Cold, dead hands

Doll people have an interesting lexicon exclusive to their community. Besides our acronym alphabet soup (BJD, FBJD, BW, AR, SA, NRFB, MIB, etc.), we coin terms that often betray our tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. “Hoo-hoo stands” in particular springs to mind. But my personal favorite by far, is “grail doll,” also occasionally referred to as “cold, dead hands doll.” (As in, “You would have to pry this doll from my cold, dead hands.”) Every collector I know has, at one time or another, used this phrase to refer to that special doll that, were their house engulfed in flames and they had time to rescue just one doll from their collection, this doll would be the one.

Sometimes one’s grail doll is an OOAK piece that has been repainted by a favorite artist and wears a piece of couture created by a talented seamstress. Sometimes it is an exclusive, limited edition factory doll that they’ve pursued for years. It may be a particularly expensive doll that took them months to save for. Or it could be a doll whose value is purely personal, perhaps a gift from a dear friend.

My local doll club chooses a theme each month and encourages members to bring to every meeting a doll or dolls that fall into that category. February’s theme was “grail doll,” and the variety of dolls that members brought in represented a wide interpretation of what constitutes a grail doll. There were factory dolls and customized dolls–repainted, rerooted, and redressed. There were resin dolls and vinyl dolls, fashion dolls and child dolls. The owner of each doll gave a mini-presentation explaining why their doll was special to them, often sharing the story of how they came to own the doll after pursuing it for years or working with artists to create their vision of what it should be. There were widely varying interpretations of what makes a grail doll, but a common theme was the strong emotional connection collectors have to their dolls as miniature pieces of art created by respected artists.

It seems to me that when we take time to think about which dolls in our collection that someone would have to pry from our “cold, dead hands,” we reflect on why we have taken up this hobby to begin with. What do we appreciate the most about the hobby that occupies our spare hours? The art? The creativity? The “power of play”? The friendship? The sense of community? Often, it is a combination of all of these factors.

Even though you may not personally prefer what another collector calls her grail, you can always respect why she does.

2 thoughts on “Cold, dead hands

  1. I know exactly which doll I’d save first in a fire. He is a OOAK leprechaun doll standing 32 inches high which my husband had made for me for Christmas 2012. We had been writing storeies and producing audio dramas about this cute little guy for a while, we still do, and people had been asking what he looked like, so I knocked up some ideas and had a professional artist draw him for me. Then my husband started making a lot of calls and, it turned out, he was asking reborn artists if they could make the doll for me as I couldn’t see the drawing and he knew what it would mean for me to be able to actually hold a life size version of my special little one. I love fashion dolls to bits and hope to have more of them, but 32 inches of cuteness with pointy ears is what would have to be prized out of my cold dead hands and I don’t care how many times Chucky gets mentioned or anyone asks how much he cost, I ain’t telling! 😀 😀


  2. It’s difficult to say what makes a doll a “grail” for me. I am attracted to dolls that are exquisite works of art and fashion, usually retro fashion, especially the decades of the 20s–40s and the 60s. My grails often are dolls with 30s Marcel-wave hairstyles, for some reason. Zita, Gene’s friend, in “Silhouette of the 30s”, was a grail, and I was lucky enough to get her on Ebay for a reasonable price! I also fall in love with a doll’s shoes or hair color or makeup.

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