Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Interview with Collector and Doll Dealer Billye Harris

 Mary McEwen black wax dolls. Courtesy, Billye Harris

When did you start collecting?

My interest in dolls and antiques began at a very early age.  I can remember loving vintage and antique dolls as early as the age of five.  My grandmother in Georgia, Grannie Billye, had a large collection of antiques and dolls in my mother’s childhood home.  I loved playing with them and I remember that I wanted to bring them home.  In my later years, I have been able to keep some of these dolls.  Many were my mother’s dolls when she was a child.  

My allowance was carefully saved so that I could buy the latest Madame Alexander dolls at the local department store, Weil’s.  I also scoured thrift shops for vintage finds when I was a teenager.  My father had a tag sale in our yard and I wanted to purchase an antique mirror in the sale for two dollars.  My father initially refused but later relented.  My mother recently sent me the mirror to hang in my home.  Later, I was to discover that it belonged to my Great-grandfather.  It was used as his shaving mirror.  I also have photos of my Aunt Billie with all of her dolls.  Billye is a common girl-name in my family!

Have your tastes changed over the years?

Yes, my tastes in doll collecting have changed over the many years that I have collected dolls.  My interests at this time are in collecting early cloth dolls, early china head dolls, and black cat dolls/toys.  I am especially interested in collecting North Carolina Moravian dolls that are fondly called “Maggie Bessie” dolls.  I now have several in my personal collection including the elusive boy Maggie Bessie doll.  My collection also consists of several types of early china head dolls, Columbian dolls, Alabama babies, Queen Anne Wooden, Mary McEwen, and a large group of dolls that“spoke” to me!  I find as time goes by, that my tastes are constantly changing and refining.  I try to learn all that I can about dolls.  They are such a fascinating part of our history!

French Fashion and Millicent, an antique English Wooden, Doll Shops United "Ask an Expert" Mascot. Courtesy, Billye Harris

What are your favorite types of dolls?

My favorite dolls, (a term that I use lightly, because I LOVE them all), are the Maggie Bessie dolls.  I think this may be because they are a part of North Carolinian history.  They were made here in the Triad of fabric and paint.  Even though they are supposed to be the same, I feel that each one has its own personality.  This may be due to the hand painting or the construction or a combination of both.  I also love that they are dolls with southern roots from our rich and varied heritage in this area.

Maggie Bessie Cloth Dolls. Billye Harris Collection

What are the characteristics that attract you to a certain doll?

There are no certain characteristics that attract me to a certain doll.  The doll may not be in so called good condition.  It has to have an interesting face, costume or construction to appeal to me.  I see a lot of dolls in my business, so they have to have something a bit different to stand out to me.

Columbian Doll, large Alabama Baby, Brownie. Billye Harris Collection

Do you sew for your dolls?

Presently, I have little time to sew for my dolls.  I am able to sew, French sew, smock, and do several sewing construction methods.  Unfortunately, unless I am in a class, I have little time to sew for my dolls.  I try to find my dolls in their original costumes or nicely dressed, if at all possible.  If not, I try to dress them using my extensive costume collection.

Sister Parian Dolls. Billye Harris Collection

Are you looking for anything in particular, etc.

One of my newest passions is the Ralph Freundlich composition character dolls.  They are not necessarily expensive or early but they appeal to me and my fellow collector, Steva Allgood.  We are still looking for several of the bunnies, cats and other animal characters.  We would love to find them in near perfect condition and wearing their original costumes.  We are trying to write a research paper on them.  They make me happy, every time that I see one!  Of course, I am always trying to find another interesting Maggie Bessie doll too!!

Rare china man with his hat. Billye Harris Collection

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