Saturday, May 17, 2008

My favorite Cissette

This Cissette was not as much a project doll as some of the others in my collection. I didn't have to restyle her hair, and she didn't have any unsightly damage. On the contrary, her hair, face paint, and dress were virtually perfect from the day I won her on eBay.

One of the reasons this doll is my favorite is because of her dress. I like the cotton dress in light blue floral stripe, with its cute little rhinestone accents and light blue ribbon sash, better than any other Cissette dress I've seen. So even though the dress was the only thing she wore when I bought her, my goal was to eventually complete her.

And I have managed to do so. I was able to find a pair of original Cissette stockings from a local dealer at a doll show here in Denver. Through eBay, I found a seller who was able to supply me with a number of Cissette panties and slips — and of course, the best pair went on this doll. By getting her Cissette strappy sandals one at a time, I was able to get them for about $15 total — a real steal when it comes to these tiny, hard-to-find shoes.

Although the original owner of the doll said that the dress was original, it seems that might not be exactly true. The lovely ladies in the "JustCissette" Yahoo! group I belong to tell me that this is a boxed dress from 1961, which was sold in a number of different fabrics, and usually without a hat. Since my doll has the triple-stitched wig that dates her to 1957 or 1958, she actually predates the dress by several years.

Supposedly, all this information is contained in a Cissette reference book by Marjorie Merod. I will definitely have to look into adding it to my collection of doll reference books!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to date vintage Madame Alexander Cissette dolls

I've blogged recently about a couple of my Madame Alexander Cissette dolls: my white ballerina, and a redhead with a fancy hairdo that I partially restored. I also mentioned the triple-stitched wig part a couple of times, which dates a Cissette doll to 1957 or 1958.

In this post, I want to explain the rest of the ways to date a vintage Cissette doll. When I say "vintage," I mean dolls that were made between 1957 (when the doll was first introduced) and 1963. Cissette's mold was also used for the Portrette dolls, which were made between 1968 and 1973.

Madame Alexander still uses the mold in her modern dolls, but the plastic is pretty different than what was used in the 1950s and 1960s. A doll collector who is familiar with both vintage and modern Cissettes should be able to tell the difference pretty easily: The plastic is lighter and cheaper, and the face paint tends to be more gaudy.

Cissette dolls all have high-heeled feet and jointed knees, except for the Sleeping Beauty doll of 1959 — she has flat feet and no knee joints.

The most sought-after Cissette dolls are the 1957 and 1958 dolls. If a Cissette has the standard hairdo (like my ballerina), you can date her by the stitching down the part in her wig: In 1957 and 1958, they used triple-stitched parts, and in 1959 they switched to a simple zigzag stitch. Cissette dolls with fancier hairdos and a triple-stitched part were made between 1961 and 1962.

Fingernail paint can also date a Cissette doll, as it was only used between 1962 and 1963.

Finally, a Cissette doll's eyelids can also date a doll. Between 1957 and 1963, Cissette had either beige or pale pink eyelids; only Jacqueline and Margot had blue eyeshadow, and both of those dolls have very distinctive hairdos. (For an example, see the pictures of my Margot.) Portrettes, which aren't as desireable, also had blue eyeshadow.

All of the above information on dating Cissette dolls comes from Linda Crowsey's 2008 Madame Alexander price guide.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

eBay versus Craigslist

I saw an article today about the war between eBay and Craigslist. For those of you who don't know, eBay is the most popular online bidding site, and an excellent place to buy and sell dolls — if you don't mind putting up with eBay's high fees (for sellers) and general disinclination to get involved in disputes.

Craigslist, on the other hand, is a network of community websites (one for each major city in the United States) where local sellers can post ads for free. Although I haven't found many good vintage dolls listed for sale on Denver's Craigslist, I've heard of people getting great deals on Craigslist in other locations.

Of course, Craigslist technically threatens eBay's very existance, because it's a free way to sell things online. (My mom now sells almost exclusively on Craigslist. It takes a little longer, but she doesn't pay any listing fees.)

A few years ago, eBay bought a little over a quarter of Craigslist's stock from a former employee, and now they're apparently trying to bring Craigslist down completely: They are suing on the grounds that Craigslist is "trying to dilute its stake to reduce its potential influence over the company's board," but it sounds like eBay is actually trying to strong-arm Craigslist's owners into selling the company to them.

