Blairsville woman shares cream of her large doll collection with museum visitors
Roseanne Mollo has so many pairs of little feet in her Blairsville home that she's lost track of the number.
She and her husband, Jim, have just one pet pug, and their three children are all grown and out of the nest.
The tiny feet that abound in her house actually belong to her large — and still growing — number of dolls.
Like most girls, Roseanne Mollo had favorite dolls she played with as a child. But, at some point, the scaled-down figures changed from casual playthings to cherished collectibles.
“I've been fascinated by dolls my whole life,” Mollo said.
When asked about the size of her doll collection, Mollo replied, “I've never counted.”
“I bet you have 100, at least,” her husband suggested.
Roseanne Mollo has shared some of the oldest and most treasured of her dolls with the public by loaning them to the Historical Society of the Blairsville Area for inclusion in “All Dolled Up,” an exhibit of dolls of many types and eras that runs through June 29 at the society's museum at 116 E. Campbell St., Blairsville. Hours at the museum are 10-2 Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Perhaps Mollo's most prized doll is one of an infant boy dating from the 1850s that was produced by Johann D. Kestner, one of the most successful of German doll makers.
The doll has a bisque head with finely detailed features and unusually expressive eyes.
“Look at those eyes,” Mollo remarked. “No matter where you are in the room, it looks like he's looking at you.”
According to Mollo's research, the doll was fashioned in the likeness of a workman's three-day-old son.
Mollo recalled how she'd obtained the doll: “I did some work for an older lady and, instead of paying me with money, she gave me this doll. Her aunt had given it to her as a child.”
Mollo was no more than 5 years old when she was gifted with another of the antique dolls she has loaned to the museum. It depicts a young woman whose molded bisque head features rose-colored cheeks and coiffed blonde curls with a floral ornament.
The doll was given to her by her grandmother, Matilda McCrea Dick. A clue to the doll's age was discovered in a note handwritten on the inside of the hollow neck: “Bought by my father in 1897 for 75 cents.”
The doll's pink dress with lace trim is a modern replacement added by Mollo. While the delicate colors on the bisque head have not faded with time, she noted that the doll's original sewn-on body did not survive long after it was placed in her young hands.
“As a child, I put it in the bathtub,” she admitted.
Mollo took better care of a “Sweet William” doll that was passed down to her by her great aunt, Claire McCrea Evans. Depicting a somewhat older boy in a white shirt with blue trim, the doll has a jointed body stuffed with shredded cork. It also was made in Germany — by a different company, Heinrich Handwerck, between 1865 and 1870.
Mollo also has loaned for display an original Shirley Temple doll that was one of more than a million turned out by the Ideal Toy Co. in 1936.
The doll is fashioned from a material known as “composition.” A mixture of ingredients including glue and sawdust, the material was introduced in the early 1900s as an unbreakable alternative to bisque.
Mollo owns enough dolls that, when she's doing a mental inventory, it's convenient to assign them to various categories.
In addition to her few antique dolls, she has many character dolls that portray either real people or popular fictional characters.
Mollo also has an interest in political campaign memorabilia and counts among her dolls two that depict former President George W. Bush.
Among her other favorites, she said, are several based on the character Pee-wee Herman, host of a children's television show who was known for his man-child demeanor and unusual voice.
“It just amuses me,” Mollo said of the character's appeal. “He has that child-like quality.”
Other famous characters that rest on her display shelves or are carefully tucked away in boxes include Howdy Doody and Betty Boop, a recent find while visiting her son in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Mollo also owns a series of dolls that sport outfits emblematic of various foreign countries. She notes they were purchased for her by her grandparents, Alexander and Matilda Dick, when they traveled abroad in the 1950s.
Though she's currently partial to a boy doll dressed in a British naval outfit, she said all the dolls have endearing features of one kind or another. “They're like your children,” she said. “You can't pick a favorite.”
In her home, Mollo also displays a life-size stuffed doll of off-white cloth made in the shape of a child's body but with no facial features. “I call this my good child,” she said, displaying her sense of humor.
She noted the large doll, which she found at an auction in Clarksburg, came in handy once when she had to make a long trip to Harrisburg and didn't want to attract unwanted attention as a woman traveling alone.
“I just dressed him up with a hat and jacket and belted him in the passenger seat,” she said. “He was good company.”
Once friends and family realized her interest in the dolls, Mollo began receiving even more of them as gifts. “People buy me Barbies,” she noted.
There is one type of doll on her ultimate wish list — collectible dolls depicting members of Great Britain's royal family.
“I always thought I'd like to have a Princess Diana doll,” she said.
Even better, she said, would be finding a set of two dolls she admired as a child that were owned by a classmate: Prince Charles as a small boy and his younger sister, Princess Anne. “I coveted them,” she said.
The pair were issued by Madame Alexander, a well-known maker of high-end dolls that were sold at upscale department stores.
Not one for online shopping, Mollo purchases most of the dolls she adds to her collection at flea markets or estate auctions. And, she noted, “No matter where we go, we end up in an antique shop.”
The dolls have inevitably multiplied over the years.
“It just got out of control,” she said. “I keep thinking, ‘I'm not going to get any more,' and then we go to a sale and I see one I have to have.”
Mollo relies on books for researching the history of various dolls but has found some helpful tips online for safely cleaning or repairing some of the older dolls she's found.
At a thrift store, she found a “Mrs. Beasley” doll that was featured on the late 1960s TV show, “A Family Affair.” The granny-like doll was missing its trademark square-rimmed eyeglasses, so Mollo asked her husband to make a replacement from wire dippers used for dyeing Easter eggs.
Just as gifts from older generations in her family got her collection started, Mollo said she intends eventually to pass her dolls along to her female offspring.
“I have two daughters and a granddaughter,” she said. “Some day they'll have the dolls.”
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.