modeling all kinds of stuff. It’s difficult to use, but forms a very hard, resin-like substance when it dries.
I restrung her, repainted her face — many failed attempts before I got it sort of right. I found a wig that looked like her original, though not the same material.
Her original wig was made of mohair. While you can get mohair wigs for restoring dolls, they are frightfully expensive and not particularly durable. I also don’t like the way they look, so I went with modern polyurethane. I made the dress and the pinafore. This is not an area in which I excel, but no one was making clothing for this doll. It was me or no dress. I could easily get dresses that would fit her, but they wouldn’t look like her original clothing. I wanted Ana to look close to her original.
She also needed a flowery straw hat and I’d gotten pretty good at buying plain hats and decorating them. I found the stocking and shoes that sufficed, though they weren’t quite what I wanted. I haven’t mastered making shoes, but all things considered I’m proud of this piece of work.
This is Ana McGuffey, Madame Alexander, circa 1930 – 1940. Restored by me.
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It gets dark so early this time of year. After the ubiquitous “they” take away Daylight Savings Time, it’s dark by 4:30. Dawn is late too as the days shorten. I don’t understand the time change. I don’t see a purpose. Pick a time. Stay with it. I prefer DST because 5 o’clock is much too early for night. Makes us feel like mole people.
My office is dark much of the time anyway. It faces northwest, so it’s dark in the morning, bright for a few afternoon hours, then dark again. Even in summertime, it’s shadowy. I like it that way. Using a big monitor is difficult in sunlight. Too much reflection, eyestrain city. My world, my office — junk, cameras, dolls, books, pens, papers and software — is dim and dusty. Full of lounging dogs hanging around in case I need to pet someone. Or just happen to drop a piece of food. Ever ready they are to make sure nothing edible escapes notice.
Garry’s office is next door. Brighter. He has two windows and the room is bigger — but there’s more in it. Huge bookcases and the futon for guests we never seem to have any more. Messy, like mine, though less of a paper storm. I do the bills, so a lot of rubble lands on my desk. Good it’s such a big desk.
Our offices are the most personal spaces in the house. Garry’s office is his turf. Occasionally we have a guest or two, then he has to clear the futon. But it’s rare. Still, having the bed there is important. I need to know we can welcome friends, that we have a special space for them. The welcome mat is still there, if infrequently used.
It’s a small world getting smaller with each added paper, camera, book and whatnot. Oddly, I don’t mind. It fits us. Eventually I’ll reorganize, put things in different places so it will seem less crowded, but really it’s life surrounding us. Papers you never need until you really need them. Papers you have to keep but don’t know why. Books you can’t bear to be without though you’ll never read them again.
We are surrounded by our memories. The lives we’ve lived, people we’ve known, places we’ve seen, work we’ve done. Photos and paintings and all the stuff over in the corner. I’m not sure what it is. It’s buried.
I’ll get to it. No, really. I will. Just not today.
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I often think I’m unpluggable. Reality is unpleasant so I separate from it by being busy, busy, busy, always doing something, always plugged in, writing, editing, reading, thinking. Listening to a book, reviewing. Watching a movie, a show. Afraid to let go lest the night demons get me.
But even I sometimes must retreat. Finally my body screams for rest. My brain begs for silence, however brief. Nothing will do except my bed.
In my shadowy room. Soft sheets, gentle dolls around me. Ganeesh, Lakshmi and Buddha watch over me and there, I rest. Even if just for an hour, I retreat and am refreshed. Glad there’s a place — one last place — to which I can run and hide.
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My first doll. I got her for my 5th birthday in 1952. Annabelle was only produced by Madame Alexander for one year. She was my first and my favorite. I adored her and she was always with me.
This pretty little girl is a 16-inch Toni by Ideal. She is virtually identical to the doll I got for my sixth birthday. Her dress was made just for her.
I thought it would be fun to take “toy lens” style pictures of toys, in my case, dolls. I used to be a serious doll collector. Although I’m no longer a doll collector, I still have quite a large doll collection.
The three big dolls (above) were taken using a poster format. The two big beautiful girls are Madame Alexander‘s Binnie Walker (left), Winnie Walker (middle), and on the right, one of the rarer large Ideal Bride dolls. She was the last Ideal doll before they started making high-heeled fashion dolls. All the dresses were made for these dolls by a seamstress. The bride’s dress is amazing.
Meet Cissy from Madame Alexander, one of the most popular fashion dolls ever made. This is an original from the early 1960s. There have been versions of Cissy continuously through the years, including now, though their dimensions vary quite a bit. What they have in common are joints in all the right places, height and high-heeled feet.
The lady in pink (above) is wearing an original outfit by a doll clothing designer based on an outfit she remembered her mother wearing in the 1950s. The cloth was from a dress I found at the Salvation army. I loved the fabric, so she made two of these outfits, one as a gift to me and one for herself to sell. You would not believe how expensive doll clothing is. It costs more than my clothing. A lot more.
Below is Princess Elizabeth, currently Queen Elizabeth II. Not her original outfit. The coronet is original, but broken.
Below, just for fun, is the most interesting doll in the world. He would be the most interesting man in the world. He was the most interesting doll in the world, having survived the charge of the Light Brigade to become Prime Minister of Great Britain during the second World War. Winston Churchill, one of Effanbee’s historical collection, is forever predicting victory.
Below, are two Madame Alexander dolls. On the left, Sonja Henie, an original from around 1940. She is not plastic. She’s made of something called “composition,” a combination a sawdust, glue, and paint. You have to be careful with old composition dolls. They date from no later than the early 1940s, after which dolls were made with hard plastic. If composition gets damp or too dry, they fall disintegrate. Literally. On the right is a 1976 Cinderella in a Disney-style gown. Hard plastic.
Sonja’s wig is not original, but it is mohair as was the original. However, the original wig didn’t have bangs. I simply couldn’t find a mohair wig that was quite right. I could have gotten an acrylic wig that was the right style, but it would have been the wrong material. Sometimes, you just have to compromise. Her dress and skates are original, as are her tights.
Here are three big composition girls, Nancy Ann — on the left — is the only doll to have ever received her own letter delivered by the U.S. Postal service. At least in my house.
Finally, Garry’s favorites — the famous dolls. The shelf of fame contains Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Winstons Churchill, John Wayne (twice), Bogie and Jimmy Cagney (from Yankee Doodle Dandy).
There are dolls all over the house, except the kitchen and bathrooms. A couple of hundred of them, at last count and others in boxes. They are guaranteed friendly and chat quietly at night, while we sleep.
Teddy is a reproduction, created for the 100th anniversary of the original Teddy (Roosevelt) Bear. He has lived with me for about 6 years. He (she?) has his (her?) own Windsor chair. I had the hat with the feathers. It fit perfectly and has been on his/her head for some years now. Either he’s a dashing, musketeer sort of Teddy Bear … or a lovely female bear. I have asked him to clarify his position vis-à-vis male vs. female, but he/she has not yet answered. I live in hope.