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Restoring Collectable Composition Dolls

Are YOU afraid to buy a lovely composition doll for your collection because you feel those cracks are irreparable? Then, this article is for you!


J. Halpern & Co, Halco Dolls
Halco Fluffee 29” Composition Doll

Source: September/October 1987 • National Doll World , Pages 38-39, 64


All doll collectors know stories of a "great find" - a rare doll in mint condition and original clothes show­ing up at a garage sale for pennies. Unfortunately, such finds are almost unheard of, and those dolls that are within the range of our budgets usu­ally show the effects of time and handling. Dolls were and are, after all, children's toys.

However, many of the less than mint dolls are affordable, and can be worth collecting if their defects are carefully screened. I found this little Alexander McGuffy Ana at a local doll shop and was charmed by her sweet face, in spite of moderate craz­ing and deteriorated wig. Her price was a fraction of that of the same doll in mint condition, but considering what mint McGuffy's bring, still enough to prohibit impulse buying. I wanted to be sure I would be proud of her on my shelf, and that if I ever wanted to sell her, she would at least hold the value I gave for her. Her damage needed to be carefully assessed.

Madame Alexander McGuffy Composition Doll
McGuffy Ana Before

First, she obviously needed restringing, and her original outfit was missing. Restringing is easily corrected, and since I sew and design patterns for doll clothes, the outfit posed no problems. Second, I checked her surface condition. She had moderate crazing (more appar- ent to the naked eye than to the camera) but not too deep to be successfully "doctored," I thought. There were some plusses here, also. Her face was less crazed than the rest of her body -to be expected since doll manufacturers gave more layers of paint to the face than to the body, but still something that needed to be checked. Her cheeks still had good color. A little paint was gone from her lips, and her eyebrows had worn off, but these also are not difficult to correct. She had tin eyes, so there was no danger of her eyes becoming crazed at a later time. Last, I turned to her wig. It is mohair, which is more difficult to restore than human hair, and it was mussed and somewhat sparce in places. However, I felt that it was intact enough to restore, with care.

McGuffy Ana passed the test. I bought her and brought her home and began her restoration.


Restringing is one of the simplest doll repairs to make, and informa- tion on restringing is available in all doll repair manuals. However, I will give here a simple method which is appropriate to this doll and can be done without even a stringing hook. For this size doll, you will need about 18" of 1/8" doll elastic and any s­hooks which need to be replaced. The amount of elastic is more than you will actually use, but is easier to work with than a shorter length.

Cut the old elastic and remove it. Lay the doll's body and all her limbs, positioned near their respective body openings, on a table or other flat work surface. With your fingers, push the elastic through each socket, except the neck, and hook on the arms and legs. Push both ends of the elastic up through the neck, pulling the arms and legs into position in their sockets. Hook the doll's head onto one end of the elastic. Lay a pen­cil across the neck opening, and tie the ends of the elastic across the pen­cil, pulling the elastic as tight as you can get it. Tie elastic in a square knot. Remove pencil, tuck excess elastic into doll, position head on neck, and your doll is strung! You can retrieve the long ends of the elastic now and clip them if you wish, but leave them until you have removed the pencil and tested the stringing, in case you have to adjust the knot.

I want to mention a few points about this method of stringing. It is very effective on moderately small dolls. Larger dolls use thicker elastic that requires clamps, so the simple tying is not possible, and a stringing hook is required. Second, the only dif­ficult point in this method is keeping all the limbs attached until the elas­tic is pulled tight enough to provide tension. It is important that the elas­tic is stretched to its maximum ex­tension when you tie. You do not need to worry about getting it too tight, as the length of the hook from the head will reduce the tension as soon as the pencil is removed and the head is in place.

Crazing Minimizer:

Think of this procedure as a face and/or body lift for compo dolls. It is not a magic cure-all, but it will greatly improve and enhance your doll's appearance without disturbing the original finish. It is most effective on dolls with light to moderate craz­ing.

