Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Madame Alexander Kathy skater

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about restoring stiff oilcloth doll shoes — in this case, a pair of red oilcloth doll skates for a 14-inch Madame Alexander Kathy skater.

My Kathy skater (circa 1949-1951) was another one of those lucky finds. I'm not sure why no one bid very high — because she had some play wear, or because the seller didn't identify her — but I bought her for what was a good price at the time (five or six years ago, before doll prices started going down). I think she's beautiful!

Madame Alexander Kathy Skater, circa 1949-1951

Kathy is wearing a red cotton bodysuit with three-quarter length sleeves, and a navy skirt that has faded to look more like a dark purple. The bodysuit is faded in the front above the skirt, probably where it was the most exposed to sunlight, as you can see in this picture.

Madame Alexander Kathy Skater outfit

Kathy has light brown floss braids. She has been played with, unfortunately, so they are a little fuzzy in places,but they are still braided, and the color is beautiful. Only two Maggie-faced strung dolls came with wigs in pigtail braids: Kathy and Polly Pigtails. Unfortunately, without their original clothes to identify them there is no way to tell them apart.

Madame Alexander Kathy - early Maggie-faced doll with pigtail braids

Kathy's bodysuit is tagged with an embroidered Madame Alexander tag. Recently I saw a doll in this same outfit (except with her original felt headband) that was tagged "Polly Pigtails." I believe she was mistagged, which happened fairly frequently, but until I see more examples of this doll (and check their tags) I'll have no way to know for sure.

Madame Alexander Kathy - bodysuit tagged Madame Alexander

Kathy originally would have worn brown leather roller skates, but when I got her she had on vintage navy oilcloth center snap shoes on her feet. (They later enabled me to complete my Arranbee Nanette or Nancy Lee, whom I will write a post about sometime soon.) I originally found white replacement skates for her, but eventually happened to find these MIB red oilcloth skates, which I softened with steam in order to get them on her feet.

Madame Alexander Kathy skater - replacement red oilcloth roller skates

Although the roller skates aren't techically appropriate, I have little hope of ever finding the correct skates, and I have to admit the red skates complement her outfit nicely. As for the felt headband — the seller of the mint "Polly Pigtails" doll took pictures of her doll's original headband, and I am going to try to copy it!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

An early strung Sweet Sue

While I'm taking a short break from listing dolls for sale, I decided I'd briefly return to the subject of Sweet Sue (click here to read about how I saved Sweet Sue) and blog about one of my favorite Sweet Sue dolls.

I found this doll at a doll show several years ago, and paid a pretty price for her (about $80, as I remember). She has beautiful face paint, clear blue eyes, and lovely carrot-red mohair braids with curly bangs. She is also one of American Character's earliest Sweet Sue dolls. You can tell because of the different face: The lips are painted smaller and appear more pursed than on the later Sweet Sue.

Early American Character Sweet Sue

Compare her face to the Sweet Sue I blogged a little while back:

Sweet Sue's later face

The earlier face was not used for very long, so most strung Sweet Sue dolls you find have the later face. The early Sweet Sue dolls are very hard to find, making them desirable and quite valuable.

Of course, as with any hard-to-find doll, early Sweet Sue outfits are even harder to find, so my early Sweet Sue is one of my only dolls NOT wearing either an original outfit or an appropriate replacement. Her dress is a tagged Madame Alexander dress for a 14-inch doll. It matches Sweet Violet's dress exactly, and is made in a similar style as Active Miss's dress, so I'm guessing it's for a Winnie Walker or a Binnie Walker around 1953 or 1954. This is the only time I've ever seen this dress for a doll other than Sweet Violet, so I am assuming it is pretty rare.

Early Sweet Sue in a rare Madame Alexander dress

The color of the dress — an iridescent fabric that shifts between blue and violet — looks so pretty with her red hair and blue eyes that I decided I had to leave her in it. I bought an original Madame Alexander slip and undies combination to go under it — the eyelet lace and a faded blue ribbon bow on the outside of each leg identifies it as most likely originating from an early 1950s Alice in Wonderland.

Madame Alexander slip and undies combination for an Alice in Wonderland doll

Madame Alexander slip and undies combination for an Alice in Wonderland doll

Her shoes are suede, fuzzy bottom, side snap shoes that are definitely Madame Alexander and most likely from a Winnie or Binnie Walker. Her socks are the correct rayon socks that were used on dolls in the 1940s and early-to-mid 1950s.

