31 May 2024

Doll collecting helps to reconnect with magic memories of childhood

| Michele Tydd
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Woman holding a doll.

Wendy Newton with her “teenage doll”, complete with real stockings and high heels. Photos: Michele Tydd.

A doll’s life is hard yakka these days, dealing with the expanded job description.

It now goes well beyond fun for children, with dolls providing therapy and companionship for all generations, right up to those in nursing homes.

Dapto Anglicare’s charity shop’s doll and toy handler, Wendy Newton, says 40 per cent of her doll sales are to adult women, especially those over 60.

“A lot has been written on the psychology of adult attachment to dolls, but I think it’s about reconnecting with happy childhood memories in a tangible and satisfying way,” she says.

However, Wendy adds that this positive connection can occasionally be exploited.

“I had one customer who was brokenhearted when her now ex-husband put her favourite doll in a garage sale during their divorce,” Wendy says.

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“She ended up finding the exact same doll in our shop, and she was so happy she burst into tears.”

Wendy, 72, grew up in Seaforth in Sydney in a family where the children got one main toy at Christmas and hers was often the latest doll.

“I don’t remember my first doll, but I remember my last doll when I was 12 because I’ve still got her. She’s been packed in to every house move throughout my adult life and she’s still in good condition,” says Wendy.

“I’ve never named my dolls, so I just call her my ‘teenage doll’ because she wore proper stockings.”

Wendy went on to become an avid doll collector and attended many overseas doll fairs with her husband.

“Doll collectors gather in droves at these events, especially in the UK and the US,” she says.

A collector's doll in a box.

Wendy’s Shirley Temple dolls.

The drive to own special or rare dolls is captured in a piece by Canadian writer/short film maker and doll lover, Sonia Gumuchian, referring to Disney doll fans she met at a release of a rare doll set.

“Doll sets are released in very limited quantities around the world. If you wanted to purchase one, typically you’d have to wait in line three-four hours before The Disney store opened,” she writes.

“Once inside, everyone waiting in line would receive a lottery number and only a couple of people win the dolls. But let’s be clear, you still have to purchase them, but winning the draw will allow you to buy them. The others will go home, empty-handed.”

Wendy, who lives in Dapto, says in recent years she has downsized her collection for practical reasons, leaving her time to focus on her meticulous routine to revive discarded dolls and toys arriving at the charity shop where she works two days a week.

“I’m in charge of cleaning, dressing, researching and pricing the dolls we get each month,” she says.

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“I take the dolls home and wash them and their clothes – I often wonder what neighbours think about the string of tiny outfits on the line,” she jokes.

“When they’re ready to go on show, I attach an information tag to the doll with details on its age, brand and country of origin if I can locate it.”

Wendy has amassed a loyal following of doll lovers and collectors at the store (including some men and boys) who know she will do her best to find the doll of their dreams.

“I had one lady who fell in love with an Ashton Drake doll, which is a sought-after collector’s doll, but she couldn’t afford it, so I let her pay it off over a few weeks and she was over the moon,” she says.

Regardless of how busy she is, Wendy always leaves time for her own dolls, to gently dress and arrange them.

“I’ve never been one for huge collections of dolls because you don’t get to love them as much,’’ she explains.

“Life without dolls would be really sad … I think they play an important role in keeping the world a little bit softhearted,” says Wendy.

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