by Karen Mahoney
Fay Neidermeyer does not attempt to hide her obsession.
“I’m addicted,” the Union Grove resident giggled. “I take one look at their eyes and if they speak to me and the price is right, I bring them home.”
The object of her obsession? Neidermeyer collects and at times, creates dolls.
“It’s something that comes from my childhood,” she said. “I started collecting them at age 3 and I guess I never grew up.”
Touted as one of America’s most popular hobbies, doll collecting now spawns a growth industry of books, magazines, clubs and dolls, of course.
There are plush dolls purchased at oh-so-exclusive auctions for higher prices than historic homes-somewhere around $300,000. There are plebeian dolls offered via TV home shopping and toy stores that cost less than a bag of groceries. Somewhere under $25 and sometimes less than a glossy magazine.
There are dolls of wood and wax, porcelain and papier-mache. Dolls that smile, cry, talk and walk. Dolls decked out in silk and sable. Mature dolls. Baby dolls. Doll of various nationalities.
The retired Union Grove Elementary teacher cares little about value, prestige, or brand; her collection of 150 dolls remind her of special vacations with her husband, happy childhood memories, gifts from treasured friends and relatives and ones that have simply captured her heart.
“I have dolls dating back from the 1800’s to modern dolls made today,” she said. “I still have dolls from when I was a little girl. One doll in my collection is an original Magic Skin doll; the skin has gotten dark but has not broken down. It is wearing a sweater that my mom knit for it and she made one for me to match. This doll marked the beginning of the doll industry.”
For the month of February, Neidermeyer will share her entire collection with visitors to the Graham Public Library and will offer a special doll program and Valentine Tea on February 10 from 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Guests are invited to bring their own teacup to share in the tea or coffee provided by the library.
“It will be strange not to have them displayed throughout my home,” she said. “I have them in every room and each one has a number next to their name that corresponds to a page in my doll record book.”
Each doll is categorized to reflect a page in one of four albums, which describe the date acquired, price paid if applicable and story behind the doll. During the library program, she will share some of the stories behind her dolls and answer questions about her collection, including the person behind her obsession.
“I had an aunt who had an Armand Marseille from Germany and it started me going with wanting more dolls. She and I had shopping trips to buy clothes and wigs,” she said. “That is probably the doll in my collection with the most value. However, I am an amateur and don’t really know the values of the dolls I buy because I like them and do them for fun. I am not a professional.”
Because her collection is so large and spills over from the living room to the bedroom, kitchen and sewing room, Neidermeyer rotates the doll display every few months or so, storing some of them in large plastic bins. Any boxes are stored in the basement and wrapped in plastic.
“I have them sorted in labeled bins by type or brand name,” she said. “I have Red hat dolls, craft dolls, dolls from other countries, holiday dolls, storybook dolls, dolls from thrift shops, Cabbage Patch and American Girl doll containers.”
Despite her husband Robert’s affinity for travel and sports, the number of dolls in the home doesn’t seem to bother him; on the contrary, he seems to enjoy her hobby, assured Neidermeyer. In fact, much of her collection was acquired on the couple’s travels throughout the every state in the U.S and 14 countries.
“We began traveling together on our honeymoon,” she said. “I look for dolls everywhere, but I don’t always get them because sometimes I can’t find one I like or it is too expensive for me to buy.”
Including her two granddaughters into her hobby is a joyful time for Neidermeyer, who often sews clothing for their American Girl dolls, and tells them the stories behind her collection.
When granddaughter Molly was born, she found a Molly doll on a website and was pleasantly surprised that the Molly doll was a bit unique, just as her granddaughter was.
“My granddaughter was born only being able to hear in one ear,” she explained. “When I got this Molly doll, I learned she was a World Peace and Harmony doll from Australia. The motto of the doll line was that we may all look different but we feel the same. This Molly doll is a Milly-Molly doll that flips over to reveal a different doll and gives the message that all children are different, but we love them all.”
As a teacher, she often utilized some of her Miccosukee Indian dolls in her classroom and students worked on research projects about the tribe.
“I also have some handkerchief dolls and told my students the history behind them,” she said, explaining. “During the Civil War women would take the man’s handkerchief and turn it into a doll and it would be a reminder for their daughters that there dad was at war. They were also called pew babies to quiet little children in church.”
Neidermeyer is not involved with doll clubs, nor does she know many collectors, her collection is a sharing of her heart joined with the activities she loves, such as her Red Hat dolls, a Russian doll from a trip to Sitka, Alaska, and a simple, but beautiful Salvation Army find.
While she has plenty of friends, sharing her home with dolls bring her joy and the twinkle of childhood alive in her eyes.
“They make me feel good and it’s like having more friends,” she said. “They all bring back good memories and each doll, including my little $2.99 doll with the sweetest eyes are wonderful.”
If you go:
Doll Program and Valentine Tea
Wednesday, February 10
2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.
Graham Public Library
1215 Main Street
Bring a teacup to share tea or coffee
For more information call: 262-878-2910