I've toyed with the thought of finding an early Sweet Sue dress for this doll, and then finding a Winnie or Binnie Walker to wear the Madame Alexander outfit, but I think actually I won't have the heart to separate Sweet Sue from this dress. It just looks too perfect on her!


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Arranbee Nanette: My lucky find

Having an eye for orphans — and knowing where to look to find them — can really help you to find some good deals in vintage dolls.

For example, I used to search the hard plastic category on eBay pretty regularly. One day I found a 14-inch hard plastic doll in a dress I didn't know, with really wild blond hair and no shoes or socks. I was pretty sure she was an Arranbee (also written as R&B) Nanette or Nancy Lee, but I didn't know anything else about her. I bid on her — and won her for about $25.

As often happens with these kinds of dolls, once I have them in my hands I can see more clearly what needs to be done in order to restore them to their original beauty. This doll was indeed an Arranbee Nanette or Nancy Lee (can't tell which without the hang tag), and I had a feeling her clothing was original: a blue and white dress with a matching blue organdy apron, and white cotton panties fastened in back with a little safety pin.

Arranbee Nanette or Nancy Lee - early hard plastic strung doll

Amazingly, considering her obviously played-with condition, she didn't need to be restrung — but she and her clothing were both rather dirty. I cleaned her body with a good doll cleaner, and was delighted to discover beautiful pink blush on her cheeks and knees!

Nanette's beautiful face paint

Next, I soaked her dress and apron in cold water with a scoop of Biz in it (a detergent that will not remove the sizing, or factory stiffness, from vintage doll clothing), rinsed the clothing thoroughly, and arranged it on an upside-down bowl to try (so that the skirt would dry full).

To my surprise, when the dress and apron dried, I found both had retained the original sizing, making the organdy nice and crisp (instead of limp and fragile). I had recently bought another 14-inch hard plastic doll who was wearing a pair of navy blue oilcloth side-snap shoes that didn't belong to her, so I put them on Nanette with a pair of vintage rayon socks.

Her outfit now clean and complete, all I still needed to do was fix her rat's nest of a wig. I discovered a stitched center part that went all the way down the back of her head, indicating that she was supposed to have pigtail braids. I carefully detangled her hair as much as possible (being careful not to pull any of it out of the wig), and was able to work it into two braids. I did this without wetting the hair down or conditioning it, so while it is still a little tangled and frizzy, it still has some of the waves from the original factory set.

Nanette's restyled blond braids

I later was able to confirm that my Arranbee doll's outfit is original. She may be missing a straw hat, and I need to find vintage blue ribbons to tie on the end of her braids — but otherwise, she is a wonderful example of an early Arranbee hard plastic doll, and a remarkable deal for only $25!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perfect Polly Pigtails

Recently I blogged about my Polly Pigtails — a project doll I fully restored, from restringing to carefully cleaning her clothing and body.

Although the story of my Polly Pigtails shows the enjoyment you can have (and the miracles you can work) when you know how to restring and repair dolls, there is probably also a lot to be said for buying dolls you don't have to work on.

Take, for example, this Polly Pigtails from Lia Sargent's catalogs. She has the same outfit as mine, except that she has the blue ribbons for accent (mine has a yellow waist ribbon to match her dress, and is missing her hair and hat ribbons).

The differences are pretty obvious: perfect hair, unstained dress, hat with no chips, vivid cheek color instead of mine's pale face, etc. This doll is a pristine example of one of Madame Alexander's most adorable dolls — and her perfect condition is reflected in the price ($1,750).

For some people, buying a single doll for nearly two grand might be an option, but it's not for me. That's why I appreciate my hundred-dollar Polly Pigtails, even if she isn't perfect. At least I have the pleasure of knowing that I "saved" her!


Friday, May 9, 2008

Alice's horrific hair

Last time I blogged about my Alice in Wonderland project doll, which I was lucky enough to be able to complete.

Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, her hair is pretty horrific. (Not a surprise, since she came from the same collection as Snow White, and that doll's hair was quite played-with as well.)

Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland with messy hair

I think what happened is that someone (probably some kid) tried to tighten her pigtails by pulling half one way and half the other, the way you tighten your ponytail when you're a kid. Unfortunately, this tightened one more than the other, and looks to have frizzed or teased the hair a little bit.

Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland with messy hair

I did attempt once to restyle the hair without fixing the pigtails, which is why it is smooth in back. That's also why it's kind of stiff looking with an awkward (and incorrect) flip. Now that I've learned somewhat more about restyling dolls' hair, I'm obviously going to have to restyle Alice's hair again — and this time, I'm going to redo the entire thing, pigtails and all.

Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland with messy hair

To see what Alice's hair should look like, check out the Alice in Wonderland in Lia Sargent's catalog. Her hair is amazing (as is everything else about her)! Hopefully I can copy the original style closely enough in my doll's hair!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Alice in Wonderland project doll

Another one of my favorite project dolls is my 1951-52 Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland. This doll has quite a story, and like my Wendy Bride project doll, is not finished yet.

Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland - 1950-51

I bought this doll back in about 2002 or 2003. I think when all was said and done, I paid about $175 to complete her (and this is when prices were considerably higher, before the economy had impacted eBay).

I was able to get her because my mom and I helped out a guy who was selling a Madame Alexander doll collection on eBay. There were a whole bunch of 14-inch hard plastic dolls, and he had the wrong clothes on all of them. We helped him straighten everything out, and in exchange he let us buy Alice directly from him. (My Snow White also came from this seller — same collection.)

It took a lot of back-and-forth emails, but we were finally able to determine that he still had the correct dress and half-slip/undies combo. The doll also has her original hair ribbon in her hair. He had already sold her apron in a large lot of miscellaneous items, but the buyer of the lot gladly sold it to us.

I found the correct black patent fuzzy-bottomed shoes on eBay. I also know that I bought her stockings separately — I don't recall how I pulled that off, but I think they were on another doll that I either bought, or asked the seller to sell me just the stockings. Stockings are hard to find, so I was incredibly lucky not just to find stockings, but also the correct stockings for the doll! (Unfortunately, you can't see them very well in the pictures, but they have an open fishnet-like weave to them.)

Alice in Wonderland's original slip/undies with correct stockings and shoes

Alice in Wonderland tag

By the way, an interesting note about these Alice in Wonderland dolls: Although their dresses were originally blue, all of the taffeta versions fade to lavender and sometimes pink. Madame Alexander apparently used an unstable blue dye during this period, as the same thing happens with the blue taffeta used on other dolls, such as the 1959 Sleeping Beauty Elise.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A doll stringing masterpiece

My Madame Alexander Polly Pigtails is one of my doll stringing masterpieces.

Polly Pigtails was made from 1949 to 1951 with Madame Alexander's Maggie face. I had wanted one for some time, but unfortunately they can be expensive — especially with outfits other than the plaid one (which I don't like as much).

Shortly before I found my Polly, I'd seen a pristine-mint Polly Pigtails on eBay. She was 14 inches tall (my favorite size), and had a pale yellow dress with a blue ribbon sash. Her light brown braids still had the original blue ribbons in them. I was heartbroken when she sold for far more than I could afford — somewhere around $700, if I remember correctly.

Not long afterward, I found what would become my Polly Pigtails. It was love at first sight, although not everyone would have thought so. Her body and dress were soiled, and worst of all, she was in pieces: Her original stringing had broken. But as you already know from some of the other dolls I've posted about, such as my ravaged Cissette Ballerina, I have a soft spot for unwanted dolls.

Anyway, I knew that this Polly Pigtails was quite possibly a diamond in the rough. She was all original: She had her yellow cotton eyelet dress (at least, I was pretty sure it was yellow underneath all that dirt), her yellow cotton slip-and-underwear combo, her straw hat, and black patent side-snap shoes. All I would have to provide would be the appropriate socks, which aren't too difficult to find if you know where to look.

I won the auction for a little over $100. Everyone was scared away by her condition, but because I knew how to string and do simple repairs, such as cleaning, I was able to get her for a good deal. And all I had to do to make her beautiful again was restring her and wash her clothes.

Polly isn't perfect, of course: Her face is pale, and her floss wig is both red and blond — an interesting factory flaw that I've only seen a couple of times. Her dress shows some play wear and a faint stain I was not able to entirely remove. However, she is in good condition and all original, which speaks for something. I've seen less complete dolls in this outfit command a couple hundred dollars, so I think she is probably worth at least half her book value, which Linda Crowsey's 2008 Madame Alexander price guide reported as being $500.

But what I love best about my Polly Pigtails is knowing that I made her beautiful again. It's amazing how deep an attachment you can form with a doll you have brought back to life.

