HERMON, Maine — Babies who don’t cry? A child who does everything you tell it to? Little ones who patiently let you dress them in any outfit you choose? Sounds unrealistic, but to Anne Sleeper, president of Maine-ly Doll Club, it’s a reality.
Sleeper has been collecting dolls for roughly 30 years, and her collection includes well over 100 dolls. To her, they are the perfect babies.
“I consider my dolls my children,” she said. “Most of them have names, but I have over 100 so it is difficult to give them all names.”
Surprisingly, her passion for dolls didn’t begin when she was young girl.
“I didn’t like dolls when I was a child. I was the kind who was a terrible tomboy,” said Sleeper. “My mother despaired of my never liking dolls, but for my 10th birthday she gave me a bisque head porcelain doll, that was the last doll my grandfather bought for her … and I still didn’t like playing with dolls.”
Sleeper’s mother was smart enough to put the keepsake in storage, where it waited patiently until a time when Sleeper would want to have the doll.
“When I was an adult, I thought it would be fun to have the doll, so I re-adopted her,” Sleeper said.
After inviting the bisque head porcelain doll, named Dorris, into her family, she became hooked on doll collecting. She and her husband already were avid antiquers so it was a no-brainer for Sleeper to acquire more dolls. Her second doll was found at a antique show in Massachusetts — it was Dorris’ twin brother.
“Now I had two dolls and I was beginning to feel embarrassed, I didn’t know that other adults had dolls.”
Not long after purchasing her second doll, or what she refers to as her second child, Sleeper met one of the founding members of the Maine-ly Doll Club and knew it was the start of something. She joined Maine-ly dolls in 1987, only two years after it was founded in 1985 in Hermon by Doris Broad and Peggy Kaufman, who were avid doll collectors and loved playing with dolls.
The club is a nonprofit organization that offers opportunities for their members to come together, share, promote and partake in doll-related activities and events. Each member has a passionate enthusiasm for dolls and doll collecting.
“After [Maine-ly Doll Club] stayed together for a year, then they were invited to join the United Federation of Doll Clubs,” Sleeper said. “There are different regions throughout the whole country and it is also an international organization … we are part of region 15.”
The United Federation of Doll Clubs, or UFDC, is the main headquarters for establishing and maintaining a threshold for doll collectors and enthusiasts to come together and share their hobby. The UFDC holds an annual multiday convention in a different part of the United States, the next of which will be in Texas in June 2014.
“All we do is play with dolls for an entire week. We go to workshops, special themed meals … Friday night is a banquet and that’s where we receive a souvenir doll,” said Sleeper.
Workshops are geared around the souvenir doll, and attendees make clothing for the doll, accessories, shoes, bonnetts — you name it, they make it. This past June, Sleeper made a box for her doll with a Murphy bed in it.
Members of Maine-ly Dolls must own at least 10 dolls, which demonstrates dedication and commitment to collecting. Members also must be 18 to part of the UFDC and pay a $40 yearly fee and a $5 yearly fee to Maine-ly Doll Club.
On average, club members have collections of at least 25 dolls. The group also has a club doll named Ginny. Each member has their own Ginny which they bring to meetings and dress in little outfits. Ginny came from the Vogue Doll Co., where she was born in the 1950s. Sleeper says she has a great history and has been through a lot.
“Right now, Ginny is dressed in her Halloween costume,” said Sleeper.
Dolls, like everything, need to be looked after properly.
“Ideally they should be in a temperate and atmospheric room, but most of us can’t afford to do that and if you do that you can’t really play with them … so they are in a room by themselves [formally her guest room]. Usually the shade isn’t up because the light is not good for the children,” said Sleeper.
The light, she said, fades the dolls and wears and deteriorates them. Well-maintained dolls can potentially fetch prices at auction in the six figures. Sleeper said this can only happen at the right auction, for the right dolls and the right crowd, but it is not uncommon for a doll to be auctioned off for somewhere in the thousands of dollars range.
Sleeper has a variety of dolls, some with papier-mache heads with wooden bodies, others with international roots from across Europe. She said that French dolls used to be used as minisalesmen. Before manikins were made, the dolls would show off different outfits that people would buy and wear. She also has had dolls that have come naked, which she said she had to keep tucked away until they had clothes and she could introduce them to the world.
Sleeper’s passion for dolls is a tradition and hobby that she said she hopes to pass on to her children and grandchildren.
Although she doesn’t have a favorite doll, she said if she were to ever downsize her collection there are 14 that she couldn’t part with.
“[But] that is never going to happen because I just couldn’t do it,” said Sleeper. “You can’t dump your children.”