I collected dolls for years. Collecting is easy. Restoring is more of a challenge. Before I gave up collecting, I learned to restore my old dolls.

Up front, let me say that I’m not crafty. I can’t sew, crochet, knit, or carve. I can’t change the cartridges in my printer. I can write and I can take pictures. I can draw a bit. And I can cook. Otherwise, I’m pretty much a washout as a craftsperson. But I collected dolls for years. If you collect, there are things you need to do yourself because even if you have lots of money, finding someone else to do them is difficult … maybe impossible. I learned because I had no choice.

This is the best work I did. After Ana McGuffey, I pretty much stopped collecting and promptly forgot everything I ever knew. Use it or lose it.

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. Β 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 4

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.

Categories: Dolls, Photography

Tags: , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. You have done an amazing job. I’m so impressed with your sewing efforts too.


  2. I’ve also taught myself many, many things out of necessity, but I doubt I could ever have figured out how to re-build a doll’s composition-based foot! It sounds like you actually DID teach yourself some carving then, right?

    P.S. I’ve been a seamstress since high school (I had to sew all my own clothes, including 2 prom gowns and eventually, my wedding gown) and I think you did a wonderful job on her clothes! Bravo, Marilyn! πŸ˜€


    • Doll collecting is a pretty popular hobby, so i went to sites for collectors and found information. Then I just muddled through. It wasn’t exactly carving. More like molding. And not the most elegant work, but with a shoe over it, it’s okay.


  3. Well done, O impressively clever woman! My mom had a few Madame Alexander dolls (no-name ones) but I wasn’t attached enough to them to take advantage, and now have no idea where they eventually went, though my sisters and I encouraged Mom to give the toys and collectible things related to our childhood–we were neither very rich nor particularly attached to toys–away, so I assume and hope that all the stuff went where it would be better appreciated. Now, if I’d had any *skills* like yours, I might have felt different about such things, mightn’t I! Cool post, Marilyn.


    • Honestly, I didn’t have skills. I learned them and messed up a lot along the way. But it was worth it. There’s something very satisfying about fixing something which would otherwise be thrown away. I’m not normally very crafty, but I have a special place in my heart for dolls πŸ™‚ Thank you πŸ™‚


  4. What a gorgeous job! I didn’t know anything about this, and I can see clearly what a labor of love it is.


    • Indeed it is love because you never can get much money for restored dolls, no matter how good a job you do. I just could never bear to see a doll that needed fixing and leave her unfixed. It was like not taking care of your sick puppy. Dolls have always been surprisingly real to me. I know it’s odd, but I’ve always felt like that … since I got my first doll when I was five.


  5. What a beauty! And clearly a labor of love. There’s actually a good chance the wool for her original wig may have come from here: This part of Texas was once the Mohair capital of the world. Plenty of goats, still, but while many of them are probably destined to be savored as “cabrito,” many are kept to prevent pasture from turning back to scrubby, nasty, rattlesnake-infested woods. Others, of course, are kept simply because they’re so darned cute. Yes, this is Goat Country. You wouldn’t want to try planting or growing anything here, except maybe for, well, goats. πŸ˜‰


    • I wouldn’t be surprised. There aren’t a lot of sources fo mohair. Never were and the American dollmakers would likely have chosen American sources. Cheaper if for no other reason. Want some dolls? I’m still looking for homes for some. I’ve got a couple of hundred and really would like to rehome a dozen or more. They do not need feeding and walking, no shots either. Just an occasional dusting!


  6. Beautiful doll and hobby. I collected greeting cards when I was young, i have them even now…


    • Even when we stop actively collecting, there is a collection. I sold a lot, but there were dolls I couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. They live with me forever, I guess πŸ™‚


  7. If only we could be restored like your dolls…

    Liked by 1 person


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