Updated April 18, 2015
There are perks and downsides to living in a small town. Sometimes it’s isolating. Perhaps that is why collectors seem to flourish in small towns like and Globe and Miami; because even if you’re living in a small town, you can bring different eras to life with a collection, surrounding yourself with colors and sentiments from times long past.
GMT took the opportunity to chat with several local collectors and better understand the collector’s heart.
Dolls and Nostalgia
Standing on top of the cupboards in Elaine Goulden’s kitchen is a long row of dainty, wide-eyed dolls. Most of them are at least 50 years old, if not older.
Goulden, like her husband Fred, has a knack for collecting.
“We’ve been collectors for years and years,” she says.
He collects classic cars and Lionel trains; meanwhile, she collects dolls. And they are serious collectors, serious enough that they opened a museum in Coolidge about 25 years ago — the Golden Era Toy and Auto Museum (which is open by appointment).
Goulden realizes that times have changed, and doll-collecting is something younger generations don’t necessarily understand.
“The younger generation doesn’t like clutter,” she observes.
Women from ages 50 and up, however, share her interest, she says, which makes sense.
“There is a sense of nostalgia with dolls,” she explains. “We played with dolls when we were kids. People start collecting by what they remember as a child. If they were in love with a doll, then that might be what they collect.”
“I just fell into it and stayed with it,” she says. “I know people who collected dolls and then sold them all. Not me, uh uh!”
Originally from Michigan, Goulden moved to Arizona with Fred when she was 27. For years, they lived in Phoenix. By 2001, however, the couple was searching for a place to put their collection. They were living in Scottsdale at the time and the heard about buildings selling in Miami for cheap. They decided to move to Miami and bought a commercial building for their collectibles.
Fred had always been a collector, and Elaine’s interest in collecting began when she married Fred. At first she tried collecting coins, but that didn’t thrill her.
Then, sometime in the mid-70s, she went to an antique sale at a Goodwill shop.
“I saw a doll I wanted as a child,” she recalls. “That’s all it took.”
She had stumbled upon a Terri Lee doll priced at $20, and it was in pretty good condition. The Terri Lee doll was a well-dressed, toddler-aged doll that young girls vied to have in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Goulden had been one of those young girls — she never had a Terri Lee doll as a child, although she got to play with her friend’s.
Fred encouraged her to buy the doll. Then she found out that if she took home 10 dolls, she could be a member of a doll club. So she did, and went to the meeting the following Monday; she has remained a member ever since.
Now, 40 years later, she owns somewhere between 500 to 1,000 dolls. Some were made in factories. Some are newer; some are older.
Goulden’s doll collection is spread out throughout various locations, including the commercial building in downtown Miami and the Gouldens’ museum, while others are displayed throughout her home.
Still an avid collector, she finds dolls at various doll shows in Phoenix, antique stores, and on eBay, although lately she is taking it down a notch.
“I was getting dolls too often,” she says with a smile. “This year, I’m cooling it.”
When she is buying, though, she looks for dolls that are wearing their original clothing. She’ll notice if one is missing a bonnet or is wearing different shoes. She also buy them in mint or near to mint condition. That means no nicks and a full head of hair.
Looking around her house, it’s impressive that her dolls remain in such good shape. Being at least 50 years old, many of them are fragile. She points out Shirley Temple doll, which was made in the ‘30s, and the Dionne quintuplets: a group of five dolls modeled after the actual Dionne quintuplets, who were five identical Canadian sisters born in the ‘30s, and the first group of quintuplets medically documented to survive birth. Goulden purchased them from the original owner of the dolls.
Another doll was inspired by the doctor who delivered the quintuplets — Dr. Dafoe. Goulden acquired him just recently on eBay. He is missing his original hat, so he was priced less.
To these dolls, water can be a threat. Like many dolls made during that time period, their composition is primarily of sawdust and glue, Goulden explains, and if they get wet, they can crack. They’re also susceptible to high temperatures, and have to stay in climate-controlled rooms.
Of all her dolls, though, her Terri Lee dolls are her favorite. She has been to the Terri Lee convention twice in California, which attracts some of the biggest collectors.
Goulden’s oldest doll is perhaps her laughing jumeau doll, a doll that dates as far back as the early 1900s and is made of bisque porcelain. Fred found the doll in Colorado and bought it for Elaine for Christmas.
“Every doll has a story,” she says.
One of them includes another Terri Lee doll. She was riding along in a 1946 Mercury convertible with the Ford V8 Mercury Club, and she saw it in the window of an antique store in Florence during the tour.
