or: How to protect and store antique dolls
Whether it’s a collection passed down to every new generation in your family or a passion that’s all your own, antique dolls need a special level of care standards. While displayed in your home, you’re able to ensure your collection is free from dust and the curious hands of your kids (or grandkids), but what happens when you need to place your precious dolls in storage? Here are some helpful tips for keeping your collection as beautiful and safe as the day it started.
- Keep them shining.
Your collection should be thoroughly–and very carefully–cleaned prior to storage. Before you store a doll, remove grime and dirt built up over the years, but be careful your well-intentioned efforts don’t cause damage. Cleaning methods vary by the doll’s makeup — wood, ceramic, biscuit, porcelain, cloth, or plastic are just some of the materials often found in the heads and bodies of old dolls.
- Treat them like Goldilocks.
Don’t let your collection get too hot or too cold. These fragile dolls are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and need to be stored in ideal conditions, not in your attic or basement. Instead, opt for a climate-controlled environment, like a storage unit.
- The dark is their friend.
Indirect lighting is always the best than direct sunlight. If you want to show off your prized playthings, change out the dolls on display to minimize their exposure to light and dust.
- Handle with care.
Wash your hands — and don’t put on lotion — before touching a doll. Keep food away from them and their storage areas. Though dolls are kids’ toys, it’s best not to let your little darlings play with the antique value.
- Watch for invaders.
Unwanted creatures like to nest in doll wigs (often mohair or human hair) and clothing. Before adding a new doll to your collection, inspect it thoroughly for signs of insects and eggs.
- Hold on to original clothing.
Your doll’s original clothing, shoes, and other accessories add value, so keep them even if you buy her new togs.
- Keep them healthy.
If there is something that needs fixing on your dolls prior to putting them in storage or due to an accident while in storage, don’t try to fix it yourself. Instead, contact your local historical society for a referral to an antique doll “doctor” and preserve their integrity.
Storing Antique Dolls
Keeping dolls in airtight plastic containers puts them at risk for mold and mildew. Instead, keep them in closed cabinets, away from pets, dust, and sunlight, in a temperature-controlled area of your home. Place dolls in archival boxes (rather than acidic wood or cardboard) and cushion them with acid-free tissue or cloth. Turn bisque dolls with glass eyes facedown in their boxes.
Store antique dolls in an archival storage window box. To determine the right size box, measure your doll from head to toe and add a few extra inches for padding. Use acid-free tissue paper to cushion the doll. If the doll has a dress with a full skirt, place lightly crumpled tissue paper inside it to support the fragile cloth. Dolls with “sleep eyes” that open and close should be stored face down to prevent fatigue on the threaded weights that make the eyes work.
- Some basic conservation rules apply no matter what your treasures are made of. Always wear white cotton or nitrile gloves when handling the doll, as grease from your hands will attract dirt and pests. Do not wash the doll or clothes. Instead, dust the dolls lightly with a soft-bristled brush or a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment.
- If you want to display the doll, change the display as you would in a museum by showing it for several weeks in a sealed glass case away from light and heat sources. If you want to display a doll, rotate exposure as a museum would, with a few weeks on display in an airtight glass case away from light and heat. Then move the doll to archival storage for three to six months. Keep storage boxes inside a closet or cabinet in the living area of your home, with consistent temperature and humidity. Finally, don’t attempt a repair that can’t be undone. Find a professional conservator or talk to other collectors.
- Write the history of your old doll — who gave it to you and when, your memories of playing with it, repairs made, etc.—and place a copy on acid-free paper in the doll storage box.