WORD PROCESSOR: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE COLLECTION
December 1, 2017
10th Blue Book of Dolls & Values
Specialized books that are aimed at particular collecting cultures are a window into the attitudes, language choices, and idiosyncratic concerns of those collectors. The 10th Blue Book of Dolls & Values by Jan Foulke is an information and photo-filled reference guide to antique and collectible dolls. It includes over 400 pages worth of photos and information about dolls, all gazing creepily at you from across time and space, with production origins in the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, England and more. In addition to guiding the reader toward understanding the monetary value of hundreds of dolls (at least in 1991 price estimates) the book shines some light on the values of doll collectors themselves.
Collecting cultures always have their own acronyms, terminology, and condition grading criteria that will be foreign to outsiders. Does MIB mean anything to you? If you collect toys you'll know that it stands for Mint in Box—the most ideal possible condition. Does "foxing" have anything to do with four-legged animals? If you collect books or paper items you probably know that foxing is a kind of deterioration that causes spots and browning on old paper. Do "spindle marks" have any importance in your life? If you collect records you know that these marks are fine traces on the label in the center of a record where the metal spindle on the turntable has touched the paper. Evidence of many spindle marks can indicate a history of heavy play or careless handling. What about "centering" and an OC rating of 70/30? Based on eBay's grading guide for baseball cards and the relationship of the photo of the player to the border around that photo, "This means that the card is off-center to the point that one side is close to twice the width of the other side."
Doll collecting is no exception and the field has plenty of these dispassionate, forensic terms regarding condition and all else. The glossary in this book alerted me to "breather" dolls, which have an actual opening in each nostril. "Applied Ears" are ears that are molded separately and then attached to the head, rather than the more typical ears that are part of the head mold. "Wire eyes" are eyes that can be made to sleep using a wire that protrudes from the doll's head. A "shoulder head" is a type of doll whose head and shoulders are one continuous piece. From perusing this book I learned about concerns regarding "put together" bodies, where an old doll may have been put together from parts taken from multiple other dolls. If you want to give a serious doll collector an aneurism, you should be sure to furnish them with a doll made from replacement parts that came from several different makers and a couple incorrect body types. In the book world, this would perhaps be akin to taking the dust jacket off a later printing and placing it over the body of a first edition.
If someone hasn't written a thesis on issues of race in doll collecting, it's long overdue. This short text will not be that paper, but describing dolls as having "Negroid features" in as late as 1991 is disturbing and sad. Not long after this book was written, in around 1994, I picked up a couple issues of Doll Crafter magazine as source material for some paintings I was making. One of the things that stayed with me from reading this magazine was a similar nonchalance regarding race. A whole article was devoted to a particular doll head mold and its versatility; with some changes in how it was painted, it could represent multiple different races of people. An ad in one of these issues included an astonishing photo of a grinning middle-age white woman in formal Southern-looking clothing, surrounded by dolls of African American people in 19th century dress, with the white artist or collector looking like a pretend plantation owner. Photos and articles like this helped me realize how many specialized magazines share a similar obliviousness or disregard for how the outside world views their hobby.
Since the arrival of the internet, there are many online platforms for identifying objects and figuring out what they might be worth. Some people obsessively study completed auction results on eBay. Record collectors look up valuable titles on Popsike or Collectorsfrenzy. Book collectors look at what someone is selling a title for on Abebooks or Amazon and decide that if someone is offering a book for three hundred dollars, it must be worth three hundred dollars. It goes without saying that some methodologies are more reliable than others.
While the internet may not have totally killed the idea of the price guide as a printed thing, the many ways of tracking rapidly changing monetary values online have certainly reduced the need for price guides, and the frequency that they might be published. The death of so many chain bookstores that sold price guides surely has not helped. As a pre-teen in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to carry around comic book and baseball card price guides like they were the Bible, or an MP3 player filled with thousands of songs. These books were a portable compilation of vast troves of cool comics I wanted to read, and baseball cards I hoped to find or save up enough money for one day. It was easy to imagine the amount of research and experience that went into making these books. I would think about how someone with decades more experience than I had with either collecting hobby, must have traveled far and wide, and touched, possessed, or seen in-person, so many of the thousands of examples accounted for in each guide. They were compendiums of lives well-lived inside the world of these collectibles, and I imagined myself accumulating a similar level of experience one day.
Books and web searches can't replace years of close direct contact in the field. I could read a ton of books about collecting records but that could never replace the countless hours spent flipping through piles of albums at flea markets, record stores, or junk shops. I can peruse a hundred records in a minute or two and register my interest or disinterest almost immediately based on the smallest visual cues. There are certain Barbara Streisand and Herb Alpert records I've seen so many times in thrift stores that I could probably identify them by their back cover only, displayed a hundred yards away, at night, in a snow storm. I'd be willing to bet that Jan Foulke can probably guess certain makes of dolls through only touch and maybe even by the smell of a particular strand of synthetic hair.
While the Blue Blook is authored by Jan Foulke, she does acknowledge the many "friends, associates, customers, fellow dealers, acquaintances, fans and readers in the doll world" who helped make the book possible. Ultimately it is this collaborative scholarship and collective research that I'm interested in. Do I actually care about dolls? Do I care about doll values? Not at all. What I do care about is the fact that collective web-based platforms for creating detailed resources like this have become a powerful extra-institutional model. We have these models for the kinds of objects that museums couldn't care less about, and they have the potential to be tremendously authoritative and precise. For records, there is Discogs.com. Discogs describes itself as "a user-built discography site. Everyone can contribute and update information as needed, so we can collectively catalog music and other audio releases." Discogs is particularly rich for records that may have been pressed fifty different times in as many countries. Discogs is also a market place, and sellers can easily select a previously documented pressing of a record that they want to sell and then list their own copy, with personally revised notes about condition and other issues. With over eight million different releases accounted for on the site, it would obviously be impossible to print it all out and sell it as a book. Even the most marginal genre of recorded sound might be hard to manage with ink on paper. Given the vast community effort that has gone into building this resource, I do hope that this information is all very well backed up in hardcopy of some form or other.
Dolls have similar web-based price guides, though I'm not informed enough about this field to know how accurate or respected they are. Dollreference.com is one of them. Check it out if you need to find out what your "breather" dolls are worth. As for author Jan Foulke, she—and her husband Howard who took the photos in this book—are still active in the doll world after nearly 40 years. For $35.00, you can have Jan Foulke appraise the value of your doll through her website janfoulke.com. The most recent update to the Blue Book was published in 2011.
Marc Fischer is the administrator of the initiative Public Collectors. Public Collectors' work includes the Library Excavations publication series, the Tumblr blog Hardcore Architecture, and Malachi Ritscher—a project produced for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Fischer is also a member of the group Temporary Services and a partner in its publishing imprint Half Letter Press. He lives in Chicago.
View The 10th Blue Book of Dolls & Values in the catalog here.