“The tour couldn’t go on until the antique store opened,” she says with a laugh.
“Just look at those curls,” she says admiringly, picking up the doll.
“People either love them or they hate them. I love them. I think they’re beautiful.”
“It’s been so exciting to collect dolls,” she says. “I get a huge joy out of collecting them… it just makes me smile.”
A World of Whimsy
If you walk past the living room of Glenna Kay’s house, past the swinging doors, you will step into what feels like a retro vintage shop. There, you’ll find a world of whimsy: a massive collection of whimsical, vintage things, mostly barbies and ceramic cats spanning decades. Row after row, they are lined up on shelves inside white Ikea cases illuminated by glowing lights.
“I like everything… Anything old that makes you grin, you ought to have it,” she says as we pass rows of cat statues protected behind glass. “A lot of these are sentimental things.”
“What I really need is a museum,” she adds. “I thought I’d want to sell this stuff. But I’m old now, I don’t want to sell it!”
Kay credits her mother, Naomi Nail, for passing along the collector bug. When Kay was growing up in Globe, her mother turned their living room into a store — Naomi’s Gift Shop — for several Christmas seasons.
“Those were my formative years,” she says with a laugh. “I loved it. Everything had its place and was organized.”
“She got me started on collecting salt and pepper shakers,” she adds.
Though she collected things here and there growing up, Kay’s most avid collecting phase took off about 20 years ago. The conditions were just right. She and her husband John stopped moving around the country for work and settled down in Globe. Her daughters were grown up by then.
“It’s just not advantageous to collect with children. I learned the hard way,” she laughs. “I’d get my daughters the dolls I wanted, but I learned I can’t save my daughters’ dolls! I had to get my own.”
So she did. Kay discovered eBay, and she was one of its earliest users. Back then, people would clean out their collections and sell things on eBay for cheap, sometimes 99 cents, Kay remembers.
“I was longing for collectibles, and nine times out of 10, I did not find what I was looking for at yard sales,” she remembers. “eBay was a big help for finding all my collections.”
“Being in a small, rural town, you don’t see these things, so I thought it was way cool,” she adds. “I didn’t know you could have these things.”
It all started with cats, she says. More specifically, it started with a cookie jar and a plaque inspired by B.Kliban’s cat, a recognizable cartoon cat that grew in popularity from the ‘70s onward.
She pulls out a stack of vintage postcards. On the front of each one are fully-clothed cats doing human-like things. The artwork was done by Alfred Mainzer back in the ‘40s, she says.
“It’s a time capsule of how people used to live,” she says, flipping them over to admire one-by-one. “Cats were quite an art form; they really did a lot with cats.”
We pass rows of cookie jars with cat heads, and ceramic cats holding pies wearing prairie dresses and scarves on their heads, or reading with a pair of overalls on. Those are from the ‘90s, Kay says.
“They just bring a smile to your face,” she adds.
We pass rows of Barbie dolls displayed with their original packaging, in pristine condition. She stops and stoops over to open a cabinet.
“Just to let you see what other things are lurking around,” she says, her voice trailing.
She stands up holding 3D paper dolls in her hands.
“Is that so, so cool?” she says, handing them over. “They’re probably from the ‘60s. It was a sweeter time back then.”
She flips them over to reveal more paper dolls. These date back to the ‘40s. They have seemingly real hair and paper clothes that wrap around their entire paper bodies. Other dolls dating from the ’30s and ‘40s are made out of a wood-like material, by an artist named Florence Salter.
Adding to her collection, Kay shows off her Cher dolls, mom and dad dolls, and girl cat dolls.
“You pick up what your remember from when you were a child, too,” she says, holding up a vintage “Miss Peep” doll.
Beyond her cats, she collects other things, like old cameras. She points out an old vintage pair glasses on a shelf made of gold and white gold. She has old children’s books, including a volume of the old Chatterbox series dating back to the late 1800s that she found on eBay.
“To think I could own a piece of 1885! I was so pleased to find it,” she says with a smile.
Her excitement is contagious. She pulls it off the shelf to open the first pages. She flips to a page with an old signature and note inside.
“To think someone got it as a Christmas gift!” she exclaims. “It’s so old and yet it has survived.”
And, of course, she holds onto family heirlooms. She kept the matching turquoise dresses both she and her mother wore, as well as a doll dress made out of her grandmother’s 50th wedding anniversary dress, and her mother’s leather jacket and antique jewelry from the ‘60s.
“They used to dress nice even to go to the store,” she says. “Their shoes would match their purses.”
