Rural Missouri Magazine

Dr. Margie

Meet the lady with a PhD in doll TLC

by Heather Berry

Like many emergency room doctors, Margie Campbell sees her share of trauma — fractured skulls, broken necks and severed hands and feet. Most of her patients are in such bad condition they are brought to her in boxes or bags.

Margie Campbell, the owner of Delsey’s Dolls in Hannibal, loves bringing dolls back to life.

Her oldest patient was nearly 150 years old and came to Margie in 18 pieces. But that’s no trouble for Margie. She’s a doll doctor.

Margie can bring virtually any doll back to life. Got a doll that needs a head? Is your favorite childhood doll limbless? No problem. Margie does transplants and implants if needed.

“That 150-year-old doll was a beautiful 32-inch tall bisque (unglazed white porcelain) doll made in Germany,” says Margie, 75. “The lady said it was her grandmother’s and that it had been stored in a barn. I nearly cried.”

Four months later, doll doctor Margie returned the heirloom to its owner.
“She was unbelievably happy when she saw it,” Margie says. “The restored doll is now worth between $2,000 to $3,000.”

Not bad for the $125 bill to repair the antique.

While she’s only been in the doll doctoring business for a dozen years, Margie is well-trained in doll repair. Her mother was an antique doll collector and restored all types of dolls.

“That was back when a new bisque or porcelain doll might have been only $6 to $8. If you can find a bisque doll for under $300 now you’re very lucky because they’re over 100 years old,” she says.

Margie named her Hannibal shop Delsey’s Dolls after her only child, Del Ann, who she nicknamed Delsey when she was little.

She opened her doll shop in the early '90s when she retired from a 35-year career as a psychiatric social worker. She wanted to do something she enjoyed and restoring dolls was her second career choice.

When she’s not doing reconstructive surgery, Margie sells new and old dolls in her shop. Many of her new dolls are from famous makers such as Lee Middleton. Middleton was a minister who began sculpting dolls at her kitchen table. She passed away in 1997, but her factory in Ohio continues to make the collectible dolls.

This Madame Alexander Karen ballerina doll will be worth $675 once an original outfit is found. Margie can sew new outfits, but collectors prefer originals.

Another popular doll to collect, whether new or used, is the Madame Alexander line. One 60-year-old Karen ballerina doll Margie has from that line is worth quite a bit restored.

“I’ve refinished her, but I’m still looking for the right clothes,” says Margie. “She’s worth about $675 in her original outfit.”

While this Ralls County Electric Cooperative member says she has a soft spot for all dolls, she especially loves the older dolls which need her special attention. Her mission is to return them to their former beauty.

“The more original you leave a doll, the more valuable it is as it grows older,” Margie says. “When I’m working on a doll, I do research and do everything possible to return it to its original form.”

Sometimes Margie has to make new pieces for dolls. She has a ceramics kiln and can usually find an arm, leg or face mold in the original style of a doll.

Margie says most of the time people just want the doll dressed in their favorite color, but she does have customers who want original outfits and she’ll hunt the world over to find one if that’s what they want.

People usually ask Margie to repair their dolls because they have sentimental value. Often, it’s the best way to remember their loved ones.

“One lady brought in her father’s old overalls and denim shirt and wanted me to make an identical outfit for her son’s childhood doll,” says Margie. “They had both passed away and this was a special way she could commemorate them.”

Margie has about 30 dolls in her personal collection, but one holds a special place in her heart.

“This is the only doll I have of my mother’s,” says Margie.

The 27-inch-tall stately Martha Washington doll wears a beautiful light pink period gown with 75-year-old lace and champagne bead and pearl detailing. Her mother bought the bisque doll, piece by piece, and put her together. It’s worth about $1,500, but Margie wouldn’t think of parting with it.

“She will be handed down to my daughter one day,” she says.

The other two dolls she loves are newer collectibles from the 1960s and 1970s.

“The Chatty Cathy and Mrs. Beasley dolls are two highly sought after dolls, especially if they still talk.”

An average doll repair will cost less than $60. Some collectable dolls bring more than $1,000.

Margie says those two dolls will stay in her family, too, although she is restoring a couple for sale. She’s had people tell her to ignore the cost, just make the doll look like it did when they first got it.

“Money is usually no object,” she says.

An average doll repair runs between $20 and $60 depending on the work Margie must do. “I have customers who bring their dolls all the way from Chicago because my work is affordable and they know I’ll do a good job.”

Currently she has about 65 dolls to work on. That may seem like a lot, but the work usually goes quickly, according to Margie.

“Everyone who’s ever had a little girl or boy in their household usually has a doll that needs repair,” she says.

While many dolls are restored for girls, boys have dolls in need of TLC, too. “I can’t tell you how many GI Joes I’ve repaired. Usually it’s from a dog chewing on them,” Margie says. “In good condition, the older ones can be worth up to $200, so they’re well worth restoring.”

Another collectible doll she’s restoring is an old Kewpie doll, based on illustrations by Missourian Rose O’Neill for the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1909.

If the dolls Margie repairs could talk, they would probably thank her for the effort she puts into bringing them back to life.

“It’s so rewarding to have something like this which can be passed on to your loved ones to enjoy.”

For more information call Margie Campbell at (573) 221-1846 or e-mail Delsey’s Dolls is located at 4101 Red Devil Road, Hannibal, MO 63401. Call for shop hours or to make an appointment.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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