The Art Of Doll Collecting: Part I

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I hope you’re not in the midst of sweltering summer heat, wherever you are. My goodness, the humidity these days…

Today I’m going to focus on the art of doll collecting. There will be a brief overview, and lots of advice on building and maintaining a collection. If you have one already, I’d love to hear about your own experiences with your collection, so please feel free to share! And if you’re new to the collecting world, well, you’ve come to the right place. 😉

Please note: This post mainly has text, with few or no photos as of yet, until I take better pics of some of my dolls for comparison. When I have the chance to do so, this post will be updated, so you can check back later for a more in-depth version, or enjoy the current one! 🙂

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Doll collections are extensive. And when I say extensive, I mean extensive. Your imagination is really the limit. There are so many different forms of collections, and no two are alike. For some folks, collecting builds an identity. For others, it’s more of a hobby. There are those who transform dolls into characters, models, or friends, giving them vivid personality and tons of creativity. I feel that the dolls who get more attention and are “played with” more (at least from a collector’s point of view) have the most fun… though it’s also nice to see dolls who are so well taken care of, basically in mint condition!

Doll collecting has certainly evolved over the years. Nowadays it’s so easy to go online and find any number of brands, molds, prices, etc. to choose from… although I can’t really attest to a time when there was no internet, because that would precede me. 😉 In any case, it’s becoming faster and more efficient to access the doll collecting market. Though in terms of deciding for yourself how or where to start, that can get a bit tricky. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

To start with, it’s important to figure out the preliminary guidelines to creating your own collection: How ready are you to take full responsibility of your collection? Where are you going to put your collection? How much time are you going to dedicate to the upkeep of a fairly decent doll family? How much money and resources–i.e., clothing, shoes, props–are you willing to set aside to keep your collection ‘fresh’ and new? These are the primary things to consider. If you’ve already gone over all that, and are fully prepared to start collecting, then it’s time to think about the next step: finding the right doll(s).

Sometimes it helps to start completely from scratch, and find your way. However, most of the time that doesn’t work. If you start with a generalized approach, find a doll, order her/him, aren’t satisfied with the purchase, and find a “better” one afterward, you’ll already have spent your money on the first doll. Then you either have to sell that doll, or keep and endure your decision. (“Better” is in relative terms, because all dolls are unique; but when collecting, you should find one that really “clicks” with you, otherwise the whole endeavor may not be worth it.)

Here’s my advice: Try to find what kind of doll you want to collect first. This is not dissimilar to entering a library and trying to find the right book(s) by genre. If there’s a genre you know you’ll love, go straight to that shelf and look for it. On the other hand, if you’re completely new to another genre, it doesn’t hurt to try reading something else; just keep in mind that sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The same goes for doll collecting. How do you really, truly know which doll is right for you? That takes time, money, patience, and a few other things.

When considering which doll type to choose, you can start categorizing by looking at certain distinct characteristics you’d want in your collection, and narrowing it down from there. For example, you can go by material (cloth, vinyl, porcelain, resin, all natural materials, etc.); facial features (eye color, hair color, freckles/no freckles, demeanor, type of smile); price range (determining the minimum or maximum budget); or from a more practical standpoint (size, durability*, mobility, portability, and so on). You can even consider how customizable you want your collection to be, such as whether frequent wig or eye changes will be common, or not.

*Durability may not really be an issue if you’re buying the doll just for purposes of collecting, without factoring in play value. Though it’s still important to think about, if you want your own collection to last a long time.

Once you’ve decided on a specific kind of doll you’d like–personally, not based on others’ opinions–it’s time to choose a decent company to buy from. Don’t be too cheap; do your research, extensively if needed. Find a doll made from high quality materials, that will last a fairly decent amount of time. For instance, there are some dolls out there that are phthalate-free, which is a big deal. (Phthalates are a type of chemical found in plastics everywhere these days, and can be very bad for one’s health.) Companies such as Käthe Kruse and Kidz ‘n’ Cats claim to have no phthalates in their vinyl, which is great. Little things like that can provide a ton of help in making your decision.

Here’s something to keep in mind during the process: Don’t fall for promotional photos all the time. The goal of these images is to highlight the doll at the most lifelike angle that may appeal to most collectors. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… you may end up pleasantly surprised at how much better your doll looks in real life! All the same, you just have to be prepared if your doll looks very different than how you had envisioned her. (Kidz ‘n’ Cats Amber is one example, off the top of my head; she is very sweet-looking and sincere, in real life, but very different in contrast to the promotional pics, when I first saw her.)

If something about the brand doesn’t quite click with you–which can be as irritating as getting bad customer service–there are other ways to find the exact same doll. Some companies have retailers or mainstream distributors in other countries; or you can even find secondhand dolls online. I personally have never tried purchasing a secondhand doll before, so I don’t know all the ramifications. But I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who can help, if you choose to buy one secondhand. 🙂

Something else that you must know in advance, before purchasing a doll: Make sure you’re not allergic to the doll. In terms of substance, vinyl is usually okay, as it’s more on the synthetic/plastic side; cloth tends to be alright as well. Resin, on the other hand (most commonly used for Asian ball-jointed dolls, or BJDs), seems to instigate more allergic reactions. It’s hard to tell in advance if you’re allergic to a certain material. But if you are, it’s no fun. At all. So if possible, make sure the new addition(s) to your collection won’t give you any health inconveniences. If you know someone who has a doll made of the same material, do your best to determine whether or not you’ll have to suffer from constant sneezing, hives, or anything along those lines, if the same kind of doll joins your family. (The doll-by-doll results will inevitably vary, but you can still use that doll to base your general reaction.) And if you’re sensitive to particular scents, again, do your research. Some dolls, even the most expensive ones, do have scents. Never overlook that.

Now, if the descriptions weren’t that evident, and you do end up with a strong-scented doll (or worse, quality-wise), don’t panic yet. There’s an abundance of ways to handle the situation. Some cloth dolls can be hand-washed, or put in the washing machine (though, I suppose, you’d have to be a bit more careful with collectors’ heirloom dolls than with regular dolls… whatever the case, just don’t shrink them!!!). Dolls made from hardier materials can be cleaned with a damp cloth, or some cleaning product, to remove odors. There are also safe, durable cleaning products used to remove stains or spots that may appear on the surface of the vinyl/porcelain/resin/other material.

Beyond all that, there’s really not much else I can advise, except: HAVE FUN! Amid the potential stress and worry of ordering a doll, waiting for her/him to arrive, buying or making outfits, and so on, don’t forget to have fun. Remember the reason you chose to start a collection in the first place!

Ooh, and remember: Don’t be afraid to ask other collectors for advice. Most of the time, fellow collectors are not rivals, they’re friends. There are clubs, forums, and all sorts of information out there to help you research doll collecting; books, online articles, talking with someone in real life… the list is truly endless. And remember, your imagination is all that limits your collection. Seriously, the sky’s the limit.

If you have any specific questions, or things you’d like me to address in more depth, please don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments below! Any and all suggestions are welcome. 🙂 Now I’m thinking I’ll have to write a follow-up post to share experiences regarding my own collection, and how it came to be (though as you may already know, I much prefer calling them “The Family” instead 😉 ). That would certainly be fun. Let me know if you’d like to see something of the kind, in future, and I’ll see what I can do!

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