Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 2016: An Interview with Laurie McGill

Laurie is a member of the Dallas Doll Club, which received its charter in the United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. in 1959. She is a former editor of DOLL NEWS (2013-2015)—UFDC’s quarterly journal. Laurie is the editor of the DOLL COLLECTORS OF AMERICA, INC.’s bi-monthly BULLETIN (2003-Present); and she is proud to state she is a Charter Subscriber to ANTIQUE DOLL COLLECTOR magazine…



When did you start collecting?


I segued from playing with dolls to collecting dolls  formally the summer I turned ten. The Junior level of Girl Scouts offered a badge then called the “Collector,” and I earned it with my array of dolls, which by that time included my mother’s childhood Patsy doll, my own beloved childhood dolls and various souvenir dolls I had acquired on family vacations. Around that same time, I earned the “Book” badge by reading all of Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann books and Mariana’s Flora McFlimsey books, among others.

Laurie Windham (McGill) sits amidst her burgeoning childhood doll collection, December 1962.

Then the summer I turned twelve I seriously considered putting my dolls away as I entered junior high school, but I met a new friend that autumn whose grandmother had owned a doll repair hospital. Recognizing my unusual curiosity in the stories behind the dolls, her grandmother nurtured my interest by introducing me to her early copies of the Janet Johl and Clara Hallard Fawcett books along with publications such as Kimport’s DOLL TALK and Elizabeth Andrews Fisher’s TOY TRADER. Much later my friend gave me her grandmother’s doll clothes patterns and tools that she had used in her doll repair shop.


The year after we first met, my friend and I started a two-girl doll club (“The Dollers”) that we patterned after the United Federation of Doll Clubs, Inc. My friend’s grandmother was our advisor. We met every other Saturday. One year my friend would serve as President and Treasurer, and I served as Vice-President and Secretary. The next year we traded offices. Dues were 10-cents a meeting, which we diligently saved to help finance our spring break conventions. Our banquets always consisted of my mother’s meatloaf, baked potatoes and green beans with chocolate roll for dessert. Our convention souvenirs were purchased from Paul Ruddell’s doll book company – the source for doll books back then. The club lasted throughout our eighth and ninth grade years.

After all this time, my friend and I are still the very best of friends, although she went on to other things, leaving me to continue doll collecting on my own. I eventually joined the United Federation of Doll Clubs in 1978.



What are your favorite dolls?


My favorite dolls are far too many to list here. I prefer antique dolls, but others have crept into the collection for various reasons. If I am asked which dolls I would save should—heaven forbid—a fire occur, I always state I would sweep up my mother’s childhood Patsy doll, my aunt’s childhood Patsykin doll, my own childhood Sweet Sue doll as well as my childhood Madame Alexander “Kathy” baby doll (which I named “Debbie” after my little sister) and my Teddy-Bear-with-the-Jingle-Bell-Eyes. I am extremely sentimental, and these toys have been with me the longest. Seniority rules!

In the forefront is Laurie’s mother’s Eff-an-bee Patsy doll (right) with her Aunt Betty’s Eff-an-bee Patsykin doll (left). Behind the dolls is a photograph of Laurie’s mother (right) and her aunt (left) as children.


Have your tastes changed over the years?


Oh, yes, my tastes have vastly changed as I’ve learned about different dolls over the years. When I was still in high school, my mother subscribed to not only DOLL TALK and TOY TRADER for me but also HOBBIES: A MAGAZINE FOR COLLECTORS. It was in HOBBIES that I began to learn about antique dolls in the “Dollology” column. I remember seeing advertisements where a Jumeau might be priced at $500—a vast amount to me as a teenager.

There was a doll museum in Wisconsin that I would visit each summer during my high school years. Our grandparents lived in Minnesota and my father would drive me across the St. Croix River and into Wisconsin so that I could see the museum. I remember a woman who was working in the museum one day telling me that “any serious doll collector has a Bye-Lo Baby in her collection.”

I took that remark to heart and a brown-eyed, bisque-headed Bye-Lo Baby was the very first purchase I made upon entering the workforce out of college. I still have this doll today.

After entering the workforce following college, Laurie’s first antique doll purchase was a brown-eyed, bisque-headed Bye-Lo Baby. It’s a Boy! The doll came with its original blue flannel Bye-Lo Baby blanket.

