At some point, it has likely become obviously to each of you, dear readers, that we doll collectors must bear the burden of sharing this earth with non-doll people. You’ve also noticed, no doubt, that this is no easy task. The vast majority of the world’s people—if they know that doll collectors even exist—suffer under gross misconceptions about who we are and what we do. Rather than imaginative, creative, and playful people, we are labeled hoarders, money-wasters, obsessive-compulsives, and just plain touched in the head. Not once in all of my 22 years of doll collecting has a non-collector recognized me as a collector of “legitimate” art, much less a curator of a beautiful collection assembled with love and care over multiple decades. Robert Tonner’s doll art is part of the Louvre’s permanent collection in its Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. What more legitimacy can an art form possibly have?
As a long-time doll collector, I have fielded nearly every outrageous and thoughtful question about my collection, and over the years I’ve come to recognize that there are different types of non-collectors. While some enrage me with their self-righteous condescension, others flatter me with their genuine interest and desire to learn more about my collection—and, by extension, me.
Although many doll bloggers over the years have sought to identify the different types of collectors, there are different types of non-collectors as well, and their attitudes toward us as collectors are generally indicative of their overall characters. When I was still single and dating, I had no compunction about showing off my collection to my various dates, as their reactions generally told me something about who they were. I used my dolls like many people use their dogs’ reactions to people as a barometer of their characters.
While he did not understand my fascination with fashion dolls—and still doesn’t—the man who ultimately became my husband had a generally playful attitude toward the growing collection that took up the majority of my bedroom in my Washington, DC apartment. He even posed the dolls in “naughty” positions while I was out to see if I would notice when I returned. (I always did.) This revealed a man who, although he was totally unable to relate to my hobby, nonetheless could derive some enjoyment from it. So I married him.
Other people in my life—from judgmental relatives to scoffing coworkers—have displayed a level of disdain for my hobby that has generally served to alienate me from them. Their wide spectrum of reactions has led me to compile this list of categories into which non-collectors generally fall. This is no exact science; they may fall into several categories at once, sometimes both positive and negative. See if you recognize your friends and relatives as:
The Condescender: This person’s gauge of their own character seems to depend on the depth of their condescension of yours. Pretty much nothing you do will convince this person that your pursuit of beautiful fashion dolls is a manifestation of your own creativity and that brings you joy as an aesthetic art form. A true condescender probably made up her mind about your pursuit—as she does about most things—long before actually seeing your collection. So don’t waste your breath trying to convince her otherwise.
The Silent Type: This person is usually struck dumb at the sight of your collection, which, for most of us, can admittedly be quite overwhelming. Their eyes grow big as they take it all in, as if they’ve never seen a doll in their life. This could either be a manifestation of admiration or judgment. But for now, they simply cannot say a thing.
The Reminiscer: I think I like this type of non-collector most of all. This is the person who immediately grows enthusiastic about your collection upon hearing about it, and she cannot wait to tell you about that special doll that she or her mother had as a child that meant so much to her. She’ll want to hear all about your dolls and will immediately understand why they appeal to you. These people are often collectors just waiting to happen.
The Questioner: These people generally mean well, but they can drive me insane, and I rarely have as much patience with them as I should. These curious types want to know everything and anything about your collection—right now. Before you can even answer their first question (Who makes these?), they are on to their second (Where do you buy them?). Sometimes these questions can border on the inane (Is that real hair?), but these people mean well, and it’s nice to see true curiosity rather than abrupt dismissal.
The Housecleaner: These are almost always husbands (although one lesbian I knew fell into this category as well). They are the ones who will immediately ask upon seeing or learning of your collection, “Hey! Can I give you my wife’s dolls?” This is done in a weak attempt at humor, as the husband goes on to tell you about the “spooky doll” that was his wife’s when she was a child and now sits in the spare bedroom. Feel free to ignore these people. Giving the wife an understanding hug might help.
The Psychologist: To this person, every collection is a pathology, so you really shouldn’t take it personally. Because your collection consists of dolls, be prepared for questions about your childhood and your mother. If you really want to have fun with this person, tell her that you were an orphan who, as a child, decapitated dolls for fun. That should give her some food for psychoanalysis that will keep her occupied for hours.
The Cheapskate: This person violates all rules of decorum as soon as he sees your collection and immediately asks you how much it is worth. There is no point in telling this person anything whatsoever about your collection and how much it means to you, as he likely cannot see past its monetary value. A subsequent value judgment about your moral character will soon follow.
The Joker: I have the least amount of patience for this non-collector. As soon as he sees your collection, or just hears about it, it becomes an endlessly amusing joke to him—and, he assumes, to everyone else. This person inevitably starts with the “Chucky” jokes—sure that he is the first person to have thought of this. This is usually followed by questions about whether “they stare at you” or “talk back.” If you can stomach sharing a room with this person for a while, it can be worth a laugh to tell him in as deadpan a voice as you can muster that “your little friends” come alive at night help you rob banks—which is how you finance your collection. The more unintelligent this person is, the more likely he will be to actually believe you—or at least be spooked enough to shut up for a while.
The Appraiser: This person often falls into the “Cheapskate” category as well, since he immediately reduces your dolls to their monetary value. The first thing this person will ask is “how much they are worth.” I generally reply that they are “priceless,” to which I get a scornful look and the follow-up question, “Do you have them insured?” If you answer in the negative, you are likely to be told about the horrible death your dolls will suffer if your house catches fire, or (if you live in Florida, like I do) if your home is demolished by a Category 5 hurricane. If I really want to mess with such a person, I like to respond with a tearful look and the soft words, “But how do you insure a broken heart?” This will lead to a bewildered look and an extended, awkward silence, as even the most steadfast Appraiser is at a loss to monetize emotion.
The Seamstress: This is the person who truly enjoys sewing for people and often is quite good at it. The first thing he will see upon laying eyes on your collection is the tiny scale of the tailoring required for the dolls’ clothing and the impressive amount of talent it takes to accomplish that. “How do they sew that small?” he will ask in wonder. He will want to examine the outfits in detail and lovingly pour over each stitch. This is when you bring out those OOAK gowns by your favorite artists and really blow his mind. If you are not careful, this person will stay in your home and examine your collection all day. I generally let him, as it is often a gratifying change to have my collection appreciated rather than mocked.
Anxious Annie: The only thing this person can see upon laying eyes on your collection is the inevitability that she will be responsible for breaking one of them—which she is sure will cost her millions of dollars. If this person has a child with her, she will put the fear of the Lord into her by exclaiming, “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” Explaining the Power of Play to this woman will mean nothing to her—so don’t even bother. Her main goal is to leave the room as soon as possible, lest her very breath knock one of your fragile playthings off the shelf.
The Over-enthusiast: I should probably have more patience for these people, but I just don’t. These are the ones who are thrown into a state of euphoria as soon as they see your collection, and you often can’t shut them up about it. “They are so beautiful! Where did you get them? Where are they made? What are they made of? Where did you get this gown? Is that green or blue? This one is smiling at me! Where can I buy one?” If you had to answer each question, you’d be there all day. So just smile and nod and let her get it out of her system. She’s probably like this about a lot of things.
The New Best Friend: This person shares a lot in common with the Over-enthusiast, but she’s not nearly as annoying. She takes time to truly listen to the answers to her questions, and she asks intelligent follow-up questions. She is enchanted, and you can tell she’s just itching to get one of your dolls into her hands and look it over. You can tell she wants to redress it and pose it, but she’s too shy to ask. If you open the door to that, she is likely to stay all day, swapping outfits and experimenting with different looks. This person is your New Best Friend—and a possible collector in the making.
The Artist: This person is an artist in his own right, and he immediately recognizes your collection for what it is—a form of interactive art. He is generally quiet as he purveys your collection, and you can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he compares this art form to others with which he is more familiar. This is one of the most interesting non-collectors to talk to, as you often have more to learn from him than he has to learn from you. Your mind may be open to avenues of artistic expression you’ve never even considered before.
The Undertaker: This person is generally obsessed with death in all other aspects of her life, so she naturally applies it to your collection when she sees it. Her main concern is what will happen to your collection when you die, and her goal is to help you make the necessary arrangements before your inevitable demise. The vaguer you are with your post-death plans, the more irritated this person will become. So just assure her that you’ve provided for your vinyl friends in your will and that their existence will not unnecessarily tax your family when you ultimately give up the ghost. Her work there will be done.
I’ve found through the years that collecting dolls gives me the opportunity to gauge the true characters of people sooner than I would be able to otherwise. It can be a fun pastime to try to predict a specific person’s reaction to your collection based on the things that you know about his/her personality. Of course, you should not expect everyone to share the zeal for art in doll form that you have. But it’s always fun to introduce something new into their universe.