Sometime during the late 1970s, Martha Childress visited an area flea market and became intrigued by a bag with doll legs protruding from its sides.
“She wanted $10 for the bag, which had about 10 dolls in it,” Childress recalled in a 1984 Charleston Daily Mail article. “I don’t know why I bought it, but I did, and that’s what got me started.”
Within seven years, the Nitro woman’s collection had grown to more than 600 dolls — enough to fill a room in her home.
“At first, my husband thought I was crazy,” Childress said in the Daily Mail article. “But now whenever someone comes by to visit, he tells me to take them to the room and show them the dolls.”
Within a few more years, Childress had amassed enough dolls to open “Martha’s Dolls and Toys,” a retail establishment on Main Avenue in Nitro that she kept stocked with items from her collection.
In a Metro West article about her opening the shop, Childress said she had lost count of how many dolls she had collected.
“Every time I start to count, I get to about 1,000 and something happens” to make her lose count, she said. “So I estimate I have about 3,000 dolls.”
Martha Jean Childress died in 2020 at age 79. Her collection of dolls, doll clothing and accessories is up for sale beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mountaineer Auction Gallery, along U.S. 119 just north of Clendenin.
“Due to the sheer volume of her collection — more than 2,000 dolls — it’s hard to put into words all it involves,” Mountaineer Auction Gallery’s Steve Mullins said. “Mrs. Childress focused on collector dolls from the 1930s onward, including 300 to 500 Barbie dolls, many of them in their original boxes.”
The collection also includes a range of official Barbie accessories, including board games, jigsaw puzzles, an assortment of vehicles including a Barbie Country Camper, a Barbie Townhouse and a Barbie Dream House.
There are Chatty Cathy and Baby Talk talking dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, Shirley Temple dolls from the 1930s, German-made Walkure dolls from the early 1900s, and vintage Madame Alexander and Angelina dolls.
“There are also a number of ‘tourist’ dolls that people would buy when they were vacationing to take home as souvenirs,” Mullins said. Tourist dolls in the Childress collection include individuals dressed in outfits reflecting cultural connections to several Latin American and European nations.
Surrounded by a sea of female dolls at Mountaineer Auction Gallery on Tuesday, dolls representing Howdy Doody, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Pee Wee Herman were huddled together in a group not far from a boxed Bart Simpson doll.
Dozens of doll cradles, high chairs, tea sets and travel bags also will go on the auction block Saturday.
Items up for auction may be viewed from noon to 4 p.m. Friday and from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday. For more information, call 304-548-4056 or 304-542-5735.
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