Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vintage Doll Collecting: Do You or Don't You?

Good morning!

As I was winding down from a long day at work yesterday (isn't it weird to go home in the pitch black dark, all you fellow five o'clock warriors?), I caught a story about Hugette Clark, the recently deceased centenarian millionairess on DailyMail, that piqued my interest in the state of the woman's estate. Clark's will made provisions for a bequest of a Santa Monica mansion to the state of California, in the hopes that an arts foundation could be based out of the eighty-five million dollar property. What caught my eye? The article's description of the property as "the mystery-steeped mansion where fruit trees continue to be perfectly pruned and a 1933 Cadillac limousine sits in the driveway". Spooky! Apparently, this and the other $300 million dollars worth of real estate owned by the eccentric heiress stood empty for twenty years, as she spent her last days in a long-term hospital ward. The prime occupants of her chic 5th Avenue apartment in New York? Dolls.
Clark as a child with just a few of her baby doll friends (source)
I'm still on the holds list for Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark, but was able to find a little more information about the doll situation through further Daily Mail articles and a video on NBC news, because great balls of fire, who wouldn't be interested in a creepy, disused, vacant apartment filled with hundreds of pairs of glass-eyed, non-living inhabitants? "Home to just her dolls" cites this article, about the property that went on the market in April of this year for 7.2 MILLION. DOLLARS. The video showed German fairytale cottages, Japanese minka doll houses filled with antique Hina dolls, and one very handsome set of French porcelain dolls that Clark bought for fourteen grand apiece, in a single auction. Can you imagine having so much money? And then spending it on dolls? However exquisite the dolls were? According to the caption to the below photo on the left:
On a single day in 1993, when Huguette was 86, she bought two French dolls from the 1800s, including this Jumeau. She bought dolls at auction from her hospital room through her attorney. She paid nearly $30,000 for the pair, but had authorized her attorney to bid up to $135,000. She nearly always was the winning bidder.
A $14,000 Jumeau doll, and one of Huguette Clark's New York apartments
I love that this excerpt is easily identifiable with any other collector/estate sale junkie, even if it's on a far grander scale-- how many times have you timidly approached an estate sale cashier or flea market vendor and asked "How much did you want on this [rotary telephone/beaded collar/ Eames looking footstool/ etc, etc]?" In your head, you have three prices-- the one you'd be delighted to pay ("Wow, and it was only two bucks!"), the one you'd be satisfied to pay ("She said she would take twenty on it, and that seemed a little high, but heck, I want the thing."), and the one you would grudgingly pay because you HAVE TO ACQUIRE the item ("I can't believe I just spent thirty bucks on a quilt! WHATISWRONGWITHME."). Imagine having more money than you could spend in a lifetime as your collectors' budget! I can't! My heart keeps fluttering! And to spend it on dolls!

I mentioned in a past blog  on Colleen Moore's doll house that Joan Crawford also amassed a collection of some 300 dolls, before deciding the moppets didn't fit her new, soignée look for her marital digs with first husband (and classy to the teeth actor) Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She jettisoned the whole lot during her renovation of "El Jodo". Poor Joan bidding a fond adieu to her dolls! 

I've been to at least twenty estate sales. maybe more, over the past ten years of serious picking, each set in a modest or even a little shabby of a home, where some just-passed grandmother had dozens, upon dozens, UPON DOZENS of dolls, all lined up in boxes or free-standing. "IF YOU LIKE DOLLS, THIS ONE'S FOR YOU! COME SEE FOR YOURSELF!" the listings for the sale would exhort, or "Know any doll collectors?!" Most of these weren't the fine antiques of Clark's estate, but QVC or HSN late night splurges by sweet old ladies who just had to have the Scarlett O'Hara Barbie or the Victorian Dream bisque baby. At the same instance as I can't understand collecting THAT MANY dolls (whereas that many dresses or coats or stoles seems completely reasonable, I know, I'm a hypocrite), something about it touches my heart a little. Can you imagine not being able to have as many dolls as you wanted as a Depression era girl, and then spending your "second childhood" as a retiree who would buy as many moppets and poppets and velveteen dressed, curled-haired, real-eyelashed figurettes as her pension would allow? It's something that the baby-boomer and beyond generation maybe can't understand. As a kid, I had as many dolls as I wanted! Maybe too many to appreciate what it would be like to have one, down-at-the-heels little rag doll and want a Jumeau of my very own.

Joan at home with her dolls (I love how they're just on a shelf...why notsource
That said, as I was writing this blog, I remembered that I am not exactly without baby dolls in my own, even grown up, house. Here's a collection of just the ones that aren't somewhere in storage, from the 1910's embroidered fairy pillow doll on the far right, to the 1930's REAL HAIR, rosy cheeked composition doll on the far left. I can remember specifically carrying the latter of the two out of the sale like "Why did I just buy this? What compelled me?". The price was too-low for the doll (I think $25? For a for-real antique doll?), and it was too strange and adorable to pass up! I hope someday when we have kids, I can decorate a little girl's room with this bizarre assortment of dolls on a high shelf, like Joan's, where they're ensconced in a safe, but uncreepy decorative way. I left out the boudoir doll, perched atop my chifferobe with a collection of hats and a framed pin up of Eartha Kitt (this one), but if you've seen it once, it probably still haunts your dreams. I guess I'm not as guiltless about doll collecting as I thought!

It's like they're watching me!
What about you? What are your thoughts on doll collecting? As harmless as any other obsessive amassment of goods, or kind of weird any way you slice it? Do you have any dolls in your collection that you have a particular connection to, either as a child or as an adult? How do you display these in a non horror movie type vignette? What would you bid obscene amounts of money on if you had Huguette Clark's wealth? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but more collector's triumphs and laments up on the blog tomorrow. Til then!

PS: More on HC's doll collection here. Dresses by Dior on those little lucky devils! I can't wait to read the  aforementioned book about her life...I bet it'll be a trip!


  1. Aw, hell. I completely lost my comment! Grr.

    Anyway, how about that $7.2 million apartment inhabited only by dolls? That's quite a bit of real estate for inanimate objects!

    I still have all my Cherry Merry Muffins and my mom's Liddle Kiddles, but I wouldn't call myself a doll collector. I was much more of a stuffed-animal kid.

  2. I have somewhat modern dolls but keep in boxes in a cabinet but for my 1967 Barbie with her bad knee and her boyfriend GI Joe doll who I like to make up stories in my head about her and him, and he is usually barking orders at her so goes on extended vacations alone. Sometimes I make clothes for my dolls but stopped getting new ones years ago. I live in a small house so I don't display them. I like making tiny cloth dolls when I want a creative thing to do. I'd never want cheap porcelain ones or even the expensive ones showed here in your blog. Fun reading, thanks!

  3. oh i'm so fascinated by Hugette Clark! Let me know if the book is good!
    i never really liked dolls, I did have an American Girl doll, but htat was it. I'm a sucker for vintage stuffed animals though. I have quite a little pile on a high shelf in my room. if we ever have a kid I'll probably embarrass them by putthing those things in their room!

  4. The entire Hugette Clark story entrances me! It is almost like something out of the movies, like a Norma Desmond but far more wealthy and completely recluse. I've been following a lot about the estate in California, I really hope that the IRS problems are solved and the house is preserved! What a loss it would be if it was sold/renovated or even worse torn down (as they often are in California) It would make quite a remarkable movie. Her Dolls are just the icing on the cake!



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