One of the best things we can do with something beautiful is share it with the world – and that is exactly what Bruce A. de Armond has done with his incredible collection of dolls. Ruby Lane has been fortunate to share many of the photographs of the collection of Bruce A. de Armond on social media, and in newsletters to educate and delight doll collectors across the world. The entire collection of photographs and articles can be found on dolledition.com – an ongoing adventure of research, photography, graphics, and technology. Ruby Lane had the opportunity to chat with Bruce about his discovery into collecting Madame Alexander dolls and get some excellent advice on many subjects surrounding a collector’s passion for dolls.
Also, see the award-winning dolls that he found for his collection on the Dolls Lane of Ruby Lane.
Ruby Lane: Over the summer, we were fortunate enough to feature some photos of your dolls on our website for ‘Doll Week.’ We received a tremendous amount of engagement from the doll community – they were enchanted to see these gorgeous dolls in such incredible condition! One of the ‘fan favorites’ was the photo of the two Cissy dolls ‘whispering secrets’ to each other. Not only does it look like the dolls sprang to life, but it’s also such an interactive photo. Was this hard to do?
Bruce A. de Armond: The posing process is a layered experiment that changes depending on specifics of the doll. However, I have an ongoing theme that I prefer dolls in my photography if posed, to appear to have an effortless quality. The first step is to start with the concept of the pose. I sometimes look for posing inspiration in old fashion magazines or online research to capture an “attitude.” The evolved doll-pose is often determined by individual characteristics the doll has in their particular stringing or condition of the doll. There are sometimes positions the doll tends to “want” to take – so that’s part of the process of the end-result of posing.
There are two basic posing options if not using a stand. I sometimes go with the dolls natural balance and do a pose without the use of a doll stand. Going without a doll stand, of course, limits the posing options. Another stand-less technic is to have something for the doll to lean on or sit. In pairs, one doll, as in the “whispering” pair, can be posed with a stand, and the other ever so gently leaning on the other.
Ruby Lane: Do you have criteria for adding a doll to your collection? A ‘must-have’ list?
Bruce A. de Armond: My collecting has two parts. Part of it is acquiring dolls to fill in the missing examples I’d like for articles and presentations I do. In this case, I look for the best example I can find. I’m likely to sell them when I’m done, so there are general criteria that I look for when I buy for my collecting. Five things to top my list:
o For Cissy, in particular, the eyes are one of the first things I’m checking. Various makes of dolls have characteristics that can be off for whatever reason. Cissy sometimes has eye issues that are not fixable. Many eyes start to turn from their original blue to turquoise. Clouding sometimes happens. Extremely rare dolls you often make exceptions. If you decide to sell, you’ll find many collectors won’t even consider a doll with eye problems.
o Another issue, although not exclusive to Cissy, are seam splits. If the doll has splits, and all other criteria are expectable, is she priced accordingly? Investigative skills learned in the hard knocks of collecting can now come into play to evaluate the situation.
o Originality with vintage Madame Alexander dolls is a primary consideration. It’s part of my passion of research and presenting these dolls. Original is a quality I started looking for in the very beginning of my collecting. This gives a collector insight to what is good vs. what is great. All is fair when condition and originality are disclosed, and you’re paying accordingly. If you pay top price for hidden or undisclosed issues, you have not gotten what you paid for and may take a big hit if you try to sell.
o Generally, when you participate in a competition with vintage Madame Alexander dolls, rarity and original condition are the supreme rules of the judges. Sometimes rare dolls come with hiccups – but they may never come along again. It’s one of those things that do not have a perfect answer – you ultimately have to decide where on this scale you can live.
o Since I’m going to be photographing most of my dolls, there is a certain “je ne sais quoi” quality that makes some dolls photograph better than others. Some have a presence that gives them an edge in their presentation.
Ruby Lane: When did you start collecting dolls?
Bruce A. de Armond: I started collecting in the mid-1980s. I took a seven-year break from collecting, even though I was following along in the background. I got interested again about 2007, and along the way of this journey, got fascinated by a new layer of collecting by sharing this experience via a website, articles, and presentations.
Part of this return was with the Madame Alexander Doll Club by being on the board of directors and assistant editor of their magazine DOLL NEWS.
Ruby Lane: You are a seasoned collector with an incredible eye. If someone was thinking of getting started in doll collecting, what was something you wish you could have told yourself when you started your collecting? Maybe a piece of sage advice?
Bruce A. de Armond: Being a second-generation collector, my mother gave some great advice early on that proved to be golden. When you start collecting, she said, like furniture, everything you buy in the beginning you’ll dislike in a few years. Our tastes change so quickly, especially in the first 3 or 5 years, so don’t make a big purchase you’ll soon regret. This ties into also being able to sell. When you can also sell what you collect to build a good collection, you learn very quickly what your mistakes have been and what kind of dolls to avoid at all costs. You become a much more savvy collector, and you learn how to make better choices that often are not obvious to the uninitiated. The third part of this is to learn to edit your collecting. Lesser dolls take away from the good ones. The same thing with clutter – it distracts from your best-collecting efforts.
