Monday, November 10, 2008

How I saved Sweet Sue

One of my favorite early hard plastic dolls is the 14-inch flat-footed Sweet Sue by American Character. (The company later turned her into a fashion doll called Sweet Sue Sophisticate, and then renamed her Toni.) I like the strung dolls and the early walkers the best.

American Character Sweet Sue walker

This particular doll is all original and wearing one of my favorite Sweet Sue outfits. Check out her pretty matching bloomers and her original center snap shoes:

All original Sweet Sue walker

Of course, she wasn't this perfect when she came to me — like many of my dolls, she needed a little fixing up to make her look this pretty.

First of all, when I got Sweet Sue her hair appeared to be a mess, with curls everywhere. I had seen this doll before, though, and I knew her hair was meant to be in curly pigtails tied with rose-colored grosgain ribbon. Luckily for me, I was able to find almost an exact match at our local fabric store. Her hair actually wasn't that mussed, and I was able to separate it into pigtails without combing or restyling the original curls.

Sweet Sue's pigtails

Unfortunately, Sweet Sue needed more than just a couple of hair ribbons. When I first undressed her I was horrified to discover a seam split along each shoulder. As I examined her, I realized what had caused it: Her arms (she is a walker) had been strung with a spring at the factory, which had probably stiffened up over time. Now, it was so tight that it was putting too much pressure on the arm sockets, causing the shoulders to separate at the seams.

The spring from an early Sweet Sue walker's arms

Of course, the first thing I did was to remove the spring and restring her arms with regular cord elastic. I strung them a touch on the loose side, to prevent doing any further damage to her poor shoulder seams. The split in the seams went away almost completely — all you can see now is a little hairline separation.

Seam separation in an early 1950s hard plastic doll

Sweet Sue's rescue story ought to show how useful it is to be able to restring dolls yourself. If I hadn't been able to fix Sweet Sue, her shoulder splits could have relegated a lovely, all original doll to the rubbish pile!

American Character Sweet Sue


Saturday, October 11, 2008

The construction of Active Miss and Sweet Violet

A couple of days ago I blogged about my Madame Alexander Active Miss, one of my luckiest finds and among the rarest dolls in my collection.

One of the things I think is so interesting about Active Miss and Sweet Violet is their construction. A year or two later it became common to put vinyl arms with jointed elbows on walker dolls, but Sweet Violet and Active Miss both have hard plastic arms. Moreover, instead of having springs holding their jointed elbows together, as in the vinyl arms, their arms are fully strung — that is, a rubber band goes down into the wrist of each arm.

The result is a fully poseable doll that can achieve some pretty lifelike poses.

Fully poseable Madame Alexander Active Miss

My doll does not need restringing, but eventually I hope to get my hands on an Active Miss or Sweet Violet that does, so that I can take pictures and create an instruction booklet for restringing more complicated dolls such as these.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Madame Alexander Active Miss: One of my luckiest finds

One of the best parts about being a collector — of anything — are the occasional lucky finds. My Madame Alexander Active Miss was one of those.

1954 Madame Alexander Active Miss

Active Miss was only made for one year, 1954. She was made using the exact same body and face as Sweet Violet, a highly desireable doll for collectors that was made between 1951 and 1954.

Active Miss has the lovely Cissy face that was also used on Winnie Walker and Binnie Walker. The really interesting thing about her, though, is that her body is fully jointed: In addition to be jointed in the usual places (neck, shoulders, and hips), Active Miss is also jointed at the elbows, wrists, and knees.

Fully jointed Active Miss

Active Miss and Sweet Violet were the only dolls with this body, which is probably why the dolls is so sought after by collectors — not to mention so valuable: It's unique. A mint Sweet Violet doll can sell for $900 and up, and Active Miss is worth $850 and up.

Of course, my Active Miss is nowhere near mint, but she is the best example I have ever seen. I have only seen Active Miss on eBay two other times, and both times the doll was missing substantial parts of her outfit. My Active Miss doll's flaws are few: She is missing her hat, her hair has been combed, and the elastic on her half slip has relaxed over time. Still, her organdy dress retains its sizing, her original stringing is tight, and she shows only light play wear.

Active Miss in her original outfit

The best thing about my Active Miss was the phenomenal price I got her for. The seller had listed her so that the auction ended at about 3:00 am, and on top of that had no idea what she was. As a result, I won her for about $207 — less than half of what the other Active Miss dolls have sold for on eBay (even missing half their outfits).


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A note on Winnie Walkers and Binnie Walkers

A couple of days ago I blogged about my Winnie Walker project doll. I realized I never mentioned anything about her year or value in my blog post. Since Winnie Walker and Binnie Walker are often confused, I decided a separate post was justified.

Both Winnie and Binnie were Cissy-faced walker dolls, but Winnie was made first, starting in 1953. They both had different outfits and there were other subtle differences — for instance, some later Binnie Walkers had vinyl arms that were jointed at the elbow. Also, I've never seen the wig and hairstyle that my Winnie wears on a Binnie Walker, so I think it was just Winnie who wore it.

According to Linda Crowsey's 2008 price guide, Winnie was made in 1953 and 1954, and Binnie was made in 1954 and 1955. I think Binnie was also used in 1956 for some specific dolls, such as the non-walker 1956 Wendy Bride that I have (and am actually considering selling).

Really, the best way to learn to distinguish between Winnie and Binnie is to do the research. Study listings of complete, all-original Winnie and Binnie dolls on eBay, and consult every doll book you can find. With a little persistence and a lot of attention to detail you should be able to identify your doll!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Winnie Walker project doll

I had completely forgotten about my 15-inch Winnie Walker project doll, until my mom and I started going through our collections this week, looking for dolls we no longer want.

Of course, this being one of my project dolls, I put a lot of love into completing her, so she's not a candidate for our downsizing efforts. However, I decided that her status as a nearly-completed project doll meant she deserved her 15 minutes of fame on my blog.

15-inch Madame Alexander Winnie Walker

I bought Winnie right after Christmas in 2001. I remember because there was hardly anyone bidding right after Christmas, and as a result I got a really good deal.

When I bought her she was wearing a white dress that was possibly factory-made but nothing that I recognized. However, she was also wearing red centersnap shoes with fuzzy bottoms — shoes I was pretty sure were Madame Alexander.

After some research, her shoes and her hairstyle convinced me that she had originally worn the red dress with a navy sailor coat over it — a popular Winnie outfit. As it turned out, my mom had bought the dress and matching underwear a while back to go on her Binnie Walker, and I had a two-piece red-and-white Binnie Walker dress — so we traded.

15-inch Madame Alexander Winnie Walker

Some time later, I found the navy coat to go with the outfit. It was a little faded to purple in places, which is pretty common with this outfit.

15-inch Madame Alexander Winnie Walker

Unfortunately I wasn't able to find the navy felt bonnet — and I rather suspect I never will. Other than that, though, the outfit is complete — right down to the matching undies!

15-inch Madame Alexander Winnie Walker

It was a year or so after I completed Winnie that I started favoring the 14-inch strung dolls. I always kept Winnie, but after a while I forgot about her. Now that I've rediscovered her, I've moved her to the front of my doll case in the basement.

We had fun with our photo shoot the other day. Winnie's outfit reminds me of a model's costume, so I took a picture of "Winnie the model."

15-inch Madame Alexander Winnie Walker

I love rediscovering old favorites!