Regardless of whether I continue to shop on eBay or not, I hope that they don't succeed in acquiring Craigslist. One of the great things about Craigslist is how unconcerned they are with maximizing profits — and since profits seems to be all eBay cares about, they're bound to destroy the anti-establishment spirit of Craigslist!

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.

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!

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.

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!

Possible correction on my Cissette ballerina

In my post on dating Elise ballerinas, I mentioned that I suspected Cissette ballerinas might have followed the same schedule. While the gold ballerina was definitely 1959 only for Cissette as well as Elise, it appears that the same might not be true for other colors of Cissette ballerinas.

Lia Sargent has two white Cissette ballerinas in her catalogs: a blond and a brunette. She lists both of them as #914 from 1957.

My white Cissette ballerina has the same hairstyle and earrings as Ms. Sargent's dolls, but her tutu and flowers are different. Still, this seems to indicate that the color of Cissette's tutu did not necessarily match Elise's every year.

Regardless, my Cissette is definitely from 1957 or 1958, as she has the triple-stitched wig.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Fixing Cissette's fancy hairdo

My last post was about my redhead Cissette with the fancy hairdo. I wish I also had a picture of what her hair looked like when I first got her — it was not as lovely as it is now.

I had no idea when I bought this Cissette that she had a fancy hairdo. The seller's picture was bad, and in any case, her hair was falling out of the original style on one side.

Basically, the hairstyle consists of a pigtail on each side, pulled back into one pontail farther back — kind of like Snow White's original hairstyle, except that the resulting ponytail is curled. Then the rest of the hair is drawn into a low ponytail or chignon, which is also curled.

Like in other Madame Alexander dolls of the era, the pigtails are tied with string, rather than rubber bands. The hair was partially coming down out of the pigtail on the doll's right side, and the string holding both the high and low ponytails was entirely gone.

I knew I could fix her hair, but I wanted to be sure I got it right, so did some research to find out how it was supposed to look. Because I wanted to copy the original as closely as possible, I decided to use string. I didn't have an exact match for her hair, so I used maroon — which makes it easy to see where I touched up the hair.

First, I fixed the right pigtail — but rather than taking the original string out, I just pulled up the loose hair and tied it to the original pigtail. Then I pulled the hair from both pigtails together and tied that with string, too. Finally, I used string to tie off the rest of the hair into the lower ponytail.

You can see the darker string I used in both of these pictures:

Unfortunately, some of the curl had fallen out, most notably in the hair that had come out of the right-hand pigtail. I touched that up by wrapping the hair around those tiny pink rubber curlers that came with the dolls in the 1950s, then zapping it with the hair dryer on low. The heat sets the hair, so when you take the curler out the curl stays in place. The curls on the right side of the upper ponytail in the pictures are mine, though you can hardly tell the difference.

Finally, I had to arrange and recurl parts of the low ponytail. I used the hair dryer method to do this part, too.

Cissette's restyled hair looks pretty close to the original, and I'm proud of the results. Most of all, though, I'm pleased to have been able to fix her hair without destroying what remained of the original set. Original is always best, so I like to do the least amount of restoration necessary!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Barefoot beauty: Redhead Cissette

This Cissette redhead is another doll that I made beautiful again via simple doll restoration.

Just like my Cissette ballerina, I bought this doll for a good price, thanks to her less-than-perfect condition. I don't think I paid more than $40 for her; although she had no damage, she was very dirty, and the seller's pictures were very poor.

She was a gamble, but she turned out to be a worthwhile one. After I received her I realized that her hair was indeed red (the pictures were so poor that it was difficult to tell). Even better than that, she had one of Cissette's fancy hairdos — although it was a bit mussed, it was something I could fix. I'll talk about that in a future post.

Anyway, this Cissette was also so dirty that her cheek blush wasn't visible. However, as you can see from the pictures, she has very vivid blush — so that should give you an idea of how dirty she was. As I cleaned her face and discovered the blush underneath, I literally shrieked with surprise and excitement. It was quite a discovery!

