The world has changed in myriad ways — huge and subtle — since I grew up. When I was a kid, none of us, regardless of how much money our parents had or didn’t have, got everything. You wanted everything, sure, because kids always want everything … but you got something. In my house, since we didn’t celebrate Christmas, birthdays were the big gift-giving day.

Annabelle - 1952, Mme. Alexander

Annabelle – 1952, Mme. Alexander

Each year on my birthday from when I was three until I was eight, I got one really nice doll. When I was five, I got “Annabelle,” the 1952 special doll from Madame Alexander. She would be my favorite for the rest of my life. Over her long life (she was born in 1952) she has been rewigged, restrung, repainted, and redressed half a dozen times.

I really played with my dolls. They were my friends. I talked to them. I told them everything and I took them everywhere. Everything I did, felt, hoped for, and feared, my dolls knew.

My dolls understood. Always.

Toni (22") Revlon, 1953

Toni (22″) Revlon, 1953

When I was six, I got Toni. She was Revlon’s “flagship” girl doll with hair that could be “permanent waved” using a doll version of the Toni Permanent Wave kit. The set was just tiny plastic rollers and sugar-water and they didn’t really curl hair. They just made it sticky … which attracted ants. So then you had to wash it and you were lucky if the wig didn’t come right off her head.

Madame Alexander as herself - 1985

Madame Alexander as herself – 1985

There was Betsy Wetsy — also from Revlon, I believe (Tiny Tears was made by American Character). Those were the memorable dolls. Lots of little 8″ Ginnie dolls too and too many outfits to recall. Ginnie was in my day what Barbie was to the next generations of girls. It is perhaps a reflection of how the concept of girlhood changed during those years. By the time I turned 9, it was all about books.

From then on, I got books for my birthdays, though usually one other “special” thing too. One year, my beloved bicycle arrived. It was much too big for me to ride. I was a tiny wisp of a thing, but also, the only 9-year-old with a titanium frame Dutch racing bike. I had blocks on the pedals and I had to ride standing up because no way could I reach the seat or use the coaster brakes sitting down. But I grew a few inches. So, by the time I was an adolescent, I could reach the pedals without help. And, I knew I had the greatest bike ever. Tiger Racer and me … we flew!

When I was 11 I got a little transistor radio. It was a big deal, the ultra high-tech of the late 1950s. I was the only kid who had my very own portable radio. After that memory fades …

I slept with my dolls.

As I headed into my 50s, I began searching for the dolls with which I had grown up. Collecting is insidious and doll collecting even more so. I developed a bizarre lust for dolls. I didn’t know I had become a collector until I began to buy reference books so I could identify dolls by model, year, manufacturer, etc. Reference book are the significator of any kind of collector. When your reference collection is far more complete than the local library, you are a collector. Accept it. Deal with it.

These pictures are a sampling of the dolls. I tried to capture something of that ephemeral sweetness the dolls of my generation had. Perhaps show a hint of why they still give me a warm glow when I look at them. They never argue, always forgive. And they never complain and don’t mind if you drag them around by one leg with their foreheads scraping the sidewalk.

I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016


Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past Y2-06

The subject of this challenge is “old things.” Traces of the past. In Paula’s words: “Make a post containing a photo (or photos) of something that comes from the past (it does not have to be a distant past).” Which is just as well, because ancient is not easy to find locally. Old is easy to find — I can just look in a mirror. Ancient is rather more rare.

I was, for a long time, a doll collector. Although I no longer actively collect, I still have several hundred dolls, mostly hard plastic strung dolls from the 1950s, but some composition dolls from the 1930s and 1940s … and some newer hard vinyl dolls from the early 1960s.


Most of my dolls are “play dolls,” though I also have some fashion dolls and historical figures that were intended for display, not play. Several of my dolls are ones with which I really played as a kid. They are a little beat up, scuffed. Most of them have been restrung, rewigged, and touched up. Some significant damage hidden by their clothing, but I did the best I could to make them pretty. They deserve it.

Considering some of they are older than me, they look good. A bit dusty, but after 60 or more years, that’s not so bad.



Yesterday, while cleaning, I stood up and my shoulder connected with the glass-fronted curio cabinet. I knocked a shelf and the aforementioned cabinet entirely off the wall. There was a loud crash. It wasn’t the noise that distressed me. It was what that noise meant … that I was about to incur serious losses.

I used to collect things. Pottery — Navajo, antique Chinese and Japanese — and antique sacred Asian art (mostly statues ranging from pretty big to very tiny).

Hard-plastic strung dolls of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s with a smattering of newer girls from the sixties. Tiny stuffed bears. Native American carved fetishes with a strong leaning towards Corn Maidens.


And art. Paintings, photographs (not just mine, but other artists). Musical instruments. Wind chimes. Teapots.


Survivor of the massacre

There’s more. My husband’s baseball with autographs of the entire Red Sox organization of the 1970s, including Ted Williams.


A Russian Matryoshka doll (the kind with all the little dolls inside each other).


The glass-fronted cabinet and one shelf in the living room contain many of my favorite small pieces.

With all that we gave away or sold, the house is too full. At least most of it is on shelves and (presumably) out of the way. And safe, isn’t it? We put up a LOT of shelves, pretty much anywhere they would fit. The dolls are on shelves as is pottery, fetishes, and the small bronzes.

