Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Making Lemonade from a Lemon

1988 African doll by Heidi Ott

"When I first saw her... [it] looked like she was swarmed by ants." —Vicky Hoff Forbes

The above quote from another collector who has the same doll by Heidi Ott is the perfect way to describe the way my new-to-me 19-inch doll looked upon opening the shipping box. The doll was covered with black specks of what remained of the disintegrated black wig. 

The seller had described the "disintegration" in the item description, but the auction photos only showed a few specks of hair fibers on the side of the doll's face and some on one of the extremities. That is not what I experienced upon opening the doll's box. I am sure all of what I saw was caused by the doll being jostled around during the shipping process, but I was horrified! Do you hear me? Hor-ri-fied! 

I stopped everything and put on a pair of disposable gloves and a face mask.

Next, the following photos were taken before cleaning up the hairy mess. (I vacuumed the inside of the shipping box before it was discarded and vacuumed as much of the particles from the doll and the clothes as possible.)

Black synthetic hair fibers covered the doll's face, body, arms, and clothes, including the socks.

This looks disgusting, right?

It was horrendous!

I removed the wig cap from the doll's head. It still had two braids attached. The third remaining braid was lying in the box!

It was so bad that specks of hair were also under the clothes attached to the body and legs.

Several minute particles of the disintegrated wig fibers were in the shipping box.

After the doll's clothes were removed, I vacuumed the doll, the clothes, the inside of the shipping box, and the area where the shipping box was opened.  

In this picture, a layer of dishwashing liquid was on all vinyl surfaces and left on overnight before washing off to remove the tacky feel of the vinyl. The dark areas on the stockinette-over-vinyl body are damp spots from the disinfectant wipes used to clean it. The body is not stained.

I have always loved the quality and sculpts of Heidi Ott's made-in-Switzerland dolls. I own several others. After first seeing photos of Vicky's doll (in the restored state) some seven years ago, I fell in love with the authenticity of the head sculpt and wanted one in my collection. I was so enthused over her doll, that I don't recall reading her description of the doll's condition when she purchased it. I now own a doll exactly like Vicky's including the original disintegrated wig issue. I wasn't expecting to have to make lemonade from the unexpected lemon I received, but I had no other feasible choice. 

Before proceeding any further, I contacted the seller to voice my utter displeasure about the doll along with photo proof of the doll's condition. The seller wrote back, not with an apology initially, but with a defensive reply stating that the disintegration was described, that it was the reason the doll was wrapped in a plastic bag (more accurately, a plastic bag was wrapped around the doll), the reason the auction had a low beginning bid, and that her now-deceased mother-in-law (MIL), who was the original owner, paid $400 for it. This did not soothe my frustration, so I replied, agreeing that the wig disintegration was mentioned, but not to the full extent. I described all the things I had gone through thus far to begin the clean-up and restoration process. I further informed the seller that had I known the doll's true condition, I would never have placed a bid as high or would not have bid at all. The seller mellowed some and replied with an apology, which I accepted. We communicated a few additional times about her MIL's collection and her new understanding of people who collect dolls. She shared that her husband's ex-wife kept the doll's baby brother in remembrance of her MIL. We ended our communication by wishing each other an enjoyable weekend. I knew what my weekend would entail—arduous work in improving this doll's condition and overall appearance. 

What Was Done Next

I hand washed the clothes and baby sling and soaked these overnight. The socks were separately hand washed. I wiped the shoes with a damp cloth on the outside and inside.

After washing, the clothes (and socks—not shown here) were air-dried.

She was redressed and tried on several on-hand wigs. This brown curly wig that I've had for several years suits her...

...but it's not the look that I desired. Underneath the wig, she wears a black stocking cap to cover the glue residue that remains on her head. (I made the stocking cap using a knee-high stocking by cutting off the excess and tying the end in a knot. I didn't take a picture of it, but it looks like this.)

Synthetic hair

I used two bags of Senegalese twist braiding hair to make a wig, but first I created a head covering to feed the twisted strands through.