This Cissette was a good deal in another way, too: The seller sent her to me wearing a Madame Alexander dress she assumed belonged to the doll, but which is actually a 1956 Alexander-Kins dress. She was also wearing a pair of original Cissette undies that appeared to have once been pink, but were a little faded.

Judging by Cissette's fancy hairdo, her earring holes, and her pink taffeta undies, she was originally dressed in one of the fancier outfits — perhaps in a dress with matching opera coat. I originally intended to keep her in the dress she is wearing now, which was originally one of Cissette's fancier dresses, #943 of 1957-58; however, it is badly faded (should be lavender, not pink), may have been laundered, and is missing the short jacket (like a shrug) that originally came with it. Therefore I am thinking of trying to find a different dress for this Cissette to wear.

Stay tuned for the post on how I fixed this Cissette's fancy hairdo!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

White Cissette Ballerina

The story of my Cissette white ballerina is a perfect example of my soft spot for TLC dolls.

I found this doll when I was first becoming interested in collecting Cissette dolls, back in 2004. I think she was my second or third Cissette.

She was listed on eBay as a TLC doll. She looks like she must have had a run-in with a dog: The top layers of tulle in the front of her tutu are shredded, and the last three fingers on her left hand have been chewed or broken off.

Despite her difficult childhood, Cissette is still beautiful. By some miracle, the flowers on her tutu and in her hair were untouched — in fact, her hair is still in the original set, with very little muss. Her original tights somehow escaped getting torn, and are in good condition.

Her face is especially pretty. She has both rhinestone earrings, and a nice complexion with light blush that doesn't show up in the picture.

Of course, she didn't look this good on eBay. In addition to the obvious damage, she was also very dirty. I ended up paying only about $25 for her.

When I got her, I carefully soaked her tutu and tights. Most of the soil came off, although her tutu still retains a faint grey cast — probably from being displayed in open air (which is probably also how the dog got her). I also cleaned her face and body with a good doll cleaner, which is when I discovered the blush on her cheeks — it had been completely covered up by grime!

I found a pair of pink rubber toe shoes with original ribbons; although I know these shoes were used on the Cissette ballerinas made in the early 1960s, I'm not so sure they are correct for a 1958 ballerina. However, they'll do until I find the correct slippers.

Although Cissette is less than perfect, and many collectors would probably not even consider displaying her, she is one of my front-row dolls. She is beautiful despite her imperfections, and as such she represents the miracles that are possible via even the simplest methods of doll restoration.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Elise and Cissette white ballerinas

Back in March, I blogged about my white Elise Ballerina and how to date an Elise Ballerina by the color of her tutu. I also mentioned that I have a white Cissette Ballerina that I believe may be from the same year as my Elise Ballerina (1958). She is definitely from either 1957 or 1958, since her wig has the triple-stitched part.

Here is a picture of the two of them together:

I'll blog more about my Cissette Ballerina in a separate post.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Madame Alexander Little Genius - SOLD!

This Little Genius is one of Madame Alexander's 8-inch baby dolls, made between 1956 and 1962. My mom is the one offering this doll for sale at a very reasonable price: $65.

Little Genius has beautiful fever cheeks. Unfortunately, the blush shows some play wear, which you can see in the next picture. Both cheeks have a couple of rubs, but the only one that really shows is a line through the blush on the doll's right cheek. The inside of her left ankle also has a small dark smudge.

One of the nicest things about this doll is the wonderful condition of the caracul wig. These dolls are often found with frizzy, ratty caracul wigs, but as you can see, this one retains the original tight curls.

Finally, the doll's outfit: The pink nylon/satin shirt, which ties together with a pink satin ribbon under the doll's chin, is tagged "Little Genius" at the back of the neck. The cloth diaper is not tagged, but judging by the quality and the very similar lace trim on the diaper, I'm willing to bet it is original as well.

According to Linda Crowsey's 2008 Madame Alexander price guide, a nude Little Genius with good face color books at $100, and a doll with a play dress books at $200. Since this doll is dressed but in baby clothes, rather than a full outfit, I would estimate that she books somewhere in between. Of course, she isn't perfect, but she is definitely one of the nicer examples I've seen lately — and a good deal for only $65!


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