Some of us have been collecting dolls and bears since childhood. Others started a little later, building their assemblages based on adult preferences – and budgets. For many enthusiasts and Ruby Lane fans, identifying as a “collector” is a key part of how we see ourselves, spend our time and resources, and choose our friends.
But what happens if a collector runs out of space, has limited funds, or needs to allocate their budget towards other goals? Or is looking for something a little different and challenging to do with their collecting energy? Here are some “out of the box” ways to pursue and share your doll and bear passions – without breaking the bank or building a new addition to your home.
1. What’s Write is Right:
Document what you know about your collection, why its contents are interesting, different, or special, and the provenance behind any specific items, so this information is available for research purposes, as well as generations to come.
Many collector’s publications and websites, including Ruby Lane, welcome story ideas and suggestions from readers. If you have an article in mind, contact the editor of the magazine or website via email and see what they say. Some pay for articles, stories, and blog posts, while others do not. All require quality, high resolution images of your items, but most digital cameras can accommodate this with the right settings and appropriate, plain backgrounds. The lead time for print publications may be up to a year, given set editorial calendars and production logistics. The lead time for online stories is usually much shorter, perhaps a month or so, depending on the outlet.
If you are really ambitious, you may consider writing an e-book on your collecting interests and self-publishing it through an online production and distribution service like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. There are also on-demand printers that create hard bound copies of books like Lulu Express or 48HourBooks. The costs to produce a book vary enormously so do your research to determine what channel and format works best for you, your budget, and materials.
Making It Real:
A few years back, I welcomed an extraordinary Boy Scout doll into my collection, but knew very little about its history and design influences. As I started to dig into his origins, I got more and more excited about the findings as well as the doll! I contacted the editor of Doll News, the official publication of the United Federation of Doll Clubs, asking if she’d be interested in a story about him for the journal. She said yes, which further energized my research. The article appeared in the magazine, and remains one of my favorite publications of all, given how much love and enthusiasm went into it.
2. It’s OK To Show Off:
Display highlights of your collection so others may learn about your specialty. Often times, public buildings and spaces like libraries, community centers, schools, and senior centers have glass display cases or shelving as part of their permanent interior fixtures. These are usually for revolving monthly or quarterly “mini exhibits” to educate and entertain their attendees and visitors.
It has been my experience that most groups welcome displays curated and provided by volunteers. Ask to speak to the organization’s manager or executive director for dates and details, and by all means, make sure their display areas are LOCKED and SECURE! Pick a theme that works for the space and the organization, and create tent cards describing each item, or group of items, on display. Folded-over index cards are great for this. You may also choose to create a mini-brochure detailing more information about what is on exhibit, or even volunteer a few hours to give docent tours of your display.
Making It Real:
The theme of the children’s floor in my local library is “treetops.” To celebrate its grand opening a few years ago, I prepared a special exhibit on Steiff’s very playful and youthful monkeys. It was displayed in a glass island cabinet in the middle of the room. Children and adults were delighted with the chimp visitors – often comparing them to Curious George! And two years ago, I led a “Puppy Love” themed Valentine’s Day event which was based in a community bookstore. I gathered up a litter of Steiff puppies representing the c. 1925-1960 time frame and arranged them by date. This display was the visual cornerstone of the weekend happening.
3. Table Your Interests:
Now don’t take this the wrong way! By this I mean use selections from your collection to set gorgeous dining tables for friends and family. Nothing makes guests feel more welcome than a graciously configured eating environment. Doll and their friends make ideal centerpiece elements – as well as conversation starters!
Scale and theme are really key here, so keep both in mind as you plan your dining display. You want to make sure that guests have something interesting to look at from every seat at the table, but that they can also see fellow diners from across the table. Use stands if necessary to stabilize dolls and/or hold them in playful body positions. A complementary tablecloth or runner helps unify the presentation from end to end. It is also fun to use smaller dolls or bears as placecard holders at each seat.
Making It Real:
I recently had a party of doll collectors to my home for an evening celebration; the theme of the table was “field and forest friends.” As such, the table came to life with a bold, quirky floral tablecloth, gnome dolls of all sizes, and animal pals including fawns, wild boars, beavers, foxes, and mice.
4. Leave A Paper Trail:
If space is an issue, consider pursuing doll, bear, or toy ephemera in the place of the “real thing.” Ephemeral items are printed paper items that were NOT produced to last a long time. Ephemera examples from the antique toy worlds include original advertisements, photos, postcards, catalogs, and other printed materials designed for marketing, sales, or publicity.
Doll and Teddy bear ephemera is delightful in so many ways. Ephemeral items are primary research tools, as well as visually stunning complements to vintage toy displays. For the most part, they do not take up a lot of room to store or display, and are not terribly expensive, either. Ephemera is a very popular collecting category, and wonderful examples are available for sale on Ruby Lane, online auction sites, and at shows worldwide. The Ephemera Society of America holds an annual convention; the next one will be held on March 1.
Making It Real:
Personally, I find it thrilling to (gently) flip through an early 1900’s F.A.O. Schwarz catalog to see what dolls, bears, and miniatures stocked the shelves of this famous retailer over 100 years ago. And advertising postcards, with their stamps, postmarks, and period-messages – are magical time capsules just waiting to transport you and your passions to yesteryear!
5. Talk It Out:
And finally, sharing your collection via an in-person talk or lecture is a fantastic way to share the pleasure of collecting with others, discover connections, and make new friends
There are so many opportunities to present doll and Teddy bear related programs. Of course, doll clubs – including those under the UFDC umbrella – usually include a speaker at their regular gatherings. UFDC national conventions also feature what are known as “Dynamic Doll Dialogs” which are less formal, hands on presentations usually held in the round. Other places to speak include historical society events, professional society luncheons, church or temple programs, and even some fundraisers. And talking with kids at Scout, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and other after school programs is one way to introduce the next generation to the joy dolls and bears can bring at any age!
Making It Real:
I’ve had the great pleasure to present programs throughout the US and Europe. But perhaps the most memorable venue was a stunning, all brick, early 19th century museum containing the infrastructure of the country’s first metropolitan water system. There, in the shadows of three-stories tall steam engines, I spoke on Steiff’s earliest doll and toy production to coincide with the era of the building.
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