THE RESTORATION OF ANA McGUFFEY – Marilyn Armstrong

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.

Portrait of an old doll.

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 injected 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.

Ana McGuffey – 1946 – Mme. Alexander – Doll’s faces are intended to embody the “adorable” factor of real toddlers.

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 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.

Ana McGuffey – 1948 by Madame Alexander

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.

RESTORING ANA MCGUFFEY

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.

Toni — 1953, Still plastic after all these years

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

Daily Prompt: Prized Possession — Annabelle

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 big deal in a large, poor family. There were 6 other brothers and sisters to keep fed, clothed and who also had birthdays. Mom loved her doll and when one day, the doll fell off her bed and broke her china head, my mother was inconsolable. She said she had cried for weeks and everyone was sympathetic, but she never got another doll.

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 - by Madame Alexander - 1952
Annabelle – by Madame Alexander – 1952

Annabelle was the first of a line of expensive dolls with which I was gifted through my girlhood. Annabelle was followed by Toni,the big 24″ Toni with platinum hair and the whole set of curlers and “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 that 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 had passed along into dolly heaven, I still had Annabelle. Right before I left for Israel, I gave her to my friend’s daughter … and Loren still has her to this day.

Annabelle Too
Annabelle Too

Some years back, I went hunting for Annabelle. I knew I couldn’t get my original girl back. She was Loren’s now. Even though Loren was grown with a son of her own, she was not parting with Annabelle. Most of Madame Alexander’s dolls had long production runs, but Annabelle was a one year only limited edition. But I found her, and she has 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 voraciously as I love 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
Portrait of Annabelle

Plastic Faces, Plastic Smiles

I collect hard plastic and composition dolls from the 1930s through 1960s, with a few a little newer and a few a bit older.

Two “identical” Margaret (Margaret O’Brien) dolls.

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.

Cissy, as a bride. Madame Alexander, all original.

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.

Cissy, in her couturier outfit made especially for her. Madame Alexander, restored.

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.

Sixteen inch Tony in designer dress, platinum hair. A very popular doll.

Dolls also came in different sizes, and sixteen inch Toni bore only a sisterly resemblance to twenty-three inch Toni.

Another sixteen inch Toni, dressed for a patriotic holiday … auburn hair, this time.

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.

Twenty two-inch Toni, all original, including her wig.

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.