A black woven headband was cut to size and stitched in the center to fit the head. The strands of synthetic Senegalese twists were fed through the holes in the headband and knotted to create the doll's wig. To prevent any scalp from showing, the black stocking cap, mentioned previously, was placed underneath the woven headband after the wig was made.

The New Wig

I love this wig (the first of its kind that I've made). 

Close-up view—doesn't she have a gorgeous face?

Profile view

This view from the back illustrates the unevenness of the twists which will remain uneven.

Baby Sling

I didn't know what I would do with the baby sling designed for carrying her missing baby brother on her back. Initially, I allowed her to hold it.

She's still holding the sling.

I did not want to store the sling, so I wrapped it around the upper part of her body.

Next, I scanned the doll room and found an 8-inch vinyl baby whose head is marked 1987 Spectra. The baby fits in the sling perfectly. I have an identical baby that has a browner complexion that I will probably use instead of the one illustrated next.

The replacement baby fits perfectly in the sling.

About This Doll

This unnamed doll and her siblings appear in the back of Heidi Ott's 1988 catalog. They are the only Black dolls in the catalog.

When I made my first attempts to locate a doll like this, I was under the impression that she and her 19-inch tall brother represented Jamaican children. "Jamaican" is how some online sellers referred to the dolls. In the accompanying 1988 catalog, they are described as African as evidenced by the following descriptive statement. "The head is made of unbreakable material which can be washed with soap. The hair is 100% human hair except for the african dolls." (African was spelled with a lowercase "a.") Whatever synthetic fibers were used (designed to mimic the texture of coarse hair) they did not withstand the test of time.

The actual names of the dolls in the catalog are not revealed by Ott, who explained, "Naturally, all my dolls have their own names, but unfortunately, they have to remain a secret. The reason being is that many firms in countries all around the world have registered almost all [childrens'] names in existence, therefore I wish to avoid any legal action involving copyright." (Obviously, in later years, Heidi changed this stance and began sharing her dolls' names.)

As illustrated in the 1988 catalog, Heidi Ott's African dolls included a 19-inch all-vinyl boy, a 19-inch all-vinyl girl, and two soft-bodied 13-inch babies. The vinyl is quite heavy and has been mistaken for porcelain.

The catalog page on which the African girl, her brother, and two babies appear only provides their catalog numbers and heights in centimeters.

This zoomed-in photo of the 1988 catalog page of the African girl illustrates her original wig style and wiry texture.

In addition to the 1988 catalog, my doll has the original hangtag and certificate signed by Heidi Ott.

The front of the hangtag

The original retail price is on the back of the hangtag. I paid only a fraction of this. 

The certificate is printed in German.

Translated (using Google Translate), the certificate reads:

Each original Heidi Ott doll is manufactured in limited numbers. It is signed, numbered and registered on the back of the head. This Heidi Ott doll was lovingly created with a lot of manual skill and a lot of work. Have fun with this doll. Wishes you (best wishes to you?) Heidi Ott.

I can attest to the fact that "this Heidi Ott doll was lovingly 'restored' with a lot of manual labor," and I've successfully turned a lemon into lemonade. 


There are countless items to collect and write about. Black dolls chose me.

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Dolls By MonTQ said...

Oh My! I read and enjoyed entirety.She turned out beautifully after your arduousness and TLC. Great Job Dolly ❤

Black Doll Enthusiast said...

Thank you for reading the details of this ordeal, Dolls by MonTQ. I am very pleased with the results.

It's good to hear from you. Are you still making dolls?


Nora said...

Viel Freude mit dieser Puppe wuenscht Ihnen---Heidi Ott is one complete sentence, meaning 'Heidi Ott wishes you a lot of fun with this doll.' (The name is placed at the end for emphasis, like a signature.) And yes, she's gorgeous. Glad you managed to give her a new lease on life. :)

Black Doll Enthusiast said...


Thank you!