She also kept her father and grandfather’s watches. She pulls out a cigarette case with a lighter — there are initials engraved on it. Kay’s mother gave it to her father.
She points out a small wooden jewelry box in the display case.
“That was mom’s only Christmas gift,” she says.
“My family was made of pioneer people,” she adds. “They were happy getting a frying pan or a new pair of boots.”
All the more reason to hang on to such things today.
The Appeal of Fiesta
For Rick Benning, his Fiesta collection is a visual thing.
“Like any collection, you get the bug,” he says. “Either it’s a personal collection, or you like the shape or color, or you like what it’s used for.”
“It’s what grandma served all her meals on, and it snowballed to what it is now,” he says, looking up at his displayed collection inside his small house in Globe.
Take a step into Benning’s home, and it is evident he appreciates both art and artistic design. Benning moved here from the Valley about 10 years ago, and his house is decorated with numerous pieces of art and furniture purchased in Globe.
And, of course, he has his Fiesta collection.
Fiesta is an Art Deco-style ceramic dinnerware that was manufactured by Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, West Virginia in 1936. The company produced more than one million pieces by its second year of production. The dinnerware was initially produced in five colors: red, yellow, cobalt blue, green and ivory. The company later moved on to produce pastel and earth tones. After 37 years of production, the company stopped producing Fiesta in 1972. [Although a new line was reintroduced 14 years later.]
“It might have been the number one seller of dishes in the country,” Benning says. “Just about every low to middle class American would have had these at some point.”
Benning has been to the West Virginia factory twice while attending the national Homer Laughlin China Collectors Association Convention.
Once introduced to Fiesta, you can’t miss it. The disc shapes of the water jugs, and the distinct shapes of the covered onion soup and casserole dishes, bud vases and candle holders are unmistakable.
“Graphically, it’s a very simple with a clean design, but colorful,” Benning says.
He pulls out an old ad dating back to the 1930s. He points out the dishes it’s displayed on — they are Fiesta dishes.
“Advertisers would use Fiesta pieces to make food appear more colorful,” he explains. “It was extremely colorful for that time… And back in the ‘30s, it was very, very inexpensive.”
Back then, a three-pint Fiesta carafe would have sold for $1.60, unless it was red or orange. Those might have been priced closer to $2.10 because of their uranium content, Benning says.
Nowadays, one of those same carafes might sell for $100 to $200 a piece.
It’s fair to say that Benning got his first true taste of the collector’s itch when he got his first Fiesta pieces.
“Like every little kid, I had rock collections,” he says.
But his Fiesta collection was inspired by his grandmother. When Benning was in his late ‘20s, his grandmother gave him some of her Fiesta plates, cups and bowls. He gladly accepted, and began looking for more pieces to add to his set.
Benning recalls going to a department store in Minnesota around that time in 1970s. He was looking for Fiesta pieces to complete his grandmother’s collection.
Because the original design had gone out of production, though, original Fiesta pieces were becoming more difficult to come by.
“That’s not made anymore,” the woman at the department store told him.
So, Benning began a hunt.
“I just had to start to hunt for it,” he says. “I began looking for whatever I could find.”
And hunt he did. Benning’s parents were snowbirds, so he eventually relocated from Minnesota to Arizona. He found many of his pieces traveling to antique shows, thrift shops, yard and rummage sales and flea markets around Phoenix. When the internet came around, he occasionally bought pieces online.
At his peak of Fiesta-collecting, Benning had 350 pieces.
“That’s small compared to a lot of people,” he says.
He has reduced the size of his collection since; his collection has been modified to somewhere around 100 pieces.
“I’ve had my fun with it,” he says. “They’re only dishes.”
“Most collections will never be complete, when you think about it,” he adds.
He keeps his most sentimental pieces, like the rose platter that belonged to his grandmother. A dark blue Fiesta teapot sits on top of his refrigerator.
“It belonged to my mother,” he says. “I remember it being on the fridge when I was really small.”
Avid Fiesta collectors want each piece of the dish set in all the original colors: red, yellow, cobalt blue, green and ivory.
The rarest dishes are especially sought after, like any of the dishes in medium green, Benning explains, because they were only produced for a year and a half.
The covered onion soup dish in turquoise is considered another hot item because very few exist. So is the mustard jar.
“People were much more fancy back then,” Benning notes. “Nowadays, you just plunk the bottle it came in on the table.”
“And non-collector people will ask ‘Why?’” Benning says after a moment of silence. “And that’s a good question. I don’t have an answer, but nonetheless I have this stuff.”
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.