Madame Alexander Polly Pigtails, 1949-1951

Factory flawed wig: red hair streaked with blond

Polly Pigtails's yellow slip-and-undies combo

Tagged Madame Alexander Polly Pigtails, 1949-1951

Madame Alexander's Maggie face


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Restringing and cleaning Nina Ballerina

This doll, a 14-inch strung Nina Ballerina, is now in my collection, but she belonged first to my mom. After my mom got her, we had to do a lot of work on her, including restringing and a very intensive cleaning. My mom gave her to me later on because she said that since I put so much work into the doll, I really should have her.

strung Madame Alexander Nina Ballerina

Nina Ballerina was made from 1949 to 1951, and is quite a popular doll. The 14-inch size books for $575 and up, according to Linda Crowsey's 2008 price guide. She is also pictured on page 193 of Collector's Encyclopedia of Madame Alexander Dolls 1948 - 1965, priced at $700 and up. The only differences I see between my doll and the one pictured is that mine is missing the sprig of flowers for her hair, and has slightly paler cheeks.

strung Madame Alexander Nina Ballerina

Nina didn't come to us in perfect condition, though. When my mom got her she needed restringing, which was easily fixed. However, she was also covered in a thick coat of dingy flesh-toned paint. I think it was old paint, perhaps even old oil-based paint, because of its consistency and cracking. It was awful, whatever it was!

It took many hours, but I finally succeeded in stripping away the dingy paint. Underneath, Nina had a perfect, porcelain-like complexion. Hard plastic dolls were painted at the factory, but luckily I was able to clean off the "aftermarket" paint without damaging the original finish.

To clean Nina Ballerina, I used a doll cleaner that we purchased on eBay, and a scrubbing pad made for cleaning glass and ceramic stove tops. These pads are great because they are made not to scratch, so they won't damage your doll. They are also reasonably priced, and you can cut them into smaller pieces. Unless a doll is exceptionally dirty, you should be able to rinse and reuse them several times.

Another thing that helped me clean Nina was being able to take her apart and put her back together again later. Since I had to restring her anyway, I just cleaned her torso and each limb separately. It made it easier to hold the piece I was working on, and I didn't have to worry about messing up her hair while I was working.

Speaking of her hair, one of the most unique things about Nina Ballerina is her strawberry-blond, upswept wig. My Nina is a great example: Except for the fact that she is missing her flowers, her hair is in perfect shape.

strung Madame Alexander Nina Ballerina


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two exceptional Madame Alexander Snow White dolls

I've blogged twice about my Snow White doll: once about restyling the doll's hair, and another time to confirm that I did, in fact, restyle her hair correctly.

This time I want to show you two truly exceptional examples of Snow White: this one and this one. Both of them have perfect hair, high-color cheeks, beautiful gowns, minty vests, and their original Disney hangtags. (One of the common problems with Snow White is that her golden vest frays.)

They really are beautiful, but I wouldn't ever trade my Snow White for a nicer one. I like knowing that I restyled her hair and cleaned her gown myself. I feel like putting my own labor of love into her made her more fully mine.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More information on my Wendy Bride

I blogged a little while ago about one of my ongoing project dolls, a doll tagged "Wendy Bride" who looks identical to my mom's Lucy Bride.

Since then, I've run across this Wendy Bride listing from Lia Sargent, who appears to be quite the expert in Madame Alexander dolls. All of her dolls are tissue mint, pretty much the finest quality I've ever seen anywhere.

Anyway, the listing claims that although the doll is sometimes called "Lucy Bride," her official name was Wendy Bride. She is listed as being made in 1949, which corresponds with the years listed for Lucy Bride in Linda Crowsey's price guide.

I highly recommend checking out the pictures of Lia Sargent's Wendy Bride — she is an exquisite example of what mine would have looked like when she was new!


Friday, March 28, 2008

I restyled Snow White's hair correctly!

I was just looking at an auction on eBay for an almost-all-original 1952 Snow White, and it turns out I restyled Snow White's hair correctly!

Here is the picture of the eBay doll's original hairdo (used with permission from rebeccade):

Snow White's original hair style

If you look closely, you can see that the hair is pulled back in a piggy tail on each side, then combined into a single tail in the back. You can also see a little bit of the metal barrette (actually a heavy metal wire that hooks into the piggy tail on each side to hold them up) peeking out from under the pink ribbon.

By the way, the seller notes that the pink ribbon is replaced, but she included the original one in the auction, and they look nearly identical.

I have a picture of my Snow White's hair after I restyled it, from almost the same angle:

my Snow White's restyled hair

As you can see, I got the style right — all I'm missing is the barrette and a pink ribbon!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wendy Bride project doll

I mentioned in a prior post that I love having "project dolls" to fix up and complete. This Madame Alexander doll is probably my biggest project doll of all time, and is not yet complete.