Ruby Lane: Can we see a couple of the dolls that you have found on the Dolls Lane of Ruby Lane?
Bruce A. de Armond: Here is a collage of some of the dolls I’ve bought from Ruby Lane in 2016 & 2017. The Maggie in lilac won both Judges Choice, a blue ribbon and “My Favorite Doll” ribbon at the 2017 MADC Convention. The “My Favorite Doll” ribbon is voted on by the competitive exhibitors of the convention. The winner is announced at the Saturday evening banquet. I’ve bought other dolls from Ruby Lane, but the collage shows some of the more recent purchases.
Ruby Lane: If you were going to have lunch with Madame Alexander, what is something you might want to ask her?
Bruce A. de Armond: Barbie’s development and release must have created some early industry talk and rumors. I’d love to be able to ask her what was the Barbie buzz, and did she think Barbie would make it once introduced at the 1959 NY Toy Fair. Madame had been through a similar experience with Cissy in 1955, and some buyers of that year’s Toy Fair were incredulous that this adult-figured doll was for children. Cissy went on to star in the fashion doll phenomenon that redefined the midcentury doll market. The tidal wave Barbie created defined fashion dolls going into the 1960s and beyond. How did Madame respond to this sudden and dramatic shift?
Ruby Lane: Some LOVE red, some can’t resist a doll in blue. Do you have a favorite color of outfit for a doll to wear?
Bruce A. de Armond: We love color! I never met a color I didn’t like. (Dale Chihuly)
Video Below: Ballet, a hugely popular mid twentieth century trend, was captured by the creation of Elise. To better represent the movement of ballet, Elise was created with jointed ankles to accommodate toe shoes and the positions of ballet. This video features a 1957 #1635 mint in box Elise.
Ruby Lane: Do you display your dolls in a doll room? Switch them out for different seasons? Change their clothes? How do you ‘play’ dolls?
Bruce A. de Armond: Much of my collecting is mint in box. Another one of those golden rules of collecting – we are only temporary custodians. I did some grunt work early on in my collecting with a museum and learned and saw some of the basic archival rules they use. Light and dust are the nemeses of fabrics. Ever so minutely, these elements are altering exposed fabrics in little ways that never stops. Since I’ve made certain collecting choices, and in collecting vintage Madame Alexander in particular, the condition is hugely critical in maintaining my investment. My dolls only come out to be photographed. I enjoy them very much in a way that is specific to my collecting and enjoy sharing them through photography.
Ruby Lane: What are your favorite Madame Alexander reference books?
Bruce A. de Armond: Madame Alexander-The Catalog Reprints is one of my go-to reference books. They are the company’s original catalogs that Alexander created for the buyers of that season’s New York Toy Fair. It’s endlessly useful for different reasons. Alas, the “reprint” part is because they were copied and made available around 1980. They are now on at least a second printing which is even less clear than the first edition. The original Madame Alexander Doll Company catalogs got quickly printed as an industry giveaway and are not particularly clear to begin with.
Another of my personal favorites is the 1999 Madame Alexander Dolls–An American Legend. Commissioned by the Alexander Doll Company, the book was a collaboration of some very knowledgeable and creative people.
Ruby Lane: What projects are you working on now, and what can we expect from DOLLEDITION in 2018 and beyond?
Bruce A. de Armond: When I started collecting again after Mom passed in 2007, I realized for the first time how dolls and collecting connect people. I’ve gone on to communicate using dolledition.com as the vehicle to do this, along with various articles and presentations.
– I’ve developed a new presentation “Elise… Over Time,” which features the doll by the same name by Madame Alexander. I’ll be giving this on February 24 at the Madame Alexander 2018 New Jersey Premiere. This research has evolved around an article by the same name I did last year for UFDC and Doll News Magazine.
– Developing a presentation with Valentine Museum, Richmond Va. based on their collection of Madame Alexander dolls created in 1960 for Miller & Rhoads Department Store for their Silver Jubilee.
– 2015 I presented a trunk set of clothes featuring fashions created for Cissy by the late costume designer Richard Bostard. The trunk set was auctioned off to benefit the Madame Alexander Doll Club. This doll and wardrobe collection morphed into a photo book for the event. I’m developing a follow-up trunk set for this fall that again will include a photo book with an additional backstory.
– A project I started in 2015, Littlest Ghosts of The Garden, included dolls I designed for the Madame Alexander Doll Club and made by the Alexander Doll Company. The Littlest Ghosts dolls include a backstory that has evolved into a short story. The short story has grown on its own. The completed short story has just published in the MADC magazine DOLL NEWS. The next short story will continue the adventures of the Littlest Ghosts in late 2018. It involves history, adventure, period costuming, an abandoned palace, gardens and a ghostly point of view.
– For spring of 2018, I’m developing a new article that looks at the reference of the clothes for Cissy by Madame Alexander and the connection to 1950s Christian Dior and the Paris runway.
– For the 2018 holidays, dolledition.com is going to include a retail store with photo cards, the Littlest Ghosts and other items that tie into some of my projects I’ve been working on, and can come together online.
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