Money was so tight when she was growing up she had to make do with playing with her cousin’s Barbies, dreaming of the day she would own a doll of her own.
Fast-forward several decades and Anette Ogden’s dream has come true in a big, big way. Now 63, Anette has a doll collection vaster than anything she could ever have imagined: more than 400 dolls stored in three Wendy houses in her backyard in Meyerton, Gauteng.
Her collection includes Barbie dolls; cloth dolls; dolls made of papier mâché; and a pricey Reborn doll, which looks uncannily like a newborn baby.
Her huge collection has earned her the nickname “the doll auntie” and it suits her just fine. She started restoring and collecting dolls when she retired from her job as an administrative clerk at the department of health and her days are now filled with creativity and reward.
“I tell people if I die now, it’s fine – I’ve had three years of doing just what I wanted to do,” she says.
Her hobby began in 2018, when she
began restoring damaged old dolls.
“I never thought I had it in me to fix dolls, but I really loved it,” she says. “I never really thought of myself as a creative person, but with the help of the internet you can learn anything.”
Her passion for her dolls even extends to taking them on outings with her. “I’ll put one or two of the big girls in my car. I fasten them in with a seatbelt and take them into town with me because I know people will ask me about them.
“I also once took the little boy dolls to the racing track.”
The mom-of-three and grandmother-of-one dresses up her beloved “babies” for special occasions.
“In the summertime, I put them in summer dresses and they have picnics on my lawn next to my swimming pool. At Easter, they get Easter eggs and a little gift box.
“I love to do it and I know other people enjoy it too.”
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Her passion began quite unexpectedly. Ahead of winter each year, Anette would knit children’s beanies, jerseys and socks for charity organisations. In mid-2018, she posted a message on social media asking if anyone had a large doll for sale, as she wanted to use it to check the size of the items she was knitting.
“A woman from the East Rand contacted me and offered me a whole bunch of dolls for free. I was incredibly happy about it, but none of them were child-sized. Someone else offered me some porcelain dolls and although there were two nice big ones, they weren’t big enough.
“I was also afraid they would be damaged during the fitting sessions. I now had more than 40 dolls, but still not what I needed.”
Eventually Anette found a doll the size of a three-year-old, which was perfect. She cleaned it up and it was ready to be her fitting doll, but in the process of restoring it something clicked inside her – she was really enjoying returning the doll to its former glory.
She posted more ads for dolls on social media and joined doll collectors’ groups on Facebook and her collection grew rapidly.
“I guess I have around 400 dolls, including Barbie dolls. I’ve sold or given away some of the dolls and if I hadn’t my collection would be closer to 500.”
Restoring a doll can take between
one and five hours, Anette says. The longest she has spent on a single doll was
10 hours when she removed the hair and painstakingly stitched in new strands.
“Some dolls, like the cloth-body dolls with rubber heads, take an hour to clean. I take the stuffing out of the body and throw it away or replace it, depending on if it’s clean or not.
“I wash the body with soap and water and while it’s drying on the washing line, I detach the head and wash the hair and face. When the body is dry, I put the stuffing back in and reattach the head.”
Her commitment to her hobby has cost her “thousands” but she refuses to name the exact figure.
“Do you want me and my husband to get divorced?” she jokes.
Husband Henry (65) is quite the
collector himself: he has over 300 live birds, including lovebirds, canaries,
budgies and zebra finches and hundreds of remote-controlled cars. “So he can’t
complain about my dolls.”
Her children, however, have been a bit more critical about her “kids”.
“They’re like ‘Mom, really?’ They think it’s a bit weird. My granddaughter started high school when I started collecting and she said to me, ‘Ouma, why did you start this so late?’”
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Henry, however, is fully on board. “He’s totally fine with it because, as he says, they don’t scream, they don’t cry, they don’t bother you for anything and they can’t keep you awake at night!”
He also helps with the repairs where necessary, holding the pliers while she reattaches dolls’ limbs to their torsos.
As Anette is regularly buying or receiving old dolls, she needs lots of space and sometimes has to sell her prized possessions, which can go for up to R700.
She doesn’t keep the dolls in the house to prevent it becoming cluttered, which is where the three Wendy houses in their backyard come in.
“I started off with one house, but it filled up quickly. So now I’ve got three Wendy houses: one is for displaying the dolls in glass cabinets, one is my studio where I do my repairs and take pictures and the third is my storage room.
“I don’t think my husband will allow a fourth Wendy house,” she says, only half-joking.
Her most expensive doll is her
Reborn doll, which Henry bought for her in 2019 and cost R3 200. Anette’s
favourite doll, though, is also the oldest one in her collection.
“It’s close to 100 years old and it was gifted to me by an elderly lady from Vereeniging who moved out of town and had to scale down in a big way.
“The doll came to South Africa by ship with a soldier during the war. It’s made of papier mâché and sawdust, and I had to send it to a doll hospital for repairs.”
Another favourite is her walking doll, “who is just so adorable. If you look into that face, you can see a child, a real child”.
And who will inherit her dolls one day? “That’s very complicated,” she says earnestly. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ll ask a family member to spread them around my doll-loving friends. The thing about a doll is it’s a very emotional thing. For one person that old doll in the garage is just an old toy, but for another person it brings a lot of memories.”
Which is what her collection does for her: now she has so many, those days of coveting her cousin’s dolls are but a distant speck on her past.