I remember buying a lot of composition dolls during the first five or so years after I began working. Many varieties of Madame Alexander’s 1940s Scarlett O’Hara dolls and many versions of Ideal’s 1930s Shirley Temple dolls entered the collection. I knew of Shirley from seeing her movies on television, and I knew of Scarlett because the movie, GONE WITH THE WIND, had just been reissued in 70mm in the late 1960s. In my early days of buying dolls, I felt most comfortable in purchasing familiar things.


As I reached my thirties, though, I sold most of the compositions and began purchasing china, bisque and cloth dolls. Later I grew interested in the very early dolls of papier-mâché and wood, and I seem to lean toward those now. Perhaps my favorite doll of this type is a Queen Anne which came with a provenance. The doll stayed in the original family for generations; then went to a dealer who kept it for a while; and then to me. Affectionately known as “Anne in the Van,” upon completion of purchase, the dealer kindly drove the doll to me from Kansas to Texas.

One of Laurie’s prized possessions is a Queen Anne doll which came with a provenance. Resting in a bureau drawer carefully wrapped in black paper—and kept in the same family for generations—the doll’s original gown is trimmed in silver.


I’ve veered off onto other doll-related by-paths and have a sincere appreciation for the delicate, early hand-colored paper dolls as well as children’s story books about dolls and paintings of children with their dolls. Dollhouses and miniatures are another interest.



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


A doll has to “speak” to me. It doesn’t need to be in mint condition. In fact, I actually prefer dolls that have been loved and played with (albeit gently) by a child. I dislike bringing a doll back to its “original condition” as though it just popped off a store shelf. A doll’s personal patina is important to me. That tells me the doll has a story to share—would that it could.  A doll with a provenance or with an original-owner photograph is always irresistible.



Do you sew for your dolls?


While I do not sew for my dolls, another side-interest is antique sewing things. My husband built a set of shelves for me on the back wall of my laundry room to house my collection of child-sized sewing machines. Beneath the shelves stands my grandmother’s early twentieth century treadle sewing machine. Baskets overflow with doll patterns dating from the late 1800s through the 1960s. Buttons are another passion. Rarely do I visit New York City without stopping into Tender Buttons on East 62nd Street, and rarely do I leave this charming shop without making a purchase from their antique/vintage drawers. (Ask me how many 1920s-era dolly-faced Flapper—Garter—Buttons I own, and I will have to admit: Too many!) I also love antique doll quilts—especially those made by a child—many of which are framed and hanging in our family room as art!

Child-sized sewing machines decorate an entire wall in Laurie’s laundry room, helping to make laundry day not so laborious! Pictured is just one example with other vintage sewing-related objects.


Are you looking for anything in particular right now?


Rarely do I attend a doll sale with the purpose of seeking a particular doll. With that being said, I would love to add an Izannah Walker to my collection one day. Various things, though, influence me on the dolls I choose to add to the collection. Perhaps it is a well-researched article in a magazine. Perhaps it is a presentation given during a monthly doll club meeting. Perhaps it is a segment on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. This past summer during the annual UFDC convention in Washington DC, I came home with a lovely papier-mâché nun that called to me the opening night of the sales room. I abstained from buying her, though, until I heard Friar Francois Sainte-Marie’s engaging program on the history of nun dolls later in the week. Once I learned the fascinating story behind dolls-in-habits, I felt the papier-mâché doll dressed as a nun was a must-have.


Laurie’s most recent purchase is a 15-inch papier-mâché doll dressed as a nun. The doll is pictured in Danielle Theimer’s book, The Encyclopedia of French Dolls Volume 2 – L-Z on page 506 (Gold Horse Publishing, 2006).




I am grateful that even after fifty years of collecting dolls, there are so many things still to learn. I think back to my mother and to my grandmother who instilled the love of dolls in me as a very young child. I remember my mother patiently helping me pair up the 8-inch doll shoes before she tucked me in each night. I remember the day my grandmother gave me my mother’s Patsy doll. I think back to my friend’s grandmother with her doll repair shop, and I realize how extraordinarily fortunate I was that she nurtured my interest in the history of dolls at such an early, impressionable age. That serendipitous encounter put my life on a path that has been rewardingly rich in history, literature, fashion and art.








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