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Fixing dolls with surgical precision





A doll is just a doll. Unless it’s an antique German or French bisque doll, a Patty Play Pal, Howdy Doody, Madame Alexander, American Girl, teddy bear, or countless other nostalgic or collectible playthings. While dolls might seem like trivial objects to some, for others a doll has deep sentimental value. And that’s where a certified doll doctor dons a white coat and yes, stethoscope, to fix “injuries” — chipped nose, fraying hair, loose stuffing, missing arms — or do major “surgery” like head replacement. “It’s a very specialized niche, but if it’s a family heirloom doll or your child’s favorite toy, then taking the doll to the doll hospital is not so silly anymore,” said Janice McIntyre of Jenny Baby’s Doll Hospital in Hopkinton. McIntyre specializes in the restoration and repair of dolls and is a member of the Doll Doctors Association, which says that doll hospitals can be found not just around the United States but also overseas in Paris, Lisbon, and Melbourne. The Globe spoke to “dollologist” McIntyre, 59, who is also an avid doll collector, about “plastic surgery” — or Rx for vinyl, bisque, wood, or composite.

“I’ve never been attracted to the pristine dolls at doll shows or stores. I prefer a doll discovered in an antique secondhand store that needs cleaning and dusting. I guess that’s why I became a doll doctor. I mostly work on dolls from the mid- to late 1800s forward. Right now, I have about 15 dolls in different states of disrepair. I’m an airbrush artist, hairdresser, seamstress, engineer, and caregiver all in one.

“Barbie and other vinyl dolls tend to get ink and pencil marks on them; the way to remove it is with a strong cleaner.

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“Antique bisque ball-joint dolls are strung with elastic cord that dries out after many years. I restring with elastic cord and do many, many of these.

“Also common with these dolls is that the eyes — German glass rocker eyes — fall back into the head and need to be reset with plaster. I can also mold new fingers and feet, then paint by hand or air brush.

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“Finally, many 1950s dolls with synthetic hair are matted and a mess. A solution is to soak the head in fabric softener for several hours, rinse out, and comb out. It does wonders.

“So many dolls that come in have been in a closet or attic for many years. I need to take the time to really clean them, and I never know what I’ll find inside, like bobby pins or even mice droppings.

“I don’t make a whole lot of money working on dolls. It really is a labor of love. A complete restoration of an antique 1800s doll can cost $300 to $500, so I charge anywhere from $25 to $500.

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“And by the way, about that white doctor’s coat and stethoscope: I wear them when kids are here. It makes the visit special for them. They call me ‘Dr. Jenny.’ ”

Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy.atoji@gmail.com.


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