Today, I wanted to talk about the definition of "doll," as well as what has inspired me to create a museum collection. A friend of mine always said "Dolls are Where You Find Them!!" Anyone who loves to collect dolls knows that she was right. I have literally searched the world for dolls to add to my collection. Really, any good collector would do the same. For, as Anne Rice implied in the above quote, there are as many kinds of dolls in the world as there are people. There is no end to the materials used to make dolls. And, there are just as many reasons to collect them as there are collectors and dealers. Ideally, the best doll dealers or entrepeneurs are those who also have their own collections and who love dolls. Others gather their doll "families" because they want to recapture some fond but lost childhood memory. Or, maybe someone was too poor to have dolls when s/he was little; after all, toys in general, and dolls in particular, are luxuries. Of course, there are those who collect dolls because they are students of costume or history, or because they want inspiration for some other line of work.
I don't know why I started collecting dolls. I only know that I have been doing it since I was three years old. Actually, I preferred toy guns and playing outside with the other children in the neighborhood to dolls when I was very young. I didn't play "Barbies" until relatively late in life, (ages 10-12), and by then, I was an avid collector. My "play" consisted not in make-believe so much as in redressing dolls and creating little plays for them. I was also involved in battles with little boys who had plastic soldiers. Since girls in my day couldn't fight, however, I was relegated to nurse duty, and had to stand up the little plastic figures after they had fallen down in an enemy attack. At least once, I rescued minuscule revolutionary war soldiers from driveway gravel in which they had been imbedded for I don't know how long. A friend's older brother had carelessly trampled them underfoot, into the gravel, when he tired of them. I was always the rescuer of broken and forgotten dolls, so that doll restoration became an important reason for me to keep collecting.
Whatever the reason anyone has for doll collecting, however, one has to acknowledge that it is now one of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States, if not the world. Some say that it is the leading hobby in this country. I almost wish it weren't. Dolls should not be a source of competition; they are items of comfort and mystery, and important icons of childhood. Their very presence is testament to the similarities among people throughout the ages; no matter when we were born, all people have had the desire to recreate themselves for posterity. Human motives for doll creating are not important; ritual figures, religious idols, miniature portraits, toy soldiers, statues, toys, grave dolls, paper dolls, models, all serve a particular purpose. Like paintings and photographs they have the potential to live after us, and they have the potential to imitate us. They fascinate us for these very reasons and more. And, the way the word "doll" is defined also describes the type of collector.
Let's define a doll for our purposes as any representation of the human figure, big or small, whether or not a child's plaything. This way, we can have interesting discussions of statues and figurines, and automatons, and robots, and many other wonderful doll-like objects that are left out of most books. And, let's also include anthropomorphized creatures like teddy bears and "Beanie Babies," often dressed and treated as dolls anyway. We may even have a discussion or two about other objects that have been turned into dolls. For example, Cosette in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables adopts an old footstool as her "doll." Laura Ingalls Wilder's first doll in Little House in the Big Woods was simply a corncob wrapped in an old handkerchief and called Susan. Let's also consider what Barton Wright and Evelyn Roat say in their book, This is a Hopi Kachina. The authors write that " the kachina doll is not a toy, but it is not considered wrong for a child to play with it" (19). One could make the same observation about almost any object, especially one representing a human being. Perhaps it is no accident that many of the famous porcelain companies of the world allegedly made small dolls and doll heads as part of their trade that closely resembled the heads of the figurines they made. For others, dolls were ritual objects, representations of lost loved ones, childhood friends, or inspirational muses. Defining the word and the parameters of a collection are personal choices, reflected in indivdual taste and preference.