Saturday, August 29, 2009

Madame Alexander Wendy Ann - doll repair story

When I first started to collect composition dolls, I decided that I had better learn how to repair them since they are quite old; and unless I wanted to pay premium prices for premium quality dolls, I needed to be prepared to buy dolls that were less than perfect.

In some cases, I was lucky and bought near perfect dolls for a reasonable price at auction, but in some cases, I deliberately bought dolls that needed some help, so that I could learn how to restore them without detracting from their original beauty.

I have nothing against dolls sold as "One of a kind" restorations with custom face paint, but that was not my intention. I wanted my dolls to look somewhat close to factory perfect.

My first "victims" are these Madame Alexander Wendy Ann face dolls, made some time in the 1940's. The smaller Wendy Ann has a Mayfair twist waist and human hair wig. The larger Wendy Ann has a mohair wig.

Here's what they looked like when they came to me:

Both dolls needed their wigs cleaned and re-set. The larger Wendy Ann needed to be re-strung and re-painted. She had been left in the sun to bleach. The smaller Wendy Ann's eyes were completely crazed. Neither doll had any clothes to speak of.

Since their composition was still good, I figured it wouldn't take much to bring them back to their former beauty.

So, for both these dolls, the wigs were cleaned and re-set using doll curlers. I bought an old set of curlers that had been sold with Toni dolls. I figured if they were good enough for Toni, they were good enough for Wendy Ann. I could have saved money and cut up some straws to use for curlers, but the doll curlers were a lot more fun. The mohair wig was completely removed from the large Wendy Ann. It was caked with dirt and would have to actually be washed. The wig was still nice and full, however - so it would have been a waste to throw it away. It was dried on a form so that it didn't shrink. The human hair wig was lightly cleaned with a wet cloth and a little bit of conditioner. That wig wasn't as dirty. It was just a bit ratty and needed detangling. Both dolls' wigs were set with a little bit of white glue greatly diluted in water.

I re-strung the large Wendy Ann. She was my first re-stringing project, and I used cotton-wound elastic. While her wig was off, I repainted her face. It was an interesting exercise in recalling my fine art training in order to mix her face paint to match the rest of her body. It's a very close match, but if I had to do it over, I'd just take her down to my local hardware store and get their computer to match it. Since she is composition, I used oil-base paint. I used an oil crayon rub to give her a soft eye shadow and blush, and a modelling detail brush to do her lashes. If I had to do it over again, I would just use an artist's black illustration pencil for her eyelashes, although the brush is closer to factory. Both dolls had their composition sealed.

The eyes of the small Wendy Ann were crazed, so I cleaned them and gave her new pupils with highlights. Now, they were ready to be dressed.

The large Wendy Ann, I believe, was a bride or bridesmaid doll, as the shape of her burnt-out d├ęcolletage looked very much like the shape of the original Madame Alexander bridesmaid costume. I may dress her one day with an original bridesmaid costume, but for now, she wears a factory-made tartan jumper and blouse that complement her red hair. Her underwear and shoes are modern replacements.

The small Wendy Ann is wearing a dress made by a very talented doll dressmaker. I made her pearl and glass bead necklace. Her shoes and underwear are modern replacements.

Would these dolls fetch exorbitant prices on the market if I sold them? Probably not; however, the things I learned while restoring them to their former beauty are priceless.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Arranbee (R&B) Nanette, and hard plastic disease

Some time in the late 1940's, Arranbee began making hard plastic dolls, and one of the first off the line was Nanette. Nanette is another teen doll who sometimes gets mistaken for Nancy Lee; however, Nanette has a slightly more oval face and fuller lips than Nancy Lee (who was also manufactured in hard plastic a few years later. )

Nanette was often made as a walking doll, and came dressed in beautiful outfits and with elaborate hair styles. She wears a Saran wig (not rooted hair) and has sleep eyes. The 1950's hard plastic Nanette is very different to the 1930s-1940s composition Nanette, which has a cloth body and a child's face.

