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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Collector: Janet Shaffer

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Janet Shaffer’s apartment at her Spokane Valley retirement residence overflows with her collections of teapots, thimbles and owls.

But what brings her the most joy is her collection of dolls.

“I have my mother’s, my mother-in-law’s and my daughter’s dolls, as well as my own,” she said.

The oldest ones belonged to her mother-in-law and date back to the 1890s.

“They’re called china head dolls,” Shaffer, 93, said.

The heads are made of glazed porcelain and have distinct hand-painted faces and hair. The cloth-bodied dolls were produced in Germany throughout the 1800s and were sought-after gifts for girls around the world.

Even more precious to her is a pair of 24-inch dolls that also came from her mother-in-law.

“When my mother-in-law was 10, she got a doll that looked exactly like her,” Shaffer said.

“Her cousin got one that looked like her. The dolls have fragile bisque heads, but they played with them all the time and never broke them!”

Both are German-made with fully jointed composite bodies. A cloud of dark curls frames the blue eyes of the cousin’s doll, which is costumed in a red gown with black lace trim.

Shaffer cradled her mother-in-law’s treasure, whose light brown curls are topped by a frilly hat.

“When I got her in 1960, she was in an old raggedy dress, so I sewed her an outfit and a hat,” she said.

She trimmed the turquoise dress and hat with pale pink lace.

Far more plain is a small white bisque doll with painted features.

“That’s a Frozen Charlotte,” Shaffer said.

Made in Germany and later Great Britain between 1850 and 1920, the one-piece dolls were popular tub toys and also baked into birthday cakes or Christmas puddings. Their name stems from an American folk ballad based on the poem “A Corpse Going to a Ball,” which tells the story of Charlotte, who refused to cover her ball gown finery with a cloak and froze to death on the sleigh–ride journey to the dance.

Smaller versions of the doll were sold for 1 cent and dubbed penny dolls.

Shaffer said she didn’t start her collection until she received her mother’s when she died in 1973.

Many of her mother’s items have an international flair because she bought them when she attended the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. There’s a kimono-clad Japanese doll with fine black hair and a pair of Hungarian dancers in their traditional garb.

But perhaps the most unusual story belongs to one of Shaffer’s dolls.

The bespectacled beauty, wearing a straw hat and dressed in white lace with blue accents, including a strand of blue beads, came from a hole in a wall. Literally.

“My son was helping demolish an old building in Spokane – so old it had double walls, and he noticed something in between them,” she said. “He pulled out a towel with all the parts of a doll.”

Shaffer recognized its quality and took it to a woman who repairs dolls.

“The eyes were tucked inside the head, so she could use those and she found a wig for her,” she said.

When Shaffer’s daughter died in 2007, she added a few of her dolls to her collection, which numbers more than 40.

A retired Central Valley teacher and reading specialist, Shaffer pointed out a gift from the mother of a former student.

“Its head is carved from an apple,” she said. “She looks exactly like my great-grandmother, who was an assistant state school superintendent in Idaho.”

Her favorite is the Shirley Temple she received for Christmas when she was 9, although she’s not quite sure it’s the exact one.

“I went to EWU on a piano scholarship at 17 and when I came home for Christmas my parents had given away all my dolls,” she said.

Yet when her mother died, she found Shirley Temple.

“I kind of wonder if my mother didn’t get another one to replace it,” she said.

The reason she enjoys this collection so much is because dolls figured prominently in her childhood.

“I was an only child for 10 years until my brother came along,” Shaffer said. “I played with dolls a lot. I’d line them up on chairs in my bedroom. They were my friends.”

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