or: What to choose – Repair, Restore, or Conserve
Repair, Restore, or Conserve
Like many toys, dolls often received a great deal of affection. Eventually, the hugs, kisses, and carriage ride translated into bumps, bruises, and broken parts. Real hair wigs droop or are missing, noses are chipped, clothing is tattered, and the kid’s leather body might leak sand. To deal with this, first, you have to decide what you want to do with your doll: repair, restore, stabilize or conserve.
Repairing an antique doll means fixing a part that is broken or damaged in some way. So, a broken arm might be glued back together or a wig could be cleaned and restyled.
Restoration means bringing the doll back to its original condition including wigs and hair styling, clothing, and facial features. This can be done with original materials, or with materials that mimic the original as closely as possible.
Conservation or stabilization means stopping a problem that has developed and preserving the current state of the doll. Conservation would include treating an insect infestation, repairing broken or deteriorated strings before they cause more problems, or resetting a loosened eye.
Before You Repair
Among the first guidelines in doll, restoration is to do nothing to your doll that will decrease its value and compromise its authenticity. Extensive repairs can reduce value by anywhere from 25% to 50% or more. A badly broken doll is worth very little, and a repaired doll is worth somewhat more, but the most valuable doll has little or no repairs.
if you want the doll to keep its value, you might research prices on comparable dolls in the same condition are bringing. If you eventually sell your repaired doll, you must tell the buyer what was repaired or restored.
Clothing is also a problem with dolls. Many collectors want dolls in their original clothing or at the very least, in replacement clothing from the doll’s era. Even a doll with tattered clothing can be worth more than a doll in new, crisp reproduction clothing. Do not throw away any clothing, shoes, or other items from a badly damaged doll because these items can offer clues to finding the correct, contemporary clothing.
Can you repair an antique doll yourself? It’s possible, but the rule of thumb in the antique world is to never make a repair that can’t be reversed. And unfortunately, with antique dolls, that is often impossible. Even cleaning with the wrong soap or chemical could dissolve paint, loosen old glue or ruin the eyes and hair. Leather or kid dolls can be stained irreversibly with the wrong treatment, so don’t try to clean them.
Extreme Wear Deteriorating Dolls
A doll over a century old will often show extreme wear. Some problems may be on the surface and clearly visible (missing arms, or matted hair), while others may be hidden inside the clothing or the body, especially if the doll is stuffed with straw or organic matter (this is where insects come in). Wax-head dolls sometimes show a response to heat (and it’s not pretty), while in other cases, a thin crack might run right across a pouting face.
You may be able to re-wig or replace an old wig on a doll, replace a china arm or leg (they can be sewn on), and clean the doll’s clothing. But even before you do any of this, you will want to make sure you know what the wig or fabrics are made of, and determine if they are, in fact, washable. For example, mohair wigs can fall apart, human hair doll wigs may need to be washed and set, and composition fibers can sometimes decay at a touch.
If your antique doll is rare and valuable, or even if it is priceless only to you, have it repaired or conserved by a professional. Before sending your doll, call or email and include photos and a description of your doll. Prices for repairs vary considerably, from under $100 to $1000 or more, depending upon the materials, time, and techniques used.
There are many doll repair businesses, so you should ask:
- What kinds of repairs do they undertake?
- What types of dolls do they repair (1950s dolls are much different from 1890s dolls)?
- Do they have samples for you to examine?
- Do they guarantee their work?
Dolls seem timeless, yet they do need some TLC from time to time. Repairing your doll may be expensive, but the result will be priceless.