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Gail Cook has consistently admired collecting. When she was a little girl, she calm stamps, coins, and trading cards—but she never had abundant absorption in dolls. Her aboriginal attack into baby accession didn’t appear till 1978, aback Gail and her husband, Dan, gave their 9-year-old babe a dollhouse as a gift. Aback the babe asked for a nice baby to go forth with it, Gail scoured toy food and baby shops to acquisition the appropriate one. Eventually she baldheaded two bisque German dolls in an aged shop.

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“We got all these silks and satins and dressed the dolls up and put them in a competition,” Gail says. “We anticipation they were activity to win.”

They didn’t. Instead, Gail and her babe were told that silks accord on French dolls. German dolls, they learned, should abrasion cottons. This was a amateur mistake, but it absorbed Gail. Determined to amateur more, she active up as an amateur adjudicator for civic baby competitions.

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Today, Gail has advised competitions for added than 40 years and owns one of the finest aged baby collections in the world. As we ride the bottle elevator bottomward to the basement attic of the Cooks’ contemporary-style Highland Park home, congenital in 2000, Gail explains that she advised the arcade accurately for her dolls. The temperature is controlled, the lighting is cool, and there’s no copse in the room—acidity can accident the fabrics.

Downstairs, hundreds of eyes associate out from the museum-style bottle cases that run the breadth of the low-lit room. A painting of Little Duke, a boy baby cutting a vaguely aloof expression, hangs on the aback wall. There’s article abashing about walking into a aphotic allowance abounding of dolls, but afterwards a minute, it’s adamantine to avoid their charm. The dolls in Gail’s accumulating were fabricated abundantly in France and Germany amid 1840 and the access of Apple War I. They’re anxiously dressed in bonnets, silks, lace, wool, cotton, and bigoted apparel of every color. Some accept changeable heads; others accept two faces, anniversary with a altered expression. There are appearance dolls, which were beatific to aristocratic courts in Paris to affectation the latest fashions. There’s a witch, an American Indian, a St. Nicholas, and a Apple War I nurse. Anniversary baby is article of an aged antiquity and a assignment of art.

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In accession to dolls, Gail collects appliance and paintings. Art by Gail’s babe and son-in-law hangs in the capital areas of her bright, ample home; downstairs, two Warhol portraits of Gail attending out to her workspace. She had planned on actuality a full-time artisan herself, but she and Dan, an advance broker till 1992, had bristles kids. That didn’t leave a lot of time for painting. Fortunately, Gail begin that abating dolls—cleaning and bathrobe anew acquired dolls—was a decidedly artistic process.

Gail collects both French and German dolls—these three are from her German accumulating and date aback to 1900. “The men and boy dolls are absolutely rare. The admirer in the aback has a molded mustache and is the alone one known,” she explains.

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“I would abduct some time and sew applique on a changeable or pantaloons,” she says. “I could consistently do some affectionate of assignment on the dolls. That kept me going, or abroad I’d accept gone crazy.”

Dolls rarely access from the bargain block in their aboriginal clothes, so collectors aim to actualize an accouterments that’s as accurate as possible. The clothes should bout the doll’s blazon and origin—and antagonism board accept agog eyes for appearance faux pas. Gail keeps drawers abounding of accessories, from aged buttons to tiny hats. She has so abounding shoes that her bedmate already proclaimed her the “Imelda Marcos of baby shoes.”

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Her accumulating has been featured in exhibits, books, and magazines. She has a drawer abounding with antagonism ribbons, all won by dolls in her collection. Every year she attends the United Federation of Baby Clubs convention—a appointment area Gail reconnects with accompany and enters her own dolls in contests. (She wouldn’t say what her accumulating is admired at, but a attending through bargain websites reveals that prices for aged dolls can ambit from hundreds to bags of dollars.) She buys and sells dolls often, but aback asked if she affairs to advertise her accumulating in its entirety, Gail laughs. “Over my asleep body.” 

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