On top of Doll Mountain

KewpieA few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about my impending move out of state and the unsavory task of packing up an obscene number of dolls acquired during my 22 years of collecting. Many of you wrote me, asking to be kept updated on the drama of moving a doll hoard—I mean collection. You’ll be happy to know that I have succeeded in my task, and the seven curios, nine shelves, and innumerable boxes that once occupied my doll room have been replaced by what my family has dubbed “Doll Mountain.”

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BOXES ONE BOXES TWO boxesI must admit that it’s an impressive sight. And I think I did an admirable job of consolidating the real estate that my 500+ girls occupy. I tossed out about 70% of my doll boxes, and instead carefully packed about 300 girls in sturdy plastic bins (complete with desiccant packs to avoid molding). The remaining 200 or so girls had either intricate gowns or hairdos or were deemed “too special” to travel via cargo. So they were lucky enough to get their own individual boxes.

The larger girls also got their own boxes in which to travel. Packing my dozen Himstedts (many taller than three feet) was no easy task. I have most of their huge boxes and shippers, but dragging those boxes out of storage meant confronting the ever-present “palmetto bugs” that reside in our garage. If you’ve ever seen a Florida palmetto bug, you know that it can reach roughly the size of a small rat. Now, I’m not frightened of many things. Snakes and spiders are fine with me. But Florida roaches are a fucking freak of nature and need to be destroyed at all costs. Needless to say, there was a lot of shrieking in the garage and orders to my husband to “kill the damned thing.”

The things I do for dolls.

Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?
Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?

I was nervous about packing my porcelain and resin dolls. In particular, I have one delicate porcelain Native American mother and child dressed in real leather and adorned with turquoise and sterling silver. Her artist named her “Butterfly Mother,” and she stands about two feet tall. I love this doll. I purchased her at, of all places, Trump Tower in Las Vegas for an amount of money that I will divulge only upon pain of death—and perhaps not even then. It was 2004, and I was in Vegas with my mom to see Barry Manilow in concert. (Yes, you read that right. Don’t judge.) This was also the trip in which I took my mother to see a Chippendales show. She enjoyed it way too much.

dancersSo, as you can imagine, this doll is not only gorgeous—it’s steeped in memories. I used a combination of bubble wrap, foam, and packing peanuts to cushion mother and child. I’ll be putting this box in the car with me when we make our journey. Not trusting any moving dudes with this treasure.

moving-homePacking up my girls did give me the opportunity to appreciate each one individually. It also was a chance to do an inventory. I entered the name of each doll in an Excel spreadsheet as I packed it away and noted the numbered box it was going into, which will help me identify where specific dolls are when we arrive at our new home. I’ve always been terrible at keeping track of my hoard, instead relying on memory, which, when it comes to dolls, is scarily good. I only had to consult the Internet a handful of times to identify specific dolls or their outfits as I packed them away. If only my memory worked just as well when it comes to locating my keys or glasses.

I was also able to identify a dozen or so dolls that I can live without. I’ve mostly sold them off, which will allow me to pay for a particular doll I’ve been waiting for all year. Paul Pham’s latest Numina doll—Sung—will join my other Numinas—Stratus and Alma—in October. Pinch me.

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With the dollies and lots more of our household in boxes and ready for storage, hubby and I are working on some minor house fixes. So if anyone out there is interested in relocating to sunny Tampa, let me know and I’ll give you a deal!

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When a doll collector moves

Moving is a nightmare for anyone. But for doll collectors, that pain is magnified by as many dolls you’ve amassed over the years. I last moved nine years ago, when my husband and I relocated from Maryland to Florida. Now we will retrace our steps, reuniting with family and friends and beginning a new chapter in our lives. And that all sounds great–until I go into my doll room and realize the massive amount of hoarding that I’ve engaged in during the past decade. And then I just want to say “fuck it,” and stay home.

When we relocated to Florida, my collection was roughly half of the size it is now, and I spent months lovingly packing each individual doll into its corresponding box. Hair nets were put on, ribbons were tied, silicon bead packs were included. I made damned sure no harm would come to my treasures on their journey. And I must admit that it was kind of fun going over each doll and creating a spreadsheet for all of them. I was able to spend time with and appreciate each one.

Towers of boxes in the garage
Towers of boxes in the garage

mess11Today my collection is twice as large and I share my home with a hyperactive 5-year-old child and a menagerie of needy animals, all vying for my constant attention. I no longer have my mother to help out, and my “packing time” during the week is limited to the precious hour and a half I get to myself after my son finally goes to sleep and before I myself fall into bed exhausted.

