Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Ben met Susan

I'm not a big doll person, never have been. As a kid, I had my obligatory Barbie phase but I was really more about Barbie's flocked palomino Nugget than anything else. Of course, as the mother of two young girls, I keep my eye out for wicked-cool mod retro Barbie stuff and I've made some excellent scores (Barbie's ’70s inflatable furniture? YES!) but frankly, I'm skeeved out by most of the dolls I see on my estate sale adventures. You know that totally-sinister-but-ultimately-just-misunderstood baby-doll villain in Toy Story 3? I see a lot of those guys.

That's one end of the old-doll spectrum; the other end is the limited-edition, new-in-box, never-been-played-with-and-never-will-be collector dolls. Those are even more depressing, somehow, when you contemplate how much money the deceased owner spent in pursuit of these Madame Alexander dolls/Precious Moments figurines/Hummels/Beanie Babies and here they are, getting pawed over by a bunch of bargain-hunting bottom-feeders with price guides sticking out of their pocketbooks, for probably a fraction of what she paid for them.

Right, so what am I doing buying a Susan B. Anthony Collectible Doll from the 1979 Hallmark "Famous Americans" series if I'm so damned judgey about other people's dusty boxed-doll collections? Sigh. It's another one of those nostalgia-driven purchases. See, I've had this Ben Franklin doll since, well, 1979. My mother gave it to me for what must have been my eleventh birthday. I don't recall having any special affinity for Ben but I know I played with this humble Hallmark cloth doll—and that I didn't even bother to save the original box. I'm pretty sure this doll accompanied me to college, along with my Edward Gorey stuffed bat. How I managed to make friends in college, I don't know.

Enter Ms. Susan B. Anthony. I was at an estate sale in San Antonio (with my mother who just happened to be visiting from NJ and has absolutely no memory of giving me the Ben Franklin doll) when I spied the suffragist on a coffee table—right alongside her mint-condition historically accurate townhouse-style box. Two bucks. Was I going to pass that up? Reader, I was not.

Is this the start of yet another collection? Hopefully not, though on ebay you can find the whole pantheon of Famous Americans, so anointed by the 70s-era bigwigs at Hallmark: Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Chief Joseph (whodat?), Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, George Washington Carver, Clara Barton, P.T. Barnum, Martha Washington and the always-mysterious Molly Pitcher. I've never been clear on the origin of Molly's fame though there is a rest stop on the Jersey turnpike named for her so she must have done something awesome.

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