Posted to the Archive 03/03/08
Hi Dr. Gary,
I recently bought a vintage Japanese doll whose upper posterior, neck, and skull need a patch repair. What is gofun and how can I attempt this repair?
Posted to the Archive 12/18/01
I am wondering if you have any idea where or how I can get specific information about how paper mache and compo dolls have been made in the past, and may be made presently. I am particularly interested in how to make molds and caste doll parts which would be hollow inside. I also would be interested in information about the durability of this kind of doll; I understand they have been prone to crazing etc. over time - as in why (is it the waxed ones particularly?), and if it is preventable via different production methods, .... Info along those lines would be great too. Nothing I've found seems to go into these details. Thanks if you can help!
Composition dolls and paper mache dolls were made by using press molds. The were half molds made of various materials some of which included simple sand and sulfur. The composition was pressed into the half molds by different means. Some manual other machine pressed. Then these parts were cured and glued together. At that point the filling and painting process was done until there was a completed doll. This is the basic process. To find more information I would look into the history of a few of the well know Companies such as Effanbee, Ideal, or Madame Alexander. Some of these Companies did protect their doll making processes. That's why you may be having trouble finding specific information on this subject. The Local Library is a good place to start. There are many products now available for casting paper mache, composition, and rubber base dolls. All of these are very durable. The most durable being rubber base but also the most expensive and hardest to work with. When you buy these products they do have instructions on how to use there particular products. These products are all cast in plaster of paris molds. As far as crazing, cracking ect. over time. Regardless of the product used they all will have some inherent problem as time goes on. The reason being is that the art work is applied separately from the original composition of the doll itself. To learn how to make molds you will have to search out either tech or college level classes or contact someone that has a mold company. They may be willing to teach you for a price. There are many molds available today for doll making. If you would check on the Internet I'm sure you would find many listed, one being Bells Ceramics, they have a link to my web site on the bottom of the front page. Thanks for the inquiry and if you have any other questions feel free to contact me.
Hi Dr. Gary
My question concerns replacing eyes that have fallen back in the head of a German doll my Mother gave me before she past away. The eyes are connected to a weight. I'm not sure if I can just glue this back in the head? I had one lady tell me to plaster of paris them back in. Do you have any suggestions?
If this is your Mother's doll I would be very careful not to cause any damage to the doll and of course undermine its value. I'm sure your Mother gave you the doll because she knew you would take care of her. I would suggest not to do any of the things you mentioned. For the first thing you mentioned, I would not recommend gluing the eye bar in place as the doll eye mechanism originally opened and closed as the dolls head was tipped back. The type of repair I would recommend is that the eye mechanism be inspected and reconditioned if need be. Then the eye bar can be reinstalled so that the eye mechanism will work as originally designed to. This type of repair is not as costly as you would think, and will renew the value of your Mother's doll once again. As far as plastering the eyes in place, this will basically be like gluing them in place as was first suggested. The only difference is this could cause damage to the bisque causing the rim of the eye to chip. The expansion of the plaster when heating causes the eyes against the bisque, when this happen the eye rim will chip. This would be the worst approach as this would definitely cause a great amount of value to be lost in the doll. Thanks for the good question. I have restored many antique bisque dolls with eye chips due to this error in judgment.
How do you restore a antique mohair wig.
There has to be a determination of whether this wig can be restored? If it is the original wig on an antique doll that is 100 years old you have to proceed slowly. In some cases the mohair will become brittle just from age and it may be better for the value of the doll just to clean the wig, (get the dirt out), and leave it in it's original style. To clean the wig without damaging it you must never use water, the wig will disintegrate from the cap. You have to chemically clean the wig for mohair. The product I use is rubber cement thinner. This is vary similar to dry cleaning fluid. The only problem with this is the safety factors in using these type's of products. Read all safety information on this product as you would not want to hurt yourself using these products incorrectly. If you want to try and get the matting out you will still have to chemically clean the wig. Then you can use a wig brush with a little no tangles, and try brushing out the matting. You will lose some mohair even if it is in fairly good condition. This is one of the down falls of mohair. The determination you will have to make, is the matting going to come out with out totally destroying the value of the mohair wig. This is a judgment call that you have to make before proceeding to far into the process. After the cleaning and brushing is done it is just a matter of re-styling the wig.
