Museum wants to auction off dolls to make some space

HARLINGEN — A bunch of decades-old classic dolls aren’t getting any younger in those dusty boxes in the storeroom, and the city’s museum wants to auction them off.

This week the board of the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum agreed to seek the go-ahead from the City Commission for an auction of 75 to 100 dolls.

“They were an acquisition that the library had — this is what city departments do, they hand things off to each other all the time,” said Joel Humphries, director of arts and entertainment for the city. “I guess it was probably two years ago that the library was trying to make some space and asked if we would have some interest in taking the dolls.

“So we said, ‘well, sure, we’re the museum, sure we’ll take it and then figure out what to do with it from there,’” he added. “But one of the things we do have to look at, especially as space kind of comes at a premium, is where does it fall in with our mission statement? Does it have anything to do with the history of the community?”

The answer, Humphries and the museum board concluded, is not much.

Some of the dolls are up to 40 years old, which doesn’t necessarily make them vintage to collectors, said Jill Hudson, a museum volunteer who catalogued the collection.

Some of the elaborately gowned dolls are 16 to 17 inches tall, but others are shorter in stature.

“Then we have a collection of these little guys, they’re little tiny things,” she said, pointing to the catalog she produced. “And they’re made out of porcelain, I believe.”

When Hudson catalogued the doll collection, she didn’t attempt to determine the individual worth of the dolls, a task that could have taken months.

“They’re not super valuable,” she said.

Neither museum officials nor those at the library are aware of who donated the collection, or have an idea of its provenance, or documented history, Humphries said.

Since the dolls were voted into the museum’s collection by the board, the rules say the museum must go to the City Commission for permission to hold a special auction instead of using the regular city auctions.

Given the type of items involved, and the potential interest from doll collectors, Humphries thinks a specialized auction would not only potentially bring in more money but also provide the dolls with a better home.

“There might be a collector that would be interested,” Humphries said. “I think that in light of the nature of it, it would be silly to just try and sell them at a city auction.”