She is tagged 14-inch "Wendy Bride," and is somewhat of a mystery. The outfit and hairdo are identical to those worn by the Lucy Bride produced in 1949 and 1950, which is pictured on pages 77 and 79 of Patricia Smith's Madame Alexander Collector's Dolls. A lovely color picture can also be found on page 196 of Linda Crowsey's Collector's Encyclopedia of Madame Alexander Dolls 1948 - 1965, though Crowsey doesn't reference her as Lucy. According to Crowsey's 2008 price guide, a 14-inch Lucy Bride books for $1,000 and up in mint condition.

strung Madame Alexander Wendy Bride

strung Madame Alexander Wendy Bride

strung Madame Alexander Wendy Bride

I got the doll for an extraordinarily low price — less than $30, if I remember correctly. This was because she was an amputee — she was missing one lovely suntanned leg.

She had her dress and was otherwise in good condition, though, so I decided to go ahead and buy her as a project doll. It took me about a year, but I finally found a nude, bald 14-inch strung Maggie with the same suntanned complexion. I bought the parts doll, restrung Wendy with the new leg, and resold the parts doll (poor dear) for almost the same price I paid for her.

I am lucky enough that my mom has an all-original Lucy Bride in the 17-inch size. Using her outfit for comparison, I've found my doll the appropriate underwear — a pair of white satin undies with a single square snap in back, authentic Madame Alexander — and shoes — white satin center-snap shoes with a smooth snap, the careful stitching characteristic of Madame Alexander, and fuzzy bottoms.

Madame Alexander strung Wendy Bride

Madame Alexander strung Wendy Bride

All I am missing now are her stockings and her veil. I've managed to find the correct stockings for another doll — a Madame Alexander Alice in Wonderland — but I doubt I'll be able to ever find the correct veil.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Restyling Snow White's hair

Although most of what I do to fix dolls is cleaning and restringing, sometimes I will restyle their hair. I did this on my 1952 Madame Alexander Snow White.

1951 Madame Alexander Snow White

The first thing I did was to strip Snow White and wash her gown. While her gown was soaking, I washed her hair as well. Then I slicked it down with conditioner to tame it and make it easier to brush. After getting the knots out, I left the conditioner in for a little while before rinsing it out.

I decided not to use those pink rubber rollers from the 1950s, as I don't like the stiff, crimped curls that they create in saran hair. Instead, I opted to allow the hair to retain its soft wave, which didn't really wash out very much during her "bath."

I didn't know how Snow White's hair would have been styled from the factory, but after looking at some pictures I decided it would be most authentic to do it like Madame Alexander's Alice in Wonderland from the same era. Alice's hair along the browline is held back in a little piggy tail on each side, and then both are combined into one a little lower down.

I also decided to tie each side with thread to match her hair, since that is the way Madame Alexander dolls came from the factory.

Here are the results:

1951 Madame Alexander Snow White

1951 Madame Alexander Snow White

1951 Madame Alexander Snow White

1951 Madame Alexander Snow White

Although it's not perfect, it's considerably better than the played-with look she had when I got her!


Fixing my favorite Maggie

This 18-inch Madame Alexander Maggie is from my mom's collection. She's wearing one of my favorite Madame Alexander outfits: a dress with an open back to the skirt, and a ruffled half slip/underwear combo underneath that peeks through the back. The collar matches the plaid slip/undies combo.

strung Madame Alexander Maggie

The other day, I was at my parents' house when I noticed something didn't look right in one of my mom's doll cases. At first I thought Maggie had fallen over, since I could just see the top of her red-wigged head, propped between two other dolls' shoulders. However, it turned out that her stringing had broken and her head had popped off.

We restrung Maggie the same day. It turned out someone had restrung her in the past, but improperly. The rubber band wasn't old at all, but was just a basic rubber band — which is probably why it broke so quickly. Also, the long hook inside her head was missing, so the person restringing her had jerry-rigged one using a shorter hook and a twistie-tie — the kind you close produce bags with at the grocery store.

Honestly, after seeing that I was glad the rubber band broke, because otherwise I wouldn't have known about the poor restringing job. Now I had a chance to do it right.

I have a collection of replacement hooks, which I got as part of a restringing kit I once purchased on eBay. I found a hook that was almost as long as her original head hook would have been, and restrung her. Despite the time it took to get the replacement hook on right, within 30 minutes Maggie was as good as new!