The World of Doll Collecting

Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them

A.F. Robertson, an anthropologist, explored the world of doll collecting and in her book, titled "Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them", these are some of her findings. Doll collecting is a trend that has grown phenomenally over the past few decades and has become a billion dollar business. The core collectible doll buyers are middle-aged and older woman, some of whom have special nurseries to house their collections that have grown to over a hundred of these collectible dolls.

An Anthropologist's insight into the world of Doll Collecting

A.F.Robertson explores the emotions and consumption of this select group and the dolls that are responsible for this phenomenon. Robertson tracks the rise of the porcelain collectible market; interviews the women themselves; and visits their clubs, fairs and homes to understand what makes the dolls so irresistible.

'Life Like Dolls' seeks to find the answers as to the reasons why middle-class, educated women obsessively collect these dolls and what this phenomenon says about our culture. This book explores the way in which these dolls are taken into these woman's lives and get placed in the fabric of family relationships, serving as surrogates for "real" children in order to assist the collectors in creating new kinds of communities and identities.

Findings Based on the Research

Robertson states in the opening paragraphs that the research team had to delve through layers of feeling and meaning in order to gain an understanding of the phenomenon of doll collecting among modern day adult woman.

In a recent survey it was found that the center of 43% of doll collections were dolls saved from childhood, but 42% percent began their doll collections as adults. It was also concluded that many adult doll collectors were replacing childhood fears of abandonment by collecting tangible yet fragile objects.

During the course of the research for this book it became evident that the majority of doll collectors admitted that they were aware that society in general viewed their obsession with dolls as unconventional. It is said that the core of this obsessive behaviour is the denial of mortality among doll collectors.

In the book Robertson finds that there are different reasons why women collect dolls and the doll types vary accordingly. It is reported in this study that doll collectors in the mid-thirty to mid-forty age group who had never had children of their own tended to collect infant and newborn dolls insinuating that the doll collecting urge in these woman was instigated by an empty womb syndrome. The study does however add that this assumption was not based on statistical evidence.

It was found that collectors who were experiencing "empty nest" syndrome were more attracted to Barbie, the teenage collectible doll. There is reference to one doll collector who started collecting dolls long after her two children were born. She longed for a daughter and both her children were boys. It was found that there are some doll collectors who suffer feelings of guilt and shame about their substituting real people with dolls, which was aggravated by the fact that they felt this to be an extravagance.

Among other things it is said that doll collectors, or any other serious collectors, leave a huge physical and moral burden on their heirs which are increased by the fact that doll collectors perceive their collections as a unit which would lose its intrinsic value if the collection were to be broken up.

Interesting Findings on the Manufacturers and more

It is said that the doll manufacturers of collectible dolls thrive of the insecurities of their doll collecting clients by creating dolls that enter the homes of doll collectors as if they were real people. These dolls arrive with names, clothes and basic identities and personalities. They then replace children who have left the nest (empty nest syndrome) or grandchildren that live so far away that meaningful relationships have been prohibited. Doll manufacturers also appeal to the nurturing instinct of the collectors by giving their dolls names that reflect the need of the doll to be mothered. "Hannah needs a hug" is a classic example of one of these. This enhances the personal experience of the collector's identification with the doll. Another popular keyword in selling these dolls is "precious" which denotes both material and emotional wealth.

A large majority of older woman doll collectors that were interviewed in the survey reflected that during their own childhood toys were a scarce commodity in their lives. It was found that doll collecting among older woman is usually to counteract a feeling of loneliness and worthlessness which is unfortunately common in our world today.

Some doll collectors see their dolls as images of themselves at various stages in their childhood and for this reason they justify the collection of a large number of dolls as opposed to the odd few.

According to Robertson adult woman doll collectors view their collections as a rebellion to the passing of childhood and a confirmation that the magic of childhood does not have to be lost in old age. Obsessive collecting in these women causes the person to end up with hundreds of dolls which becomes symbolic of resurrection.

For More information:

The above mentioned findings are not necessarily the opinion of myself and are sure to upset many doll collectors from all ages and from all over the world. You can read more about the book at: http://www.buyashtondrake dolls.com/

My Personal Opinion

Although the book is based on a thorough research of the doll collecting community I personally find it unfair that the research was done in the first place. I cannot recall that similar research has been done on other collecting phenomena. I am convinced that there are a vast majority of fellow doll collectors that have no strange hang-ups but collect dolls for either their investment or aesthetic value. I feel that this book may be misinterpreted and send the wrong message to people outside the doll collecting community who may not share the same appreciation of the artistry and emotions that have made doll collecting the billion dollar business that it is today.

Air your Views on Doll Collectors

What is your opinion of doll collectors?

  • They are normal people with a passion for doll artistry
  • They are a bit strange and it freaks me out
  • They are a bunch of lonely, sad people filling their lives with substitutes for people
See results without voting

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Comments 2 comments

sandra b 7 years ago

Doll collecting is about art and design, fashion, beauty, history, and craftsmanship to me. Thus I fail to understand the the 'immortality' label.

In the several online doll groups I have been a part of, the majority of people participating have specialized in particular types of collecting for specific interests, including the ones I mentioned.

In my opinion. although there is enjoyment in collecting and creative dsplay of dolls , a small fraction appear to have personal or emotional attachment to the dolls, not the majority.


dolllover 3 years ago

Having just turned thirty seven and already wondering if I will become like the "Cat lady" with my dolls I got discouraged as I read about A.F. Robertson's research. Yes you are absolutely right.Why doll collector research? Why not comic book collecting or Nascar collecting research? I think it is an easy group to stereotype because when people think of dolls they associate children and innocence and women are supposed to be done with both.In my opinion A.F.Robertson isn't much different than the doll manufacturers that he claims reels us in by pulling on one heart string or another because he is capitalizing on his opinions that he went out looking for answers to. The scope is too broad and his research too narrow. Besides, so what if some women or a lot of women collect dolls to fill a need or a void of some kind. Show me one adult that does not have a vice.Leave people alone in their own worlds. He could have written something beautiful to fill the world and make buck but instead chose a topic where there is already judgement and stereotyping. Some people don't like what they can't understand. I recently read where feminists were upset with Zoe Deschnel for being so girly. It seems to me that some people enjoy keeping others in their place. It keeps their minds in order or something.Little girls supposed to be are a certain way. Teens a certain way and of course most of all these rules of how to be are most applied to women. I don't need someone that writes a book about some research he has no personal interest in telling me and the rest of the world a bunch of baloney that I like dolls because i'm running from something. As a man he does not know the personal journey through woman hood. As I stand looking forward and looking back I realize we as females, no matter what age, are not that different. Yes to a fifteen year old I would probably be considered old so i'm concluding we don't need to listen to men with fifteen year old mentalities who choose to write books because someone in their lives at some point enjoyed collecting something they could not understand.

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