Thanks for the inquiry,
Hi! What a great site. I have just become interested in old compo dolls. I have seen an old compo doll who is very pretty but has a severe crack on both sides of her head at what appears to be a seam. Is there a way to repair this? What products/methods would you recommend? Most of the repair would be covered by her wig. Thanks so much!
The crack that appears to be a seam. That's exactly what it is. Composition dolls from that time were pressed in to half molds and then glued together. In many cases this is a weak area and over time will separate. This is a common problem. The head will have to be drawn together, one means of doing this would be heavy rubber bands. These are the same that would be used for holding molds together. These can be purchased at a art supply store. Once this is done you would have to bond the inside of the head first. I would suggest taking the eye system out of the head before bonding the inside of the head. One product that would accomplish this would be bondo, (purchased at auto supply store) This is a product that is used with an activator. Once the activator is mixed in you will have a few minutes to apply to the inside of the head. This would have to cure for an hour or so. Then the rubber bands could be removed. The crack on the outside would have to be filled also. You could use the same product, only using the amount that is needed to fill the void. Once this product hardens it is hard to sand or get even. Then it would be a matter of matching the art work, (air brush) and using the correct sealer, (matte spray fixative) so everything would match. Thanks for letting me know you like our web site, and I hope this answers your question.
We had a pretty bad house fire lately. What few dolls we got out are very dirty, and black. What would you recommend to try to clean them up with? They are all porcelain. I would really like to hear from you.
Hi Shelia, We are familiar with this problem as we have repaired many dolls that have been in house fires. Remember that your insurance should cover this restoration. You will have to have estimates for the repair of these dolls along with appraisals of the dolls to establish original values. This can in part be established if you have any original purchase slips for the dolls in question. If not, an appraiser will be able to do this for you. The insurance company also has to pay for the estimates, so don't think you have to pay for these out of pocket. The insurance companies in many cases don't tell you this unless you ask. If they are a good company they will tell you up front. Dolls that are in a house fire will have smoke damage, this is a given. All cloth bodies in most cases, if not all cases will have to be replaced. The wigs will have to be chemically cleaned or replaced. In order to clean the bisque correctly you would have to disassemble the doll parts from the body. At that point you will be able to clean the porcelain bisque. I would suggest to soak the parts in mild dish soap and hot water. After an hour or so take the parts and hand clean each individual part with a more abrasive cleaner. I would suggest something like soft scrub. This product should work. If the dolls are of good quality the soot and smoke damage should be removed, not the art work. It would just be a matter of letting the parts dry. The only other problem that might arise is the eyes in the doll heads. These may be damaged and have to be replaced. If not, they should clean just as well. The eyes may come our during the soaking of the bisque parts. It would be just a matter of gluing them back in place after the head dries. Then the old bodies will have to replaced and the dolls assembled with new bodies. The clothing can be washed, mended and sized. I'm sure some of the clothing will have to be totally replaced depending on damage. This process can be rather exhausting, and must be done right our you will still be able to smell the smoke damage. Thanks for the inquiry and if you have any other questions feel free to contact me.
I just discovered your web site and I am delighted. However, I am a little puzzled about some Q&A's concerning how to go about resetting sleep eyes in bisque head dolls. I read where one should not use "plaster" to set the eyes as it will cause the rim of the eye to chip. Perhaps I'm fortunate this has not happened yet to the old German dolls I have with with sleep eyes - because they are set with plaster on each side. I was going to attempt to reset the eyes in the doll of a recent estate purchase likewise (I have done this before but it was years ago). But after reading your article, I am hesitant to use plaster to do so. What material is now the proper one to use to set sleep eyes in bisque head dolls? AND, should I have the eyes reset in my other old German dolls to prevent this happening sometime in the future - most of them are @ 100 years old and are ok so far. Thank you for taking time to reply.
You may have misunderstood when and not when to use the plaster of paris. You do use plaster of paris to reset sleep eye mechanisms. The point I was making was not to use plaster of paris to set broken eye systems in the heads, as if they were stationary eyes. The eye type used for sleep eye mechanisms are round mouth blown glass. The eye type that is used for stationary eyes are are oval mouth blown eyes that conform to the eye cutting done on the inside of the head when original green ware cleaning was done at the doll factories. It is safe to use plaster of paris to set this oval eye type without causing eye chipping on the outside of the eye. I have seen this happen but only rarely, and is usually because the doll was not cleaned properly from the beginning. So go ahead and set your eye system as you did in the past. You should not have a problem, and I'm sorry about the misunderstanding. Thanks for contacting me with your question, and giving me an opportunity to explain this correctly.
