How they used to repair antique dolls, step-by-step

Huge collection of antique dolls in the 1950s

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How exactly did they repair antique dolls back in the 1950s and before – in the days before toys and dolls were made of plastic? Here’s a look at what went into doll construction and restoration!

Tips on doll repairing from 1950

By Emil E Brodbeck in Woman’s Day magazine – February 1950

A little girl may have a number of dolls, but there is always one which is “special.” To the child, this doll is irreplaceable.

In time, any normal child is bound to damage her doll, even if she is careful, and if you can really and truly fix that “special” baby, you’ll be well repaid by the happiness you give her.

For expert advice on this subject, I consulted Joanne Shaw, who has a doll studio/hospital in White Plains, New York.

Girl playing with her doll (1957)

I found that one of the commonest doll injuries is to the eyes. It is virtually impossible to replace eyes so they will move, but reset in a stationary position, they should last quite a while.

If the original eyes are not usable, new ones can be bought for about $1.00 a pair at a doll hospital. To reset eyes, first, remove the head. The composition-head of a cloth-body doll is usually held by a circular wire tightened around the neck. This should be untwisted and opened.

ALSO SEE: Tiny Tears, the doll that cried ‘real’ tears, delighted little girls back in the ’50s

To replace a wig will cost a minimum of $2.00 for a good grade of hair, so if the doll requires both eyes and a wig, you might prefer to buy a new head with painted hair and moving eyes ($2.25 to $3.00). But the child would probably not be happy with this change.

How to repair antique dolls: How-to from the 1950s

1. Eyes have prongs at the top, and weight at the bottom. These must be cut off carefully with wire cutters. Place eyes in the head (face down), checking the position of eyes.

1950s doll repair step 1
2. Add plaster of Paris slowly to 1 teaspoon water. Mix well. Plaster should be moist enough to drop off spoon. Drop a spoonful behind one eye, recheck, let dry. Set other eye.

1950s doll repair step 2
3. Head is replaced. Face needs touching up. Sand lightly with finest emery cloth. Blend flesh-tone enamel with oil coloring to tint it to match doll’s face.

1950s doll repair step 3
4. If body has lost original firmness, fill out with kapok (can be bought in department stores). Turn in edges of opening and overcast with heavy thread.

1950s doll repair step 4
5. Holes are filled with plaster stick. Limbs are lightly sanded, then cleaned with alcohol. Let dry, give 2 coats of paint. To paint, suspend doll with wire under arms.

1950s doll repair step 5
6. Complete restringing of body parts is a job for a hospital, but doing one limb is fairly easy. With bent wire grasp body elastic, hook limb to it, gradually ease limb into socket.

1950s doll repair step 6

MORE: See the famous vintage Patsy dolls from the ’20s & ’30s

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. Hello. My 2-year old granddaughter loves to play with my life-sized baby doll from the 1950’s. She is usually chosen over the smaller Madame Alexander Little Huggums doll that belonged to my daughter. My old doll has a stuffed cloth body with plastic head, arms and legs, so she is somewhat heavy and a toddler lifting her by the arm is probably going to result in tears. I apparently gave her a chopped haircut but her eyes still work fine.

    Whatever monetary value the doll has is not that important to me unless it will put someone through college, ha ha. I am tickled that someone is enjoying her. The fabric of the body is stained and weakened and should be replaced. Do you have any resources for me? I am pretty handy. Thank you!

  2. Hello, I have a black doll that I know I received in the late 50s. She is in good shape, all except the neck piece that holds the head on has broke. I was wondering if there was a way I could repair the doll.
    Thank you in advance

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