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Watch: rare and antique dolls worth thousands go on show in Rome exhibition

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Dolls sought after by collectors can fetch thousands
Dolls sought after by collectors can fetch thousands -
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Hundreds of rare and antique dolls, some worth thousands, have gone on show in Rome.

Dolls have been around in one form or another for centuries and are recognised now as historical objects rather than mere playthings. Enthusiasts regard the rarest of those that have survived as objects of art, worthy of their place in a museum.

They've been made from a vast array of materials including clay, bone, soapstone, wood and porcelain, before more recently moulded plastic.

Doll collector Samy Odin explained: "There are many different types of materials used in the production of dolls. The most precious is probably the bisque, a type of porcelain with a matte finish that has been used a lot for making doll's heads.

"But there are a wide variety of materials: from wood, wax, papier mâché, to felt, particularly in the Italian tradition, especially with Turin's producer Lenci who is one of the most iconic makers for today's collectors."

Collectors too come in all forms, from historians to fashion fans, to those searching for childhood memories.

"Antique dolls are a sector involving very different types of collectors. There are people interested in the history of fashion, people interested mostly in the representation of childhood in all its forms, there are lovers of toys, people who like haute couture, as well as people looking for childhood mementoes," Odin added.

There are fashions among collectors, with dolls from certain eras falling in and out of favour. Odin said Parisian dolls, with their lavish wardrobes, are de rigueur among Western collectors.

"There are beautiful French creations from the last quarter of the 19th century when renowned manufacturers like Jumeau, Bru, Steiner, Gaultier made outstanding dolls for children, which have today become very valuable."

Paky Portera, who both collects and creates dolls, explained the significance of some of the rarer specimens: "Some of my pieces are on show in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Kremlin Museum. They're objects with a historical background, modelled according to specific periods in history."

To be accepted as an authentic antique, dolls in Europe have to be manufactured before the 1950s and have no more than 40% of the body made from repaired or substituted parts. Restored dolls only retain a third of their commercial value.

Piera Cesaretti has been repairing dolls at what she calls her laboratory shop in Rome for 32 years, and her goal with antique repairs is to change as little as is necessary.

But for most, dolls are still there to be dressed up and played with, with wear and tear an inevitable side effect of love.

Cesaretti said: "When I repair memories, people are happy, they are really grateful. Old people, children, grandmothers, mothers, all sorts of people. We mend teddy bears, stuffed toys, a little of everything."

Her main challenge is finding spare parts and components, although she sees it as an opportunity to be inventive.

"Working with dolls is truly complicated because there are different brands, different materials, different fabrics, many mechanisms, parts of mechanisms that are impossible to find because the makers have shut down.

"So you have to invent what you need each time. Maybe the cardboard roll inside kitchen paper can replace the inside of a doll."