When it comes to doll repair, Sandy Hohne can do it all, and quickly, too. She sculpts, paints, patches, makes wigs, and replaces eyes and teeth. In her Cockeysville work room, Hohne repairs dolls made in the early 1800’s up to the present. Her tools include a drill press and band saw for replacing doll parts, even surgical clamps for restringing the arms and legs.
Hohne, 58, began making dolls twenty-six years ago. When the porcelain slip to make molds became too hard to find and doll supply companies went out of business, she transitioned to doll repair in 2004. She describes old dolls as, “fascinating. If they could talk, they’d tell secrets that little girls have been telling them for ages. They have an interesting history.”
Stacey, a doll collector who doesn’t want her last name to be used, and who recently brought more than a dozen dolls to Hohne for repair, says, “No one’s as good as her. She’s amazing and fast. I won’t go anywhere else.” As they chatted, Hohne repaired twenty-two of Stacey’s collectables in less than four hours.
While younger customers bring in American Dolls for tightening the arms and legs, most doll collectors are in their “fifties or older.” She says the aging of collectors is a problem. “A lot are down-sizing and there’s no new collectors coming into the fray,” thus devaluing the dolls. An eighteen-inch Shirley Temple doll in mint condition now sells for $125, whereas from 1995 to 2000, the height of the doll collecting era, it would have fetched at least $500, she says. “Right now is a good time to buy, not to sell.”
She describes old dolls as, “fascinating. If they could talk, they’d tell secrets that little girls have been telling them for ages. They have an interesting history.”
Like a sportscaster rattling off baseball stats, Hohne recites facts, figures and anecdotes about dolls. As two of the Dionne quintuplet dolls lie on a work table, Hohne recounts the true story on which the dolls were based. The five Dionne girls were born in Canada in 1934 and raised as wards of the Canadian government until age nine. Canadians and Americans alike were fascinated by the babies, the first documented quintuplets to survive infancy. The American company, Madame Alexander, made dolls with the characteristics of each girl. A cottage industry of everything quintuplet developed around the children. The Canadian government made hundreds of millions of dollars but the children saw little of it.
Hohne has a connection to the dolls she repairs. “I just felt I need to preserve these old dolls that someone loved.”
She traces the evolution of what materials were used to mass-produce them from the 1800’s onward: wood in the 1800’s; China in 1880; tin in1890; bisque in 1900; composite (wood pulp and glue) in the 1920’s and ’30’s; hard plastics in the 1940’s, and vinyl in the 1950’s up to the present.
Her favorite doll is the Barbie. “You could pretend you were a young lady,” she reflects. “I worry that today little girls aren’t playing with dolls as they did. They’re playing with video….I think make believe is an important part of growing up.”