You will need the following materi­als: White hobby gloss enamel 1 bottle Burnt Sienna artist's oil pigment, small tube

Plaster of Paris Elmer's glue Old china plate Palette or old round-tipped table knife

Toothpicks Soft rag (old t-shirts are great)

On your plate, pour out a little of the hobby enamel - a quarter tea­spoon is plenty. A little distance away, on the same plate, squeeze out an even smaller amount of the Burnt Sienna pigment. With your palette or knife, heap as much plaster as will stay on the tip and put it also on the plate, again keeping it separate from the other ingredients.

The advantage to keeping things separate is that it is much easier to add tiny amounts to get everything just right, than to adjust larger amounts if you dump everything to­ gether at the start. I like to use the enamel as my mixing point, adding everything to that, and then pouring more enamel from the bottle if it is needed.

With a toothpick, add a very small amount of the pigment you have al­ready squeezed out, and stir it into the enamel. Keep adding pigment un­til you have a color ·a shade lighter than that of the doll you are restor­ing. Just as with human makeup, lighter tones make age lines less no­ ticeable.

With your knife, add plaster to the paint until the recipe is about the con­sistency of toothpaste, only a little thinner. Add a drop or two of water to thin, if necessary. Now, add a couple of drops of glue, and mix that in also. The mixture should still have a toothpaste-like consistency. If you get a ball that behaves like silly putty, you have too much glue, and need to backtrack and add more paint and plaster.

Madame Alexander McGuffy Ana Composition Doll
McGuffy Ana After

Taking your soft cloth, begin to rub the formula over the doll, one small area at a time. Take care to rub it well into the crazing lines, but rub it over the smooth surfaces as well. It will clean and polish, leaving a fresh sparkle as you rub it off. If you find that it doesn't clean off well, leaving a paint film, then, strange as it may sound, you need to add a drop or two more of the glue. If the lines are changing from black to red, you have added too much pigment, and need to add more of the white enamel. I have also used this formula on com po dolls that were not crazed, as a cleaner and freshener, and it is very effec­tive.

Face Touch-Up:

For touchin􀁞 up lip color and drawing new eyebrows, I use artist's col­ored pencils. When moistened, these have a paint-like consistency that is easy to apply and durable, but is also water removeable. Simply moisten end of lead and fill in missing lip color, and sketch in eyebrows, using short, light strokes.

Fortunately, this particular doll's cheek color is good, but if your doll's cheeks have faded a bit, that too can be helped. You will need a small tube of artist's oil pigment in "carmine" and a soft rag. Squeeze out a tiny amount of the pigment onto the cloth and buff it onto the doll's cheeks. Re­peat as needed. As I mentioned ear­lier, my Ana's eyes are tin, but many compo dolls had synthetic eyes that were subject to crazing. If this is the case for your doll, this can be reme­died with a drop or two of sewing ma­chine oil. If they are badly crazed, it may take several applications.


To restore doll wigs you will need a spray bottle of Johnson and Johnson's "No More Tangles" and a wide-toothed comb. For mohair wigs, it is very important to remem­ber that they cannot be trulv combed. only slightly "smoothed." Combing will separate the tiny fibers that con­stitute each "hair" and leave you with a comb full of hair and a bare wig. Remove any old ties and carefully unbraid the hair. Spray the doll's wig all over lightly with No More Tan­gles. Using your comb, very gently smooth only the surface of the wig. Rebraid, fasten braids, and tie with ribbons. Smooth bangs. If your doll has any long wisps of hair, these may be trimmed, but use caution in cut­ting. As I'm sure you remember from childhood, doll's hair doesn't grow back! If the wig has come unat­tached from the head around the hairline, use a few drops of glue and reattach.

McGuffy Ana is now ready for the dressmaker! She has been cleaned, made up and been to the stylist. As you can see in the "after" photos, her hidden charm is now quite obvious. She is fresh and clean, and her craz­ing has all but disappeared. She can stand up straight and has a sparkle in her face. With a new outfit she will be a delightful addition to any collec­tion.

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