Posted to the Archive 1/15/01
Can you suggest paint to use on a hard plastic from the 50's? Thanks for a great web site!
Hi Nancy, I use acrylic air brush color mostly. I'm not picky as far as name brand. I use, Golden, Martins, and Rotring. Any of these will work very well for you. I always use spray sealers for hard plastic dolls. Again I'm not picky on brand. I use Duncan or Mayco, but any other's will work also. I normally use clear matte sealer for hard plastic dolls. Thanks for letting me know you like the web site, and I hope this information is helpful.
is the most common used product to fill in old holes and cracks on
Hi Geeder, To fill holes the most common product is called Bondo but other products are used also. As far as cracks, depending on the severity of the problem I usually recommend a sealing process. This can be accomplished using many different products, the most common would be satin polyurethane sealer . Thanks for the inquiry.
Hi Gary, Your repair column is wonderful. I would like to know more about how to replace eyelashes on dolls, particularly in this case of a Cissy who has full lashes on one eye, and the center section missing on the other eye. Also, how to do a complete replacement of a blondish colored eyelashes on a 30's composition doll that is a Shirley Temple? Thanks you so much for any help.
Hi Karen, When you have this type of repair you sometimes have to replace both lashes. This is because it is almost impossible to match them. On the Cissy I have found some lashes that do match pretty well but on Shirley you will always have to replace them both. The replacement is fairly easy, remove old lashes and clean out area with dull exacto knife. Insert knew lashes, cut to size and bond, "carefully", with small amount of glue. In order to do this replacement on a Shirley you have to take the eye bar out of the head. At this point you have to make an incision on the side of the vinyl eye ball not on the pupil. The scalpel/exacto knife has to be very sharp. Once the cut is made you carefully separate at the cut and loosen the covering. This can be tricky but I do it all the time. Insert new eye lashes, then it is just a matter of bonding the separation. Super glue works very well, but just a" little"! Thank you for letting me know you like the Q&A column, and I hope you find this information useful.
Hi Sheryl, This is a common problem with Effanbee dolls. If the flaking is not bad you could possibly use a spray sealer to stop the flaking. I would recommend using Minwax (fast drying) Polyurethane clear satin. Use two light coats letting it dry and hour between coats. This won't fix what has already flaked off, it will prevent or slow down the process of further flaking. If you are not happy with the flaking, restoration would be the only alternative to correct the flaking totally. The climate does have an effect on composition dolls but most of the time are not readily noticeable. I have seen composition dolls stored incorrectly and were brought out and with in days the paint had peeled off but this is the exception to the rule. If a composition doll is not put in direct sun light or exposed to excessive heat or moisture they will last a long time before any restoration is needed. Thanks for the inquiry.
What is composition made of ? How can I find out the formula so I can repair old dolls or cast new ones out of composition?
Hi Sue, That's a really good question, and I'm asked that often. Composition is a term rather then a definitive material, in other words it can be many things. The old German, and French doll makers used wood joints along with cardboard with a calcium type covering that was a dipping process. This process was rather complicated, and rather hard to duplicate. The type of composition your inquiring about is a material that most artists use today. There are a lot of products available, but basically there are two types I would pick from. These two are liquids (ready to pour), and sold in gal. buckets. One is a latex/rubber base which needs a hardener added. This product is sold in larger quantities, probably not the one you would want to start with. The other is sold in gal. quantities and is a acrylic base. This is a little more affordable and a good composition to learn with. If you check my links on my web site you will find Bell Ceramics, they are the manufacturer for this product. I'm also a distributor for this company.
What can I use to clean composition dolls? Will repairing light crazing decrease the value of the doll?
Hi Maggie, Good question. All I use is creamy style Vaseline. I rub a small area at a time. This way I can control the amount of art work that can come off. If this happens I air brush lightly and seal the doll. As far as restoring light crazing, I normally don't but it can be done. I usually go through the cleaning process, the only difference is that the doll also goes through a sealing process before the art work is touched up, this will fill in the light crazing. I usually do 2-3 sealers then touch up the art work lightly one more time. This is the result you would be looking for and should not decrease the value. If it is done incorrectly it would decrease the value.
