Not Los Angeles. Nor old movie stars full of Botox to make them “look younger” (really makes them look like corpses, but I digress). It could be a metaphor of that West Coast city and many of its inhabitants. I’m talking about My World. A small, form-fitting world populated by beautifully dressed, if slightly dusty […]
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 […]
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 […]
Annabelle was a doll made by Madame Alexander. She was in production for one year only — 1952 — the year I turned five. My mother loved dolls, but she had grown up poor. She had only had one doll in her entire life, a china-headed doll she got from her mother. That was a […]
I collect hard plastic and composition dolls from the 1930s through 1960s, with a few a little newer and a few a bit older.
In theory, every doll of a “type” is the same as every other doll of that type. All Toni dolls should look the same. But they don’t. No two dolls look exactly the same.
Minor variations in how they set in their molds and were finished after being removed from their molds. The person who painted them … and what batch of paint colors were used. Up through the 1960s, all dolls’ faces were hand painted, so there were always small differences between them. Many dolls even today are hand-painted.
Eyebrows will be shaped differently, some with more or less arch to it. Lips may be poutier or more rounded and the two sides of the face don’t usually exactly match. Like real people.
Dolls also came in different sizes, and sixteen inch Toni bore only a sisterly resemblance to twenty-three inch Toni.
Big sister Toni, 22 inches, and all original, even her hair … a color that I cannot name since this color wig is no longer produced.
To me, my dolls have their own faces, as obviously different to my eyes as are people. My plastic friends with their plastic faces, smiling gently day and night.
As a child, I collected books. I had no money of my own, but my mother was a sucker for books, and though almost everything else from those log ago days have been lost, I still have some of the books I loved as a child.
I was born to collect, but lack of funds and a home of my own limited me until I hit my stride as a married, working adult. Armed with money, I could choose from an entire world of beautiful things. Although many collections have come and gone, three things have remained constant: the dolls of my girlhood, antique porcelain, and books.
I no longer collect. The shelves, walls, bookcases and every other place that might house a collectible is full. The “No Vacancy” sign has gone up on our lives. We are in the “cutting down,” not acquiring stage.
My favorite dolls — now a mere couple of hundred from who-knows-how-many — surround me. In every room, in hallways, on high shelves and in glass-fronted cabinets, dolls stand, smile and wave. At night, they whisper secrets about the things they’ve seen, places and people they’ve known. I wish I could hear them, but their voices are too soft. They speak amongst themselves, not for human ears.
I’ve held onto a modest, but satisfying collection of my antique Chinese porcelain too.
The dolls were born of my never-ending attempt to reconnect with something happy from a difficult childhood, but the porcelain grew from my love of history.
I wish my porcelain could talk because oh, the stories it could tell. When I hold a perfect 5,000 year-old pot, I imagine the lives that pot has touched. How many kitchens it has lived in, how many different things were stored in it.
I feel a little buzz when I hold the very oldest of my porcelain pieces –a painted vase from China’s neolithic period — and imagine the history to which it has been witness. It was made at a time when Europeans were still living in caves and wearing animal skins, yet the Chinese were making painted pots of fired river clay, pre-porcelain from the earliest human civilization. I have Han pot, a Tang horseman, vases and some bronze pieces that span thousands of years.
At night, when I take off my earrings, I drop it into a Qing dynasty Tongzhi/Guangxu late 19th century “Cabaret dish.” I have Eucalyptus branches in a Jun vase with a shiny black glaze that at first I couldn’t believe was real, but turned out to be genuine.
I have a set of Sui musicians, and although I know they have been repaired and are not entirely original (I would never have been able to afford them if they were perfect … they’d be in a museum, not on my mantel), I love them no less for their needing reconstruction. If I were 1,500 years old, I’d probably need a bit of reconstruction too.
These are a few of my favorite things, but my favorite of all favorites is Annabelle.
Annabelle was made for one year by Madame Alexander. The year was 1952 and for my 5th birthday, my mother gave me Annabelle. How I loved her. She slept with me. I talked to her. I dressed her each day and when her wig wore out, my mother sent her to a doll hospital and had her touched up, restrung and re-wigged. When I left for Israel, I still had Annabelle, the one and only surviving physical piece of my childhood. I didn’t want to take her with me, so I gave her to my best friend’s daughter … who has her still.
A few years ago I was lucky to find another Annabelle, one identical to the doll I’d gotten for my birthday. And she is still my favorite doll, my favorite almost-a-person.
She is my friend and I still talk to her.
There are dolls all over the house and everyone talks to them, the same way we talk to our dogs. We don’t expect them to answer, but they are very good listeners.
The pottery is elegantly arrayed in my living room, on the mantel, in display cases in the dining room and a few pieces in the bedroom. Dolls stand atop every bookcase, on shelves throughout the house. Several hundred pairs of eyes, watching me. I like it.