How to Care for Your Composition Doll

posted by Karen Hood
Monday, July 6, 2009

General Instructions

Room temperature should be around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity should be about 45-55%. To monitor your temperature, you have your thermostat, to monitor humidity you will need to purchase a humidity gauge. You can find these at a hardware store or museum supply stores. You can also purchase Humidity Indicator Cards, which provide a visual record for monitoring humidity in display cases.

• Try to avoid drastic temperature changes – this causes the doll’s composition to expand and contract

• Keep dolls away from forced air heating and cooling systems (dries them out, causes paint flaking)

• Try to keep your dolls in a display case or showcase (keeps the dust off of them)

• Keep your dolls away from direct sunlight or any intense lighting units

• NEVER store your dolls in a basement or attic!

• Cigarette smoke is one of the worst things for a doll collection. It leaves a residue on the doll’s finish and the smell permeates the hair and clothing

• Do not clean the composition on your doll – No wax, cold creams, nothing. I’ve heard in the past that people use these things to ‘shine’ their doll up, but what they don’t realize is the most minute crack or craze can absorb these things and eventually could cause lifting of the composition. The most you should ever do is take a piece of very tightly woven cotton material and slightly buff your dolls finish – THAT’S IT!

If your doll is kept in a protective enclosure, there is no need of further cleaning. You want to maintain as much of the original patina of your doll as possible.

Caring for Doll Eyes

Composition dolls have eyes made from a variety of materials. Tin, metal, plastic, celluloid or glassine. And we all know that the two latter materials sometimes craze or crystallize. This is the result of the metal behind the eyes rusting and this causes the crazed effect. Sometimes this is not that noticeable but at other times you get that eerie greenish effect which is not very attractive. If this is the case, have the pupils replaced. NEVER OIL your dolls eyes! This is only a temporary fix to disguise the problem, it does not last. And the worst part of this is most people are not careful when putting the oil in the dolls eye and they get the oil on the dolls composition around the socket of the eye. If you have ever seen a doll with haloed eyes that are a very light olive green color or just a slightly darker color around the eye socket, then you know some heavy-handed individual was oiling the dolls eyes.  A good doll restorer can replace the pupils with beautiful results.

Caring for Doll Hair

Your doll’s hair is either human or mohair. Synthetic hair was not used on composition dolls. Regardless of the condition of your doll’s hair, try to keep the original wig. Even if you replace it with an appropriate wig, keep the original wig with your doll to retain it’s originality; never throw it away. If your doll’s wig is a little flat or slightly matted you can use a toothpick or skewer stick and lightly pick and fluff the hair. Mohair tends to become matted, so with this technique you can give it a little life. Never comb human or mohair, it will fall out. If your doll’s wig is thin or sparse, try using a light colored hairnet and this pulls the wig more closely to the dolls head and gives a fuller appearance. Never wash your dolls hair; this is a process that is very tedious. The wig must be removed and washed properly. Leave this to your doll restorer. In my opinion this only needs to be done if your doll’s wig is in deplorable condition.

Excerpts from ‘Care of Compositions Dolls’ by Louise Sleeter, Composition Doll Specialist and Restorationist. For the full article, including valuable information on cleaning composition dolls, click here.



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