New Homes for Old Dolls

A couple of weeks ago, myself and fellow intern Maria hosted a three day volunteer project to assess and re-pack the Museum’s doll collection. We did this in collaboration with Durham University, inviting first-year students from the MA Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects course to assist. As part of on-going improvements to the Museum stores, the dolls had been identified as a high priority for re-storage, as they were packed in overcrowded, non-archival boxes (either wood or cardboard), with yellowed, non-archival tissue paper. Through this collaboration we were able to get the much needed man-power to complete the re-storage in a limited amount of time, whilst giving the students the opportunity to get some valuable experience working  within a museum environment.

The previous unsuitable storage boxes and two images of the overcrowded boxes before re-packing
The previous unsuitable storage boxes and two images of the overcrowded boxes before re-packing

While there are a large number of dolls out on display in the Streatlam Galleries, this is only a small representation of the wider collection. There are currently 164 dolls in storage, which were boxed according to material type – bisque, wax, composition, wood or plastic.

Photography of each object complete with scale and object number
Photography of each object complete with scale and object number

Although we had limited space and a strict three day time limit, the project was a great success. All the 164 dolls were condition checked, their dimensions and materials recorded, photographed, re-labelled and re-packed for long-term storage.The students worked in pairs to complete each task, which mostly ran smoothly.  We set up a work station for each process, passing the dolls from station to station, and allowing the students to switch tasks throughout the project.

Condition checking (left); and organising the boxes as they past along the chain (right)
Condition checking (left); and organising the boxes as they past along the chain (right)

Most of the dolls were in a ‘good’ or ‘fair’ condition, however, some are made from problematic materials including rubber and plastics, which had actively started to degrade. They were extremely fragile and needed to be isolated from the other dolls in the collection, as any off-gassing from these synthetic materials can cause damage to other material types if stored in close contact.

Actively degrading rubber and plastic dolls
Actively degrading rubber and plastic dolls

As a result of this project we now have a fully audited and re-packed doll collection. By carrying out a condition survey, we now have a better understanding of the condition of the dolls in the collection and which are degraded and therefore most vulnerable. All this will help to preserve these objects for as long as possible, while highlighting those in need of conservation, so they can be used for future display or study.

Examples of the boxes after re-packing and the store with the new acid-free boxes in place
Examples of the boxes after re-packing and the store with the new acid-free boxes in place

A huge thank you goes out to the Durham University conservation students for their hard work, and to all The Bowes Museum staff that helped make this project possible.

Emily Austin, Icon/HLF Textiles Conservation Intern

Icon HLF logo

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “New Homes for Old Dolls

  1. I bought a Toby Triang rocking horse circa 1950/1960’s for my granddaughter, it has a rubber saddle, I read that you have dolls with rubber parts so I’m wondering if you can tell me how to keep the saddle from ageing/perishing.
    I was told to rub talcum powder into it but I’m still not sure. Please can you advise me on this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Audrey, Thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately there is nothing that you can do to prevent rubber from degrading, and I wouldn’t recommend that you rub talcum powder into it. For museum objects, we try to slow the process down by keeping them in a stable environment (in terms of temperature and relative humidity), and in the dark. In an ideal world we would store them in an oxygen-free environment, but that’s not something we can achieve here at the museum! If the rubber saddle is still in good condition, then it may survive for quite some time before it begins to degrade. If it has already started deteriorating, there won’t be anything that you can do to halt the process, or reverse it. Sorry to disappoint, but I hope this is some help to you!
      ~Emily

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear People, just checking that if you’re storing antique bisque dolls with sleeping eyes on their backs, that you have stuffed the heads to protect the eye mechanisms. As you know, both lead weights and gravity are pulling on the old plaster and if the heads aren’t stuffed, then the eyes can fall into the head and break. Usually bisque dolls are stored on their fronts. But I’m sure you know all this. Kind regards, Jane Hurley.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s