Unlike other toys which may come and go in popularity, dolls continue to connect generations.
Little girls have long played with dolls, emulating their mothers. Meanwhile, little boys played with model railroad sets. (Well, sometimes little boys watched Dad play with the model railroad; the boys themselves waiting until they were old enough to be allowed to play too!) But as less railroads criss-cross the country now, as technology advances creating remote control cars and new-fangled gadgets to play with, the generational connections once made via model trains and even other transportation toys has nearly faded into the past. Of course, parenting and caring for babies and children hasn’t become a thing of the past; so dolls remain popular and continue to connect generations.
It’s this continued shared love of dolls which keeps dolls at the top of “most popular” lists for antiques and collectibles year after year!
However, if you want your doll to survive so that it can be handed down to the next and even future generations, you’ll want to take precautions to preserve it.
Caring For Your Dolls
You know those TV commercials for dental whitening products that say, “If you aren’t whitening, you’re yellowing”? Well, dolls can be seen in the same way. The deteriorating effects of aging are breaking them down, and, if you aren’t preserving, you’re just letting the damage happen — maybe even compounding the problems.
While you can’t stop the aging (of yourself or the dolls!), you can slow it down with these eleven tips for doll care.
1) Protect your dolls from light. Sunlight, especially direct sunlight, is the worst; but florescent and incandescent lighting is also damaging. Not only will bright light fade the colors of most textiles, but it can also fade and damage various doll materials, including the vinyl and other plastics. Direct and/or bright lighting can also create a lot of heat, which can also cause a lot of problems for dolls. Use lighting and/or glass with ultra-violet filters for the best protection.
2) Protect your dolls from dust, smoke, pests, pets, and other environmental contaminants. Display your dolls in a glass cabinet (with proper lighting, that can be turned off when it’s not necessary) whenever possible. Glass shelves are non-reactive and therefore are safe for displaying dolls and their costumes.
3) Safely position dolls. Crowding dolls is dangerous. Not only does reaching for one risk knocking another over — or worse yet, a domino effect! — but you risk snags, scratches, and other damages. Crowding can also result in damage your doll outfits by crushing the textile fibers. Sleep dolls, dolls with inset eyes, and bisque dolls with eyes that move must be stored face down or displayed upright. The eye mechanisms are heavy, and if the doll is laid on its back, gravity will pull the eyes back into the doll’s head and/or break the mechanism itself. Beware doll stands. While your doll may look more presentable on a stand, the stress of her own weight against the stand can cause damage to the doll. Also, the metal of the doll stand itself may react with the doll or the doll’s costume, causing staining and tears. Support the bisque heads of dolls, even when they are sitting, as vibrations from general house activities may cause the heads to topple off the doll and break.
4) Beware of acids. Dolls should not be kept in their original boxes, as the acid in the cardboard and paper can actually damage the dolls and the costumes with a slow acid burning which appears as tanning. When storing dolls, remove the doll’s clothing or place acid-free tissue between the doll and her clothing. Unless you are using archival acid-free boxes, use more acid-free paper to protect the doll and clothing from the acid in cardboard boxes. The same is true of wooden surfaces, such as shelves, as the dangerous part of regular tissue, cardboard, or other paper is the acid from wood called lignin. A few layers of acid-free paper or unbleached muslin is enough of a barrier of protection. Dolls should not be stored wearing jewelry or clothing and shoes with metal buckles, etc., as the metal can create the dreaded “green spots” on vinyl dolls, rust on textiles, snag or scratch dolls and their outfits.
5) Pad cloth dolls and costumes. Use acid-free paper or unbleached muslin to support joints and other weak areas of cloth bodied dolls in storage. Parts of doll costumes, such as full sleeves and skirts, may need to be supported while in storage or on display too. Acid-free tissue paper will also help keep the garment’s shape while preventing textiles from creasing or touching, and accelerating damage.
6) Keep your dolls and their clothing clean. Even dolls in display cases can become dirty. Dust your doll collection regularly, and inspect the dolls for signs of pests or damages. For wigs, clothing, delicate trims, etc. you may use a vacuum with a nylon stocking over the hose to act as a screen which protects such light materials from the suction action.
7) Avoid water. Avoid washing your dolls, doll wigs, and clothing, as most dust and dirt becomes very acidic when mixed with water. Wooden, composition, and paper mache dolls should never be washed as water is their enemy. Caracul, mohair, wool, and wigs made of human hair do not like to be washed or wetted either. Regular dusting alleviates the need of washing.
8) Store dolls in safe places. If you have a large number of dolls, so many that you cannot display them all, beware storing them in attics, basements, closets along outside walls, and other places with temperature extremes or swings in temperatures. Similarly, humidity is a danger. Heat degrades composition and plastics (celluloid can even explode from heat!); excessive heat or too little humidity can cause dehydration of the fibers; and high heat and humidity can make the doll’s clothing bleed and stain the doll, her accessories, and other parts of her dress. Very cold temperatures can crack or craze composition and papier mache; too much humidity encourages the growth of mold, mildew, and fungus. Repeated swings and fast changes in these environmental changes exponentially hasten the damages. Thankfully, dolls do well in the same general temperatures and humidity levels we humans are comfortable with.
9) Avoid storing dolls in plastics, like rubber bins and plastic bags. These can trap in moisture, leading to mold and mildew. Plus, plastics give off gases that can damage dolls and and doll clothing alike. If you opt for plastic storage, puncture air holes to allow for circulation which allows the gasses to escape.
10) Beware the chemical reactions of mothballs. Mothballs and moth crystals contain chemical pesticides which can have bad reactions with vinyl, metal, and even feathers. If you must use mothballs or moth crystals to store dolls and fashions, be absolutely certain they do not come in contact with the dolls or textiles.
11) Don’t forget about your dolls. Think of display and storage as temporary situations. Remember to periodically take your dolls out from where they sit, dust them off, and inspect them for signs of pests or damages. Any dolls or items having — or which are suspected of having — insects or mold or fungus should be removed and isolated from the rest of the collection to avoid contaminating the rest of the collection. Regular inspection and repositioning of your dolls also gives your dolls, their clothing, and accessories time to breath, which helps avoids other decay issues.
Whether your dolls are in an old fragile state, freshly repaired, like-new, or brand new, these tips will ensure your dolls will live to connect to the next generation.