There are more dolls in my collection than I remembered. When I open the box, there are more — many more — than I had when I packed them up when my family moved when I was 13. And it makes sense. In forty years, the dolls have had children, and their children have had children. And by grandmother, my aunt and my mother have all passed away, and their dolls have migrated to become part of the great doll community.
I had a large collection of dolls from around the world when I was a girl. Whenever family friends would travel, a doll would arrive on my doorstep in a padded envelope: Cloth dancing Thai dolls with long-fingered hands and pointed hats. A cloth Chinese doll in silk pajamas carrying a littler doll on her back. South American and Mexican dolls with straw hats and serapes and Guatemalan huipile. And of course, half a dozen plastic Madam Alexander dolls with blinking eyes. These looked like 1950s children dressed in fancy ethnic garb: a flamenco dress, a Scottish kilt, a Viennese boatman’s outfit.
Joining these families, an older generation was added to the box. A wooden doll with yellow yarn hair and square jointed legs. A cracked and peeling plaster clown in a baby dress circa 1920. A kewpie doll with a lustrous waved plastic hairdo. A baby doll dressed in a nun’s outfit. Over 60 dolls in all.
Did I ever like these dolls? I remember spending long hours lifting and dusting my doll collection and placing them carefully back on the glass top of my dresser. I do not remember feeling any joy at my dolls. Only irritation at having to care for something that someone had given me without my asking. It was like so many things in a too-privileged child’s life. No one asked. Everyone just gave. Who imagines that children need that much stuff? Where did the idea of collections come from?
But, once you have something, what do you do with it? I could throw out the doll collection, but that would fill up the landfill and waste something that others might enjoy. I could give the collection to the GoodWill, but, again, they might ultimately not reach a loving audience. Or, I could find doll lovers — or a museum — to appreciate the dolls. A quick internet search turned up two possible homes: the Mingei museum of folk art, and The North Park Doll Collectors Guild. I saved some dolls for the Mingei to see. The rest my father and I took to the NPDCG’s doll show in October.
We labeled each doll with a number, and had patrons write the number of a doll they wanted, and why they wanted it on a piece of paper. Then, at noon, we gave the dolls away.