7 tips for preserving antique toys and dolls

July 29, 2015

Caring for your collection of antique dolls or toys is mostly a matter of knowing how to store and display them safely. Beyond that, they mostly want to be left alone. Here are seven tips for keeping your antique toys in good shape.

7 tips for preserving antique toys and dolls

1. Dust toys, but don’t clean them

  • Got some venerably aged toys or dolls that are looking a bit dingy? Fight the urge to clean them.
  • Dust them off regularly with a soft paintbrush, but don't go near them with commercial cleaning products or chemicals.
  • And go very sparingly with water. Wetting a cracked item often causes additional damage when the water seeps inside.
  • Never try to replace lost stuffing in an old doll or touch up damaged toys or chipped game pieces with paint.
  • Not only can you make the problem worse, but even successful touch-up jobs often diminish a collectible toy's overall value.

2. Erase a stain

  • You can often use an ordinary gum eraser to remove pencil marks and other stains from painted wooden toys and ceramic doll faces.
  • Rub spots with the eraser, but gently and not too fast — overcleaned, patchy surfaces can look even worse than a stain.
  • Don't use an eraser on surfaces that have signs of flaking paint or cracking. It could make the damage much worse.

3. Keep Raggedy Ann and Teddy out of the tub

  • Although many antique dolls are wholly made of fabric, they can't stand up to a bath, much less the rigours of the modern washing machine.
  • The same holds true for teddy bears and most other stuffed dolls and animals.
  • Instead, use a vacuum cleaner with a soft attachment to keep your dolls and teddy bears looking fresh and dust-free.

4. Store toys in noncorrosive surroundings

  • When storing toys and dolls, wrap them in acid-free tissue paper or washed unbleached cotton muslin, and place them in acid-free cardboard or plastic boxes made from polyethylene or polypropylene.
  • Don't tightly seal the boxes, however. It's best to provide fabrics with some circulating air, as well as to permit any acidic vapours from stuffing or plastics to diffuse into the air.

5. Display toys away from sunlight

  • Don't display toys or dolls on window ledges. Exposure to the sun's rays will hasten their deterioration and can damage dyes and fabrics.
  • The best way to display antique toys and dolls is to place them inside a sturdy, glass-fronted cabinet.
  • If you choose one made of wood, make sure it has been sealed with several coats of polyurethane varnish and line it with acid-free paper to control any damaging fumes. (Also, be sure to position it away from sunlight.)

6. Store wooden toys separately

  • It's a good idea to separate the wooden trains and similar toys made from wood from the other toys in your collection.
  • They can have rough sides or edges that could snag or rip fabric and cause other types of damage. And as it ages, wood emits acidic fumes that can harm textiles and other materials.

7. Preserve your doll’s old clothes

  • Those new duds may look great on that old doll, but whenever you purchase or make new outfits for your antique dolls, be sure to hold on to all the original clothing no matter how tattered it has become.
  • Replacement clothing doesn't provide any of the historical information that the original garments do.
  • These spanking new duds will lower the financial value of the doll if you ever decide you want to sell it.
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