Friday, March 04, 2011

Overcoming My Fear of Antique Dolls

Recently I pulled my grandmother's china doll out of the box I've kept it in since clearing out my mother's house in 1996. Mom, in her turn had kept it in a box after clearing out her own mother's house in 1963. Mom used to show me the doll occasionally, telling me it was a valuable antique which we would restore "someday." She kept some vintage fabric scraps and 1960's magazine clippings with the doll.

I've decided to end the family tradition of not knowing what to do with this doll. I could clean it up and display it, sell it, or perhaps find some way to preserve it in storage, but I no longer keep stuff just because I'm afraid to get rid of it.

As a little girl I was frightened of the doll--it made me think of graves and corpses. Opening the box, I found it was just as creepy as I remembered. It was dressed in a silk gown my mom had told me was made from "Aunt Ella's wedding dress," meaning her dad's sister. The dress had a number of brown stains, was grey with dust, and smelled musty.

I undressed the doll (imagining how horrified my mom would have been to catch me playing with it) and suddenly, it looked more pleasant and friendly. (I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of doll, dress and all. It was too disturbing.)

In the first picture, it's just wearing a chemise and some lace scraps that were sewn on, not fashioned into a blouse. I clipped the threads holding it on and removed the chemise.

The stockings and shoes are sewn and pinned in place, and I didn't have confidence that I could replace them. The doll body is made of muslin stuffed with sawdust, not kidskin, as Mom had thought. It has kidskin forearms and hands with individually-sewn fingers. The painted hair shows some wear on the back, suggesting that my grandma played with her, but Grandma must have been big enough to avoid dropping a 22-inch doll on its china head too often. I'm guessing she might have been six or seven, which means she got the doll about 1890.

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