All dolled up

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Making gowns was a one-year project

Jayne Wourms hasn’t counted how many dolls she has but there must be dozens if not hundreds in her St. Albert home.

Her collection boasts old dolls, rag dolls, rare dolls, hyper-realistic modern dolls and even family look-alike dolls. Wourms has made dolls and taught doll-making courses and when she goes on holidays she attends doll conventions and doll auctions. She still remembers her first doll, which was a present from her grandmother, as the family emigrated from England to Canada.

“When I was three, my grandmother gave me an English walking doll, but it’s long-since gone. I was doll mad when I was a kid but I didn’t have any good dolls,” she said.

Her real doll passion developed after her first husband Brad gave her an antique as a present, when they were dating as teenagers.

“I was 16. It was an Armand Marseille doll. Brad thought it looked like me,” Wourms said, adding that though she and Brad are no longer married they do work together at Ward’s Auctions, which specializes in antique and estate auctions. It’s the perfect place for a lady who is still crazy about dolls and belongs to multiple doll clubs both online and locally.

Custom made

About five years ago the St. Albert grandmother began collecting Asian ball-jointed dolls. These dolls tend to look like waifs from a Johnny Depp pirate movie. They have big eyes and big heads and they are so realistically painted the skin looks almost dewy.

The dolls are ordered online in pieces. The face may be moulded in Korea, for example, and then sent to Vietnam to be painted. The eyes may come from the United States. Often Wourms gets the finished parts and puts the dolls together herself. Sometimes she orders their outfits complete with the doll but she also sews and hand-embroiders their clothing.

She sent photos of her daughter to an artist in Vietnam and ordered a custom-made doll.

“He modelled the doll to look like the photos. Then he would send photos of his progress to me. When I agreed it was close, he sent me the doll. It looks like her but not quite. It cost about $1,000,” Wourms said.

At a recent doll convention in the States, she purchased two 100-year-old German-made dolls that were broken in pieces.

“I brought my dolls home in two suitcases. One suitcase was full of doll bodies and the other was full of heads,” she said.

The best of these was a Kestner Heidi doll, which is prized by collectors. Wourms had the head repaired then strung the doll limbs together herself.

Dolly advice

After years of working in the antique business and because of her own fascination for dolls, Wourms has some tips for other would-be collectors.

“Your mother’s doll may or not have value to anyone else. It depends on its rarity and its condition,” she said.

There are people looking for every generation of dolls, she said, and baby-boomer dolls have new prominence on eBay and at auctions.

“People who played with them in the 1950s want those dolls again so they have nostalgic value. Shirley Temple dolls can be very valuable. They are being rewigged and redressed and sold again,” she said.

Antique dolls, such as the German-made ones she bought at auction may be worthwhile if they can be repaired, but as always, it’s buyer beware.

“Dolls can be repaired to make them look like they are OK but deep down inside they may be broken,” Wourms said, adding that broken limbs are not a big deterrent to purchase, but if the porcelain heads are broken they lose value.

“You can reset the eyes and remake fingers but you cannot alter the bisque pottery of the face. I’d rather buy a doll missing an arm and a leg than one with a chip in the face. The same with a rub on the cheek. You can’t do anything when the paint is rubbed. You can’t repaint those things,” she said, as she explained a china and porcelain restorer in Edmonton repaired her doll.

“Even though it looks perfect, if you shone a light inside the head, the cracks would still show,” she said.

Wourms could not speculate about whether her current obsession, the big-eyed Asian ball-jointed dolls, will escalate in value someday. They are already expensive, priced at $500 and up on the Internet, but whether their value will increase is hard to predict, she said.

“It’s an interesting market because there are not a lot of young girls playing with dolls these days the way previous generations did. But teens are collecting these Asian ball-jointed dolls. You cannot go to a store and get them, so that may cause them to increase in value.”

Buyers should purchase dolls because they love them, not just because they may be valuable, Wourms said.

Collectors’ items

“The only things that don’t have value are collector dolls. They make 5,000 and put them on a shelf and sell them and there are too many of them to be rare. Whereas dolls that are given to kids and played with and sometimes smashed, are more collectible,” she said.

Wourms keeps most of her dolls in her own little toy workshop in her basement. The dolls keep her company as she sews them outfits and fusses over repairing and restringing limbs. She is currently making a dollhouse and is busy furnishing it.

Her hobby absorbs many hours of her leisure time and yet she cannot say why she loves dolls so much.

“I’m just all about dolls and I always have been,” she said. “It’s funny because my daughter hates dolls. If I see a doll, I can’t leave it behind.”

Not all her dolls are pretty or rare. Some are just well loved.

“Oh don’t look at that one,” she said, pointing to a rather sour-faced doll, which despite its appearance, rates a seat in her showcase.

“She’s ugly and not worth anything, but just because she’s ugly doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t love her,” Wourms said. “Someone has to look after her.”

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About Author

Susan Jones has been a freelance writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2009, following a 20-year career at the St. Albert Gazette. Susan writes about homes, gardens, community events and people.