My Nanette is all original, from her head to her toes. She's a 21" walking doll in beautiful condition. Her problem? She had an odor from hard plastic "disease", which is sadly common in old hard plastic dolls. She can be cleaned up and made less stinky, however, using a few tips that I've picked up from other doll collectors:

1) Clean the doll inside and out with Lysol or a similar antibacterial cleaner. I use a hospital grade disinfectant. Do not use bleach or you will ruin your doll's color. The smell from the deterioration of the plastic (something not unlike the smell of Parmesan cheese) usually originates from the inside of the doll, so you will need to take care to swab the inside thoroughly. Since my doll is held together with her metal walking mechanism, the best I can manage it to dislodge her arms from her sockets and saturate the inside of the doll. (I don't feel confident taking her walking mechanism apart at this stage.) Allow to dry and repeat as necessary. If you feel confident about taking your doll completely apart, that is the best way to get to all parts of the doll.

2) Order D-Stink from Twin Pines of Maine: and give your doll the same treatment.

3) When you have swabbed and dried the doll a few times and the odor has pretty much disappeared, spray the inside and outside of the doll with a matte finish lacquer. This will help to retard any advancement of the disease. The bacteria that feed off the plastic are aerobic - so, no access to oxygen = no stinky plastic.

4) Keep any "diseased" dolls away from hard plastic dolls that do not have this problem. The breakdown of the plastic feeds a bacterium and, like human diseases, can be transmitted from doll to doll. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating and handling a doll with hard plastic disease.

5) This process, from what I have read, does not usually work for plastic Pedigree dolls, as their plastic is of a different composition, but if you have tried something that works, please let us know.

Beautiful dolls, like my Nanette, deserve to be saved from being stinky!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Celebrity doll - Shirley Temple

Much has been written about this doll who is sculpted to look like her namesake who made her cinematic debut at the tender age of four. In her day, Shirley Temple's face was more recognizable than the president of the United States. From Japan, to the United States and around the world, this little girl gave us all something in common to enjoy.

Shirley Temple dolls were first made of composition material and were manufactured in the United States by the Ideal Novelty & Toy Company from 1934 - 1939. Ideal was the only company licensed to make the official Shirley Temple doll, although there were plenty of imitators. One particularly collectible Shirley was made in Japan and has painted features. They came in 6", 7" and 8" sizes. The Ideal dolls came in 11" to 27" sizes (with a 16" size made by the Reliable doll company of Canada.) The Ideal dolls are the ones that collectors are most familiar with: curly mohair wig, toothy smile, hazel sleep eyes (some eyes were flirty) and of course, Shirley's famous dimples.

Shirley came dressed in copies of outfits that she wore in her films, with the first dolls issued with the dress that Shirley wore in Baby Take a Bow. She came wearing her genuine Shirley Temple doll pin, rayon socks and oil cloth shoes.

In 1935 and 1936, a baby Shirley Temple was manufactured. They came with a composition head with shoulder plate, legs, and arms, and a cloth stuffed body. These dolls are much more rare, and are worth more to collectors, of course.

Shirley Temple dolls disappeared for a while in the 1940s as Shirley became a young woman, but some time in the early 1950s, there was a resurgence in interest in Shirley Temple dolls, as little girls who knew Shirley in the 1930s, became mothers of little girls, themselves. Shirley Temple could now be seen on television and once again, little girls wanted a Shirley Temple doll. This time however, the dolls were made of vinyl and could be purchased from a 12" size, all the way up to a 36" size. Ideal was licensed to make the dolls all the way up through the early 1980s. The most contemporary Shirley Temple dolls are made of porcelain by Danbury Mint.

Shirley Temple has been so popular through the ages, that one can also buy Shirley Temple paper dolls, books, sheet music, accessories, purses, clothing, figurines and art plates (to name a few). No other little girl has so thoroughly captured the hearts of millions over almost a century.

My Shirley Temple dolls are the Ideal dolls. One is a 27" composition doll with flirty eyes, which dates her to around 1937. I also own a 12" vinyl doll from 1957 dressed in her Stand Up and Cheer dress. Sadly, neither doll has her original pin and I don't believe the compo Shirley's Swiss dotted dress is original to her. Both dolls are marked Ideal and either Shirley Temple (compo) or ST (vinyl). I love both my Shirley Temple dolls, but in my opinion, the old composition dolls capture the look of Shirley's face the best.