I am interested in learning how to repair dolls. There is know one teaching this in my area that I know of. Are there any good books or courses that you know of in teaching this skill? How did you learn the art?
Thank you, Pamela
Hi Pamela, I'm an Artist, and am basically self taught in the Art of Restoration. This has been an on going quest for me, and I am driven by my love for antiques. I began by doing many hours of research on a specific doll I was interested in restoring many years ago, as I learned how this doll was originally made it became very clear to me that any doll that I would attempt to restore would have to be researched in the same manner. Through this process I learned many different techniques, also how to work with many different products. Occasionally I would need expert advise on specific subjects on restoration, and I would search out other experts / professionals in these areas, and pay for their time and knowledge. This subject has no end, it is as varied as the type of doll being restored. I have basically told you in a short version of how I learned this art form, persistence and being stubborn helps allot. As far as your question on books and courses on this subject, I really don't have a specific book or books that really cover everything that is needed to cover what you are asking. The only reason I say this is I'm always looking to, and have yet found something worth recommending. There are books out there, but again you will find as I have that they only touch on certain area's, and leave you hanging in mid air. Thanks for the inquiry, and I wish you well in your endeavor.
I have seen some wonderful dolls in Italy, and they seem to be made mostly in Germany but I do not know which to buy? Thank you for all your advice.
Hi JoAnn, It was nice talking to you today. I know its hard to be a knowledgeable doll buyer. The main thing is the quality of the doll. This is where you have to do your home work. Know who the artist is, and whether they have actually done the work. Make sure you know where the doll was produced. Sometimes they are produced in China, Korea, or Taiwan using the artist name. These dolls are not worth anything nor will they increase in value. If you check on these few things you will get a feel for the doll, and it will help you in your buying decisions. If you are visiting another country, try and see if there are local doll makers in your area. At that point you can see what type of dolls they are producing, this can be where the fun is. A lot of time its the search that is remembered more then the doll. You will be rewarded for many years with the special dolls you find. Thanks again, and have fun. I think you have been bitten by the doll bug.
On another doll , a repro Mein Leibling there is a distressing blue smudge on one cheek. At a guess, possibly rubbed off of a packing material or blue ink tracing paper. Is there a logical way to get this off? Otherwise she is ready for eye's, and wig /pate.
This could be a easy fix or could create problems with the art work on her cheek. I would again try soft scrub or other mild cleaning solution carefully trying to remove the mark. The problem is if you have to use to much power to remove the mark you may remove the china paint. If this would happen to me I would either re china paint or touch up the art work with an air brush. I think you should be able to get it off and still have a nice doll to display.
Posted to the Archive 6/18/00
I am re-setting broken eyes on a German doll. Marty Westfall, Doll Repairs & Restoration recommends a pink wax that comes in sheets. All you do is peal off a piece and apply and trim. Sounds perfect for re-waxing german glass eyes, but am unable to locate this wax. Tried dripping wax on the eyes and made a mess. Could you recommend a product for re-waxing antique eyes?
Thanks for the inquiry,
What kind of enamel paint is best for repainting compo dolls? Is there some place I can order it over the internet. I am just starting out and want to do it right. Any advice on the paint would be much appreciated.
Thanks for the inquiry,
How do I clean an Aunt Jamima very dirty cloth doll? I also have Diane Jamima and Uncle Moss. They have never been cleaned and were in a house with a coal furnace. They were left uncovered and when the furnace smoked they were never cleaned.The rag dolls are made from cotton and seem to be filled with cotton batting.
Dear Doctor Gary,
Thanks for your time and I certainly look forward to doing business with you in the near future.
Hi Susan ,
I have a 1920's chalk "piano baby" doll that is painted. She is dirty. What is the best way to clean without disturbing paint?
I was wondering what kind of prices do you charge for restoring a doll?
Hi Debi ,
I have an Effanbee composition doll which was bought in l942. The legs and face are cracked and the "skin" of the doll is badly broken. I am interested in learning to do doll repair. Someone suggested that I fix my own doll to learn how. What do you suggest for the cracked and broken skin? Where should I buy doll repair supplies. Someone suggested a doll repair book (with a red cover). I lost the name of it. Would you have any idea which book it is? I am in CA now, but I live in Hawaii. I discovered when I wanted to have my doll repaired that there is no one in Hawaii who repairs dolls. Therefore I think that would be something I could learn and do.
