In this day and age when kids bring home a new toy every time they return from the supermarket, it’s hard to believe that anybody would want to repair their old toys. But indeed, there is a “hospital” for dolls in Sydney where workers fix fingers, toes and heads, and repair broken eye sockets of beloved dolls and bring them back to their original glory. Even more amazing is the fact that this place has been around for a century, having just completed its 101st year of existence.
The Doll Hospital was opened in 1913 by Mr Harold Chapman Sr as part of his General Store, and it came into being from a simple shipping mishap. At that time, Harold’s brother was in the business of importing celluloid dolls from Japan. During the shipping process the rubber bands holding the dolls together would snap or perish, and it was Harold who devised a way to repair them. When customers found out that Harold was repairing dolls, they began bringing in their ragged dolls and stuffed animals, and a business was born.
The business was taken over in the 1930's by Harold's son, also Harold Chapman who relocated the Doll Hospital and expanded the business to include repairs of leather goods, handbags, gloves, toys, umbrella's – practically anything that could be repaired. The real boom came in 1939 with the Second World War when resources became scare. The only toys most kids could afford were the ones they already owned, and demands for repair skyrocketed.
The Doll Hospital is now run by Mr Geoff Chapman, Harold Jr's son who has continued to carry out repairs with the same passion and enthusiasm of his father and grandfather. The Doll Hospital is not only in its third generