Bisque doll

My Recycled Life: Doll Doctoring

People who repair dolls are called doll doctors and their businesses are called doll hospitals. I needed it because my mother left behind a collection of several dolls and toys from her childhood, the ones she had kept and treasured all her life, until her dementia made their maintenance impossible and the deterioration sets in. I found myself with the difficult decision to either scrap the parts, sell the parts, or have someone else restore, repair, or keep them.

The popularity of doll collecting fluctuates, and right now the market is depressed. Any money invested in the repair is a risky investment that I may not get back. For three of the dolls, this was no problem. A Lone Ranger doll, possibly made in 1937 and still in good condition, was quickly sold at an estate sale. Two small Dutch rag dolls are in no need of repair and are displayed in a display case in the living room. They haven’t sold out yet, but someone somewhere will probably find them interesting.

Two beautiful old dolls, a blonde and a brunette, were piled up in plastic bags in the back of a cramped cupboard and were literally falling apart. I could have trashed them – maybe given them a decent burial – but after attempts to sell the pieces came to nothing, my heart told me to restore them.

I searched online and found a woman all over Southern California who restores antique dolls and stuffed toys, and she restored the dolls (and a crummy stuffed toy). The restoration of the blond doll was quite simple. It is a “compositional” doll made of a material that predates plastic, and its parts are strung together like a puppet. New strings, a few minor tweaks and cleanups, and she’s back to being herself.

The work on the brown doll, made in Germany, turns out to be more bittersweet. She has a bisque head and arms, but her kidskin body is stuffed with sawdust dripping from its seams, and the leather suffers from dry rot. The doll’s doctor managed to stabilize the body, but she warns me, the doll will eventually need a whole new body, and it will break my budget. The head, however, with its large brown eyes and small white teeth, and its wig of human hair, are all joined together and attached to the body and arms. This Curly Locks girl will be able to join her Dutch doll friends in the living room’s glass display case, until I find a buyer or her mended body gives in again, and I have to make another decision.