Check out this old home movie from the 1930s of a little girl getting a Shirley Temple doll for Christmas. So sweet!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monica Doll Studio

Monica Doll Studio was in operation in Hollywood, CA from 1941 to 1952. The dolls were designed by Mrs Hansi Share, who wanted to market a doll with rooted hair so that children could brush and style it. Glued wigs did not allow for much play by children, so Mrs Share designed a doll with human hair that was rooted into a cement-like composite material.

Monica was the first of these dolls, and three more dolls were created for the line: Veronica, Rosalind, and Joan. The dolls are made of composition and range in size from 15 - 24 inches tall. The tallest dolls may have been made with hard stuffed cloth bodies. Their eyes are painted with great detail and they come in dresses and gowns appropriate for the time period. The dolls are unmarked, but it's hard to mistake them for anything else, as they were the only dolls manufactured at this time, with rooted hair. Their face sculptures and paint are also very recognizable and distinctive.

From 1948 to 1952, Monica Doll Studio made a hard plastic doll with rooted hair. Her name is Marion.

Monica Doll Studio dolls do occasionally come up for sale, and it's difficult to find one without balding (due to hair breakage) and composition crazing - but keep looking. These dolls are unique and have beautiful faces. Truly a doll for the golden age of Hollywood.

My Monica Studio dolls are both 20 inches tall and are fully made of composition material. One has been re-dressed, and the other comes with her original gown. Both dolls have had to have crazing repair, but luckily, they have most of their hair, despite some breakage. The re-dressed doll, I am fairly certain, is Monica, but I'm not sure who the other one is. I may just call her Rosalind, after screen legend Rosalind Russell. Anyone see a resemblance?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baby Hendren

Baby dolls were made popular early in the 20th century. Before then, most dolls were lady or fashion dolls, or little girls in fancy dresses. Some time early in the 20th century, the husband and wife team of Paul and Georgene Averill designed and produced baby dolls for the mass market. They operated out of New York under several different names: Georgene Novelties, Madame Hendren, Paul Averill Inc. to name a few.

I purchased this doll that had been restored, only to find out, to my dismay, that the maker's marks had been sanded back to refinish the doll. The only way I can identify her for certain, is by her face mold, and by comparing her to other Baby Hendren dolls on the market. This is a lesson in what NOT to do when restoring or repairing dolls.

Baby Hendren dates from the 1920's, is approximately 22 inches tall and has her original tin sleep eyes with "real" lashes. She has a hard stuffed body, and composition head, arms, and legs. She's been redressed, and her outfit seems to suit her. She certainly captivated me with her charm, despite her lack of identifiable marks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Winnie Walker

Walking dolls have been around a long time. A walking fashion "lady" doll was manufactured in Paris in 1737. The dolls had pinned hips. This style of walking mechanism didn't change for a long time, and composition dolls made in the 1920s through the 1940s can still be found manufactured with the same basic mechanism.

As new materials for doll-making were developed, so were new walking mechanisms, and Madame Alexander came out with her version of a walking doll in the early 1950s. Her name is Winnie and she has a face identical to Cissy, Madame Alexander's fashion doll. Winnie Walker is made of hard plastic and her wig is glued to her head. Her younger sister, Binnie, is made of vinyl and has rooted hair.

My Winnie is 14 inches tall and wears her original dress, shoes, and wig. The walking mechanism works by pushing the doll from behind, while at the same time shifting her weight from foot to foot. As she "walks," her head rotates a half turn back and forth.

I remember when my sister and I had walking dolls. We had fun and gave them bratty personalities. A case of art imitating life?

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Topsy was a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, so she is most likely the first character black doll sold to the mass market. Topsy, the character, was a ragamuffin slave girl who is transformed by the love of her young mistress.

Topsy dolls were hugely popular during the Great Depression and you're lucky if you can find one that is made of composition and is in good condition. Like their namesakes, these dolls usually show signs of being greatly loved and played with by little girls. It's rare to come across a Topsy that doesn't have "issues."

Topsy dolls are distinguished by their three topknots - one to each side of her head, and one on top. These are usually made of woven yarn, floss (like the Topsy shown here) or wool batting. Several doll companies made Topsy dolls. The Reliable doll company of Canada made a Topsy without the topknots, however.

My unmarked Topsy is 19 inches tall and is in beautiful unrestored condition. Her clothes, however, disintegrated a long time ago and she's been re-dressed. Topsy is one of my favorite dolls. If you can find a Topsy doll in good condition, you've got a lucky find indeed.