As an aficionado of old dolls, particularly composition dolls and early plastic dolls from the 50's, I frequently browse Ebay's pages. I look for values, bargains, and mostly ideas in order to re-dress my own collection in costuming appropriate to their vintage. Eventually I will sell mine, I'm sure. But I have resolved to tag and label all the dolls and clothing as to the fact that I have refurbished them. When you buy from me, you will know what you are getting.
My Ebay and other on-line experiences have included anger at being ripped off, disappointment in quality and misrepresentation, and frustration at having to deal with results of sellers' ignorance and lack common knowledge at what to do with dolls when they prepare to sell them. I don't know everything about old compo and plastic dolls, by any means, but based on dolls I have purchased both on Ebay and at flea markets, let me share with you a few of the 'Do's' and 'Don'ts' that I feel are vital to preserving the value of an old doll for the buyer, and that will help you get the most honest price and repeat customers for what you are selling. These rules should apply to anyone, especially someone who is not an experienced doll restorer.
1. Please do not wash the doll or its clothes if you don't have special soaps, equipment, and knowledge of paints, fabrics, and doll materials used before the 70's. Brush loose dirt off the doll and clothing with a clean, soft brush, such as a make-up artist's blusher. Simply state that the doll is dirty. Trying to clean it with conventional soaps and cleaning chemicals will destroy the vintage fabrics, remove painted features, and alter the chemical balance of certain plastics and vinyls, causing them to disintegrate. NEVER wash a composition doll with soap and water. Any features that still exist will give a professional restorer the reference as to the original design and color of the doll so they can try to duplicate it.
2. Never use any lubricant, wax, petroleum jelly, or oil on any plastic. Just because they are almost all derived from petroleum doesn't mean they are compatible. Vaseline will disintegrate vinyls, rubbers, and plastics, not restore their softness. It continues to leach out of the soft vinyls even after cleaning it off. Nobody wants a greasy doll! And then, paints don't stick, so features can't be restored. Leave the doll dry and dirty for someone else to fix.
3. Never, EVER, use fingernail polish on a doll. If it originally had red lips, fingernails, and toenails, they were a special paint of a certain color. Fingernail polish is difficult to remove, and acetone (fingernail polish remover), especially those with oil included, eats plastic and vinyl. And a non-professional cannot paint neatly. Fingernail polish will, in my opinion devalue a doll. Don't expect to get a good price for it. If it is already there, don't try to remove it, but do mention it in your ad.
4. If you have a composition doll that is in bad condition, leave it that way if you plan to sell it. Base its value on what it was originally, that being what it can be restored to, minus the amount of work that needs to be done on it. For example, if a certain issue of Shirley Temple is in original mint condition it would command a certain price that could be found out by researching. If 80 percent of your same issue Shirley Temple is crazed and broken off, don't expect to get mint price. You would get only 20 to 40 percent of mint value, if that. Let the professional restorer buy it, put in the labor and materials, and then get maybe 80 percent of the mint value, because it has been repaired. And if they are honest, they will tag it "restored", with details.
5. Please, please. DO NOT PAINT your composition doll unless you plan to keep it in your bedroom yourself. If that's the case, I don't care if you paint it green! If you plan to sell a compo doll, and it is crazed and chipped, LEAVE IT THAT WAY. Modern paints are not always compatible with some of the materials used to form the composition. There were as many different formulas as there are dolls. If a compo doll is only slightly cracked, call it "loved" and leave it alone. Dress it as originally as possible, and sell it as is. Its identity will bring you a better price if left alone. If it is virtually disintegrating, LEAVE IT ALONE. Sell it as is, and research it for vintage.
Why "Don't Paint"? To refinish a composition, the original paint must all be chipped off the entire doll. Only the smallest repairs should be "spot fixed", and then only a perfect color match is acceptable. Photos of the doll's features need to be taken first for reference, and chips of paint should be saved for matching skin and hair color. The doll must be completely repainted by dipping, or with an airbrush. Never use a paintbrush--the paint will never be a smooth finish. Painting a compo properly for its full dollar value upon completion involves sanding, prime coating, sanding, painting, sanding, etc. Then it is ready for finishing and painting on the face and hair by hand. Leave painting a doll to a professional restorer. Also, modern paints, craze fillers, etc. are made of chemicals incompatible with the old paints, and render it impossible to remove without further damaging doll parts. Just don't try to fool a buyer. All you will do is lose respect and trust in your business. Can you afford to lose a fair business reputation?
6. Wigs and eyelashes-- don't remove what is left and never glue anything on. A restorer knows what kind of hair was used. Mohair wigs can be matched, refurbished, added to, and repaired, and still be considered original. Don't comb them out. They are treated differently from human hair. Never use shampoos and conditioners on your dolls. Those were made for cleaning live, human protein-based cells. A doll, at most, is fabric and wood or plastic. Treat it like a fine piece of art. Don't cut off anything, and whatever you do, don't just glue some hairpiece over it. Doll wigs and hair pieces must be fitted to them, even more so than a human's do.
7. NEVER, EVER, smear the doll with cigarette ashes or soot, or dirt just so it looks older and maybe fools a buyer. WE KNOW THE DOLL IS OLD. In fact, even a dirty doll should be handled with gloved hands so the skin grease, salt, and oils from your fingers and the chips you snacked on for lunch don't add to the deterioration of the doll. Trying to fool a buyer in any way is poor business, unfair, and at best, illegal.
These represent only a portion of the devastations I have paid good money for. The hardest to detect are those bought on line. There are only photos and the seller's word to go on. In most cases, the problems I bought were procured for practice. I knew what I wanted to learn, so I paid for the problem. Several purchases have proved real disappointments. But I can learn from them also. It will just take more patience. I will continue to peruse the internet for my dolls. I love doll collecting, and the eye candy. There are no calories. Thanks for reading. I hope it was interesting. Signed, another doll lover.