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The Ups and Downs Of Buying Doll Collections

Or...how I found myself on a rural highway with a truck full of dolls!


Full Truckload Of Dolls

My truck is full of dolls after buying a doll collection.

Densie Van Patten
Most doll collectors have a wonderful fantasy about doll shop owners and doll dealers who frequently get the chance to buy dolls from the general public. The fantasy goes something like this: doll dealer gets a call, comes out to view a collection or accumulation of old dolls which is filled with gems--mint in box 20th century dolls, old Brus and Jumeaus. Dealer then offers ridiculously low amount, offer is accepted, and dealer is now the proud new owner of these previously undiscovered treasures!

The Fantasy Vs. The Reality

As the owner of a doll shop, I often get to look at doll collections and accumulations of dolls from original owners. The actual experience generally goes something more like this: I get a call, and I'm told that the owner has "wonderful antique dolls they would like to sell." I pry as much as I can over the phone, and I'm told that the dolls are very old, made of bisque. Prying some more, they'll tell me they were made in Germany or France (they think). OK, so I get in my car and I go out to see the dolls....which (drumroll, please) generally turn out to be very bad bisque dolls "Made In China" in the 1990s, or, if I'm having an especially lucky day, naked German Armand Marseille dolls with obvious cracks in their heads.

My Latest Doll Buying Expedition

Well, not ALL doll buying experiences are quite that bad. One that I had last week was particularly interesting.

I get a phone call to come see the collection on a Monday. Call goes something like this: "Hello, I have a very large collection of dolls that I'm needing to sell, and I was told you're someone who'd be interested." I ask what types of dolls, and I'm told "Old dolls, nothing after 1979, mostly 1960s dolls, Patti Playpals, Ideal dolls, Horsman dolls." Now, that certainly got my attention. I dig a little deeper, and I'm told that there are items like a "very old Ideal baby doll, maybe one of the first, still in its box." I ask if the doll is composition and I'm told that it is. Digging more, I DO find out that they've already run ads in the local paper and collectors had been out to see the dolls. I am assured, however, that the collection has not been "cherry picked" because they want to sell it as a whole.

Now, This One Will Be Different!

Ok, I definitely need to see this collection, I decide, and I arrange to go on the weekend (the collection is in a rural community about 40 miles from my home). I arrive at the place, enter the room with the collection, and I am immediately, utterly disappointed. It was utterly true that almost all of the dolls were 1970s or prior, but...nearly every doll was not in original clothing, many of dolls were "rescue" cases which had been well-loved, and the few instantly recognizable dolls like ONE Patti Playpal (the rest of the Playpal size dolls were brands like Eegee and Horsman) had its arm off, or some other fatal flaw.

The Collection Is A Disapointment

I immediately tell the owners, a lovely lady in her 80s and her daughter-in-law, that there just isn't much there that my collectors would be interested in, and that I'd have to decline making an offer (while biting my tongue and not saying I felt I had been brought to the collection under somewhat false pretenses). They plead with me to look around a bit longer before I decide.

Time For Some Tea

At this point, I'm in a bad mood, and I'm freezing cold because the doll room isn't heated, so I ask for a cup of hot tea, if I'm going to stay a minute longer. Over tea, I get the full story of the dolls.

Turns out that the lady in her 80s had three sons but loved to sew. She didn't want to sew boy clothing, she wanted to sew fluffy, frilly girl clothing. So, in the 1960s, she started to purchase dolls so she could sew and crochet for them. This was why most of the dolls were in replaced clothing.

Please Make An Offer--Any Offer

I further learn that the family is about to move to another state, so they NEED to sell these dolls, and right away. They would really like me to make an offer. Any offer. However, it turns out, that, indeed, the collection WAS cherry-picked, on eBay, with items like a Black Patti Playpal, other Patti Playpals, Baby Crissys and the like already having been sold (this is my usual luck when purchasing a collection...it was so much easier to be a dealer before eBay, but that's for another article). I also learn that the collection stopped about 1980 because of a family dispute--the lady's husband had installed the shelving in the room for the dolls when the family moved to this house, and the lady hated the shelves so much (well....they sure looked like a guy built them!) that she made her husband promise to rip them out. Husband never ripped out the shelves, and the lady never played with the dolls again, or added to the collection much after that.

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