Goodbye Dolly - By Deb Baker

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Jennie H. Graves created the Ginny doll in the late 1940s. Her small home business quickly grew to become the Vogue Doll Company. Ginny's popularity sent other companies racing to emulate the eight-inch plastic play doll. The most innovative feature of the new doll was its separate clothing. Ginny came wearing underwear, ready to dress in costumes designed by her creator. And what wonderful costumes they were.

--From World of Dolls by Caroline Birch Gretchen Birch stood next to the flatbed trailer parked in the driveway leading to the house and eyed the mounds of dolls. Howie Howard, the auctioneer, worked the crowd like a harmonica tongue slap, all swinging elbows and agile, fluid mouth movements. Gretchen had a first-timer's knot of nerves in her stomach the size and weight of a Sunkist grapefruit.

"Do I hear twenty? There's a two oh. Thirty. Forty. Fine box of dolls." Howie's head bobbed like one of the swivelhead dolls boxed up in Gretchen's doll repair workshop.

"Fifty? No. Forty going once . . . Sold for forty dollars."

The smell of popcorn from a portable concession stand wafted through the air, catching the attention of a group of neighborhood kids. Cars filled with potential buyers searching for curbside parking edged slowly past the auction site.

Gretchen glanced at the stucco-and-tile house where Chiggy Kent, the once-vibrant founder of the Phoenix Dollers Club, had lived. Dragging an oxygen tank connected to her nostrils, Chiggy had finally succumbed to the persistence of her concerned neighbors and the ravages of lung disease and now resided at Grace Senior Care. But if she'd had the breath to resist, she would have forced them to haul her out kicking and screaming.

Chiggy's doll-making skills hadn't improved with experience or with advanced age. At least six hundred handmade dolls cluttered the open-bed truck, and Gretchen winced at the poor workmanship. Dolls' eyebrows wisped in unlikely directions, painted with heavy, awkward strokes. Eyelashes that would have impressed the legendary Tammy Faye, notorious queen of eye art. The doll clothes were worth more than the dolls that wore them, but many of the shoppers who bellied up to the truck weren't serious collectors and couldn't tell the difference between an original and a poor reproduction. Howie Howard wasn't about to clue them in. "Here's a priceless imitation of a German Kestner. Full of character. Who could resist? Do I hear ten?" The words melded together, strung without the briefest pause, and Gretchen smiled at his singular ability to sell certifiable junk. A man beside her lifted a doll from a heap and made space on the flatbed to prop it up. He smoothed the doll's bright blue gown and rearranged the curls framing her face, then stepped back and snapped a picture. Gretchen watched him move along the truck from doll to doll as he repeated the process again and again.

His camera, a Leica digital, looked expensive--too expensive, considering his gaunt, unshaven face and the faded T-shirt stretched over his protruding stomach. The sun beat down on Gretchen.

She glanced around for a shady spot to stand in. The last day of September was hot and dry, and Gretchen needed a respite from the intensity of the Phoenix sun. One lone palm tree cast a pencil-thin shadow across Chiggy's now barren yard, not nearly enough for protection. Where did I put it? Gretchen dug through her purse for the list of dolls her mother had wanted her to bid on. She must have left it at home. Now what? She didn't have time to search for it. No choice but to wing it. She hoped Howie wouldn't auction off all six hundred of these handmade copies before moving on to the real reason she stood here suffering from the heat. Chiggy's private collection. The real dolls. Gretchen recognized several serious collectors in the crowd and a few impatient doll dealers looking for bargains. She edged closer to Howie.

"Change of pace," he shouted, as though reading Gretchen's mind. "We can't sell everything one at a time, or we'll be here through Sunday. Let's dig out something new. What've we got, Brett?" He turned and accepted a cardboard box from his assistant. "Box of Kewpie dolls."

He held one aloft. "Cute little things. Whole bunch made by the same talented doll artist, Chiggy Kent." Howie held up a three-inch Kewpie. "Who wants to start . . . ?" And he was off and running.

Bidding on the box of Kewpies started low. Gretchen watched with interest, because her turn was