Hi Jackie ,
First, I want to commend you on an outstanding web page. I love it.
Second, do you offer any type of doll restoration classes over the internet? By video? I'd love to take classes from you but, due to the distance, it's difficult.
Third, how did you get your certification for Master Doll Doctor? Is there any way I might be able to do that locally?
Appreciate your taking the time to answer. Thanks.
Hi Linda ,
I have several broken porcelain dolls of collectable value and would like to know what to use to repair cracks, holes, and broken faces. Thanks
Hi Susan ,
What is the best way to airbrush a composition doll, and what type of air brush is the best to use?
Hi Sherry ,
Posted to the Archive 4/14/99
I have a Flossy Flirt who had rubber gauntlet arms. Would it devalue her if I had the arms replaced ? she is in very good condition other wise.
Hi Lauren ,
How can I clean bisque dolls?
How do you clean a kid leather body?
Posted to the Archive 2/9/99
Question: How should I clean thirty year old vinyl baby dolls that are in good condition except they look dirty? What if they are plastic?
Answer: What I use with good results is soft scrub on a slightly
damp hand towel .Sometimes I use other products but over all this should
work for simple dirt on vinyl . You can also use this on hard plastics
This is where your particular doll comes in. If you send me a picture I might be able to tell you more.
Thank you for your interest in antique dolls.
I would like to repair a doll's hair. It's the kind that comes
out of little holes in her head. I don't want to put a wig
on her, I would like the hair replaced but the one place that I called
in Washington state (where I live) said they don't know anyone who does
that. Can you help?
Hi Maria ,
Posted to the Archive 12/08/99
Question: "How do I know if I should have my doll repaired or not?"
Answer: When deciding whether or not to repair a doll, a number of factors have to be considered. First of all, what is the doll worth? This means both sentimental value as well as monetary value. If the doll has special meaning, you may want to repair it even if it has little monetary value. A doll worth money but without special meaning may also be worth repairing. The next factor to consider is what will the value of the doll be after the repair? If the value of the doll will not go up more than the cost of the repair, or if the value of the doll will go down, I would suggest leaving it in an as is condition. Many times replacing an original wig, eyes or outfit will take away from the value of the doll, so if the doll can get by with what it has, it is usually best to keep it original. Another important thing to keep in mind is the condition of the doll and what your expected results will be. If you are expecting a perfect doll after the repair, you may be dissappointed. In order to preserve the integrity of the antique, many doll doctors will leave minor flaws. If all the flaws were removed, the doll would look brand new, thus defeating the purpose of owning an antique. If you are expecting the doll to look brand new when the repair is complete, you may want to purchase a new doll instead of investing in the repair.
Question: "How do I find the right doll doctor?"
Answer: Of course the first answer to come to mind is me, because obviously I believe I am the best. If that is not feasable, do a little research in your area and find the local doll doctor. Visit the shop and ask questions. Bring your doll along, get an estimate on the cost and the final value of the doll. Find out what type of gurarantee they offer on their work, and ask to see before and after pictures. You don't want to trust your family heirloom to somebody just because they are the only doll doctor in the area. Other good questions to ask are how they prevent loss of dolls, how long it will take, and who will be doing the work. If there is a waiting list for repair, many doll hospitals will request that you take the doll home with you until it is the doll's turn for treatment. So, just like with a doctor for yourself, don't accept the word or advice of somebody just because they are local. Ask around and do some research in order to find the best doctor for your little one.
Question: "I am interested in doing some repair on my own composition dolls, what safety issues do I need to be aware of?"
Answer: Depending on the type of restoration needed, a
number of safety problems exist.When sanding or peeling chipped paint off
of the doll, a dust mask should be worn. Make sure the mask will
filter out the fine particles created during the detail sanding.
Painting and sealing the artwork brings up the issue of ventalation.
A good fume hood will help reduce the risk of inhaling toxic fumes.
The fume hoods I use are available through Sugar Creek and Paasche.
For more information or to order a fume hood, contact me and I will assist
you in finding the size suitable for your needs. I am a distributor
for these companies, so I am aware of the products they have to offer to
doll doctors. As with any projects, cleanliness should be a priority.
In order to avoid spills that can be hazardous to both you and your artwork,
you should keep your work area free of clutter. By putting away paints,
sealers and brushes after you are finished using them, you will reduce
the risk of spilling.