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Dust, Dogs and Dolls at the Country Estate Auction

Or, Why I spent my Saturday In A Tin Barn In 95 Degree Heat...

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Country Estate Sale Dolls

Estate Sale Dolls

Denise Van Patten
A few years ago, I moved from a large city (Los Angeles) to the country. One of the major things I missed when I moved was the vibrant collector community with organized doll sales nearly monthly, plus the numerous doll-centered stores in my area. In my new location, there are NO organized doll sales, and there is only one doll-centered store (the one that I own!). But, one thing that I gained when I moved to the country was the ability to attend country auctions.

County auctions are generally estate sales of the entire contents of a house. Sometimes, collectibles, including dolls, are part of the estate and the auction. This weekend, I attended a typical country auction--it was the full-blown, authentic experience! I DID get some dolls, but the auction didn't meet my expectations of what it would be like--they NEVER do.

Finding Out About The Auction

I find out about the auction about three days before. A family member (who lives in the VERY small town where its going to occur--population 5,000--calls me to tell me about it. She faxes me the flyer and I'm immediately excited: "Antique and Collectible Dolls--over 50 dolls to be sold at 12:30. Wow, this sounds promising! For two days, I try to call the phone number listed to see when I can preview the dolls. The phone goes directly to a fax machine. I give up, and fax some questions. No response, but I decide to go anyway. I cannot try to preview the afternoon before the auction (customary at country sales) because I'm at the store, so I decide to wake up at the crack of dawn to get there early to preview.

Getting To And Previewing The Auction

I wake up at 6:30am so I can get to the auction by 8am (the auction starts at 9am) to preview the dolls. I start off a bit cranky because I'm NOT a morning person, and it IS a Saturday. I drive an hour, and then I try to find the auction. I drive around a few times, until I see an itty bitty "auction" sign on a nearby road. I follow the sign to a small, dusty, tin storage barn.

Once there, I get a bidder number and save a seat, and then I check out the merchandise. This is a VERY country auction! No lot numbers at all. And, they were clearly selling the ENTIRE contents of the house--there were lots including empty cool whip containers with the Tupperware, and lots of the 1/2 full cleaning agents from under the sink! There were Christmas ornaments, crafts goods, gardening tools, scarves, you name it. And, dolls.

The Motley Crew of Dolls

I find the dolls. My heart sinks. WHERE, exactly, are the antique dolls?? I see some 1980s Effanbee dolls, some really cheesy NRFB dolls, some pathetic, redressed 1960s doll...and little else. Oh my, I woke up at 6:30am on a Saturday for this?? Oh--wait, there is ONE china head doll (redressed, new body), and ONE Minerva head metal. I guess that justified the big flyer banner of "Antique" dolls. There were also some compostition dolls, and, on another table, I DO find a NRFB Horsman Mary Poppins Doll from the 1960s. Well, OK, at least I want to bid on those. Plus, since I'm writing a book AND I'm always looking for some unusual dolls to photograph for this web site, maybe some of the pathetic dolls will go cheap enough to be worth it for a few photos. I see that there are some linens with delicate lace borders that I can use for doll costuming, And, I'm also a sucker for 1960s Christmas Ornaments, which can usually be had cheap, so decide to hang around. I AM a bit anxious that I'm going to be sitting in the hot barn for 3 1/2 hours before the dolls even come up for auction, but hopefully the other lots of interest will be spaced out.

Its Auction Time My family member arrives at the auction, carrying cold water for us both--this barn is tin and its in a field and the forecast is for 95 degrees today, so I'm grateful. We take our seats and the auction begins--click below for page 2 to find out about the actual auction.

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