When those two shelves crashed to the ground, first bouncing off a small table and smashing some lovely Italian glass, I could only imagine the carnage. I’m surprised anything survived. Of the two Navajo pots, one came through without harm while the other was reduced to shards.

Gone, but not forgotten

Gone, but not forgotten

Two very old Chinese porcelain vases– one little black one from the 12th century and another from the Jian dynasty (probably 16th century), plus a lovely little “story” dish, probably 15th century, were smashed beyond saving.

The bronzes were unaffected, though the shelf barely survived the fall.

It was my fault. Entirely. No one else did anything to cause the massacre.


It got me to pondering the transitory nature of things. Antiques would not be so valuable if they didn’t get broken, destroyed, lost through the years. If everything survived through the generations, there’s be no scarcity of ancient artifacts. This line of thought is actually not very comforting.

On the shelf, I thought they were safe. Out of harm’s way. My only enemy was the eternal, unavoidable dust settling on everything.

It turns out, I am time’s enemy.


Annabelle was made by Madame Alexander for one year only, 1952 — the year I turned five.


My mother loved dolls, but had grown up poor. She only had one doll in her entire life, a china-headed doll she got from her mother. That was a big deal in a large, poor family. There were six brothers and sisters, so a special toy meant a lot.

Mom loved that doll. One day, the doll fell off her bed and broke her china head. My mother was inconsolable. She said she cried for weeks. Everyone was sympathetic, but she never got another doll.

Annabelle - by Madame Alexander - 1952

Then there was me, her first daughter and the one who loved dolls as much as she had. My sister, who came afterwards, never cared for them as I did.

Annabelle was the first expensive doll with which I was gifted in my girlhood. Annabelle was followed by Toni, a big 24″ Toni with platinum hair and a set of curlers plus “permanent wave” solution. After that, there was Betsy Wetsy, though my mother, in the midst of potty training my younger sister, couldn’t imagine wanting a doll who wet herself.

Many other dolls would follow, but Annabelle always had a special place in my heart. I talked to her, slept with her, dragged her around. I loved her through restringing, rewigging, repainting, and redressing.

After all my other dolls eventually passed into dolly heaven, I still had Annabelle. Right before I left for Israel, I gave her to my friend’s daughter. Loren still has her today.

Annabelle Too

Some years back, I went hunting for a replacement Annabelle. I found her, and she rejoined my life. I even have her original box, traveling beauty supply kit and tag. She’s perfect and obviously had never been loved quite as enthusiastically as I loved her predecessor.

I still do give her a furtive hug now and again. Sometimes, the best person in the world to talk to is a doll that will always smile and understand. That’s my Annabelle.

Portrait of Annabelle



WEDNESDAY – 2015 #6

Welcome to Frisbee Wednesday where we celebrate … well, whatever. Mainly, we try to write something about a picture. This week’s picture is my own, beloved plastic pal, Toni — by Ideal. She is older than she looks, having be born in 1953. Yet there is not a single wrinkle in her face!

Please try to add your own ping back (links). If you aren’t sure how to do it, put your link in a comment. That works too.

Every Wednesday or until I throw in the towel, I’ll publish a picture and write something about it. You can use any of my pictures — or one of your own — as a prompt. If you find my subject interesting, by all means, extrapolate. Any length is acceptable from a couple of sentences, to a chapter from your upcoming novel.

Please link it back to this post (ping back) so other people can find it.


Story. Words. Poetry, prose, fact, or fiction. A couple of lines, a fanciful tale.

Pictures. Video if that’s your thing. Scanned pictures from your scrap-book. Weird pictures from the internet. Cartoons. Pictures of your family vacation and how the bear stole your food. Any picture you ever took and would like to talk about.


It sounds simple. It is simple. Every picture has a story or ought to. There are no rules. Follow my lead, ignore me, follow someone else’s idea. Any picture plus some text. Short or long, truth or fiction. Prose or poetry.

One final thing: If you want to get notices of these posts, you’ll have to subscribe to Serendipity. I’ll try to title relevant posts so you can easily recognize them.

My effort for this week follows.


My mother gave me Toni for my birthday the year I turned six. She was not my first doll. Annabelle, a lovely, blond girl from Madame Alexander, had that distinction.

Annabelle was (is) a class act, but Tony has better hair. In fact, Toni was and remains, all about the hair.

Toni - From 1953, still beautiful and young after all these years. One of my favorite plastic friends.

She came with a little box containing doll-size curlers and a “permanent wave kit.” These were the years of the “home perm.” Toni perms were the most popular home perm kids, and were quite the “in” fashion statement, the quintessence of early 1950s chic.

The success of a home permanent wave depended on the skill of the administrator (aka “mom”) and luck. Little girls typically subjected to this procedure were those with absolutely straight hair. Ten years later, their ramrod straight hair would be “The Look of the Hippy Generation.” Girls would iron their hair in an attempt to gain what their mothers tried to erase.

In the 1950s, Shirley Temple was the way a proper girl should look. To this standard mommies everywhere aspired on behalf of their daughters.

Shirley Temple Doll portrait

The curlers were teeny tiny and the “permanent wave” was sugar-water. It didn’t so much curl Toni’s hair, as make it sticky and attractive to flies and ants.

From my doll collecting days, I have perhaps 20 versions of Toni, from the compact, economy 14″ size, to the super-size luxury 24″ model. I have her with red, blond, auburn, brown, and dark brown hair. She is still plastic after all these years … and is still all about her hair.


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.  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.