Doll collection link to grandma never met


For almost a year now, I have been sorting dolls. My office is filled almost to the ceiling with boxes of them. There are hard composition dolls, cloth advertising dolls, delicate china dolls and even Barbie dolls.

Up until a year ago, I had little knowledge of dolls other than the Barbies I had played with as a child.

It was through my husband’s family that I have entered the world of dolls.

My husband’s maternal grandmother, Nellie Hill, spent much of her life collecting the dolls she loved so much.

Nellie died several years before my husband and I met but I feel like my recent connection to the dolls has brought me closer to this woman. And I feel I know a little more about her.

She was the very definition of a hoarder. Her family has told me stories of the multiple homes in Kansas City, Mo., that she had literally filled to the ceiling with treasures she had bought at garage sales and pulled from Dumpsters behind local thrift stores.

My husband could never understand how his grandmother could find treasures in the stuff that Goodwill threw out.

He has told me stories of the multiple copies of an item that Nellie would purchase simply because she couldn’t stop buying.

In her lifetime, Nellie had many different collections but the greatest collection of note was her dolls.

The collection of dolls, which fills several dozen boxes, included some rare and expensive pieces that had been on display in museums in the Kansas City area.

She had carefully filled out note cards that went with many of the dolls telling where she had purchased them, how much she spent on them, the value of the doll and some history of the doll, as well.

When Nellie died more than a decade ago, her only child was responsible for going through her many belongings.

Tim’s mother, Linda, was quick to latch onto the dolls both for their monetary value and the collection she believed would help her to connect with her mother even in death.

A few of the more special pieces were brought into Linda’s home where she displayed them in china cabinets and on top of cupboards.

The rest were left in the garage in dozens of boxes taking up space where her husband had hoped to store tools and hunting gear.

For years, I had heard about the dolls, doll clothes and other items that were taking up space in the garage and how they needed to go.

It was about a year ago that I took a week off work to go to my in-laws’ house in western Kansas where I began hauling the doll boxes out onto the lawn and eventually into the house where they were sorted.

Since that time, I have been bringing the dolls home in loads that could fit in the back of my SUV.

I’ve spent months sorting the dolls into categories, researching them on the Internet and creating catalogs of the dolls with information, pricing and anything else I could find.

I have to say that I’ve learned a lot in the last year.

When I started, I had no idea what a composition doll was or how creepy bed dolls can be.

I’ve seen my share of cloth advertisement dolls used to sell everything from ice cream to tires.

My grandmother-in-law may have been a pack rat and a hoarder but I am thankful that she was good at labeling many of the dolls, something that has helped me a great deal along the way.

While I’ve never met Nellie and have only heard stories, I feel so much closer to her and hope that I can care for and honor her dolls in a way that she would approve.

Shay Burk

Veteran Tribune reporter Shay Burk writes whatever is swirling around her mind each week. Read her columns on Tuesdays for her humorous thoughts on everyday life.

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