I am finding this packing process to be the polar opposite of the “fun” I had preparing to move here. I long ago gave up trying to match up individual dolls with their original boxes. I just aim to match them up with their corresponding manufacturer box. That means that nearly all of my Tonner boxes have scribbles on their ends indicating the doll they now contain. Sometimes these scribbles are crossed out and relabeled multiple times. Limited space in our small townhouse (there are no basements in Florida) has meant that I’ve had to significantly cull the number of boxes I store. So this time, each girl will not have her own individual coffin in which to travel. Many of them (carefully packed) will make the journey in plastic bins. Assigning my girls to indignity of this mode of travel would have horrified me nine years ago. Now I don’t give a shit. They’ll be fine.

dolly jail
dolly jail

Our move will likely not take place until the end of the summer, but–knowing now how much time it can take to pack a collection of this magnitude–I began organizing, sorting, and packing dolls three weeks ago. Last weekend I packed dolls for two full days. On Sunday evening, I had packed 325 dolls. And it didn’t look like I made a dent.

I suppose at this point I’m supposed to get philosophical and ponder whether I own my things, or if my things, in fact, own me. And then I should conclude the latter, foreswear all material objects, and walk into the sunset in search of some ascetic commune to join.

But then I would miss the next doll convention. And I’m just not that strong.

Even my bedroom is not spared the dolly box invasion
No room has been spared the dolly box invasion

A (doll) room of our own

Every doll collector knows that the only thing better than a new doll is new doll space. For those of us outside of the 1%, the biggest burden we bear as doll collectors is trying to find space to display the damned things. Dolls, of course, are like potato chips. … You can never have just one. Or two. Or two dozen. Dolls get lonely too. They need friends. And friends with benefits. And spouses. And kids. And mistresses. And extended family. And nemeses. They breed like rabbits. And they need their space.

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Surely I can squeeze one more in…
Perhaps not.
Perhaps not.

I am one of those lucky people with a “doll room.” Which, for me, means that the majority of my dolls are crammed into our small third bedroom. When my husband and I purchased this house–our first–eight years ago, I was delighted to finally have that “grail” that all serious collectors covet–a room of my own designated specifically for my dolls. My husband was more than happy to give this to me. In our former apartment, he slept in a bedroom festooned with dolls, including the 3-foot Himstedt that stood on his bed stand. He took the second bedroom as his “man cave” (which he would have to sacrifice three years later when our son came along, but everyone knows that doll rooms take precedence over man caves).

All lined up
All lined up

What my room lacked in square footage it more than made up in vertical space. I eyed those cathedral ceilings and envisioned tall display cabinets and shelving that would help me maximize what I had to work with. When I set up my doll room in my new house eight years ago, my collection had room to grow, and, over the years, I slowly filled up the space with creative display techniques that have enabled me to show off the majority of my collection at once. It’s an organized sort of chaos. Yes, it’s crowded, but it also feels like home. A futon in the middle of the room gives me comfortable space to stretch out and redress my girls while listening to the latest podcast of This American Life. (It’s a guest room too–for those who don’t mind 500 pairs of eyes staring at them while they sleep. On the plus side, it keeps down the number of overnight guests we get.)

I just about reached maximum doll capacity a few months ago. The one piece of real estate left was a bookshelf that contained a selection of my husband’s large military history book collection. (Doll collectors and military historians share a surprising amount of chemistry.) This was the last remnant of the “man cave” that predated my son’s entrance into this world, and I generally tried to keep my mouth shut about how cool it would be to have that space for the girls who had taken up residence in the garage due to the doll room’s worsening real estate crisis.

And then out of the blue the husband tells me he’s rearranging the house and is moving the bookcase elsewhere. It was like hearing that Christmas was coming twice this year.

I immediately began to make plans in my mind. I had my eye on a beautiful, tall, long-neglected walnut bookcase in our garage. Its deep shelves could accommodate 16-inch dolls, and I envisioned creating mini dioramas in them. All of the rest of my shelf space was filled to capacity with dolls lined up like toy soldiers. This space would be different–it would be my creative space, my in-progress space, where I would frequently rotate displays.

I’ve enjoyed playing with this new space during the past month, and I’m happy with the mini dioramas and small scenes that I’ve created thus far. I recently ventured into the resin fashion ball-jointed doll (FBJD) world, and I now have space to better access and display them.

I am so grateful for this little escape in my little townhouse in my little central Florida town. In this doll space of my own, I escape the sometimes difficult realities of a full-time job in corporate American and an obstinate four-year-old boy who is certain that my function on this earth is to please only him. After I close my computer for the night and tuck the little one into bed, I am able to get creative with my dolls for an hour or two before it’s time to head to bed and face it all again.

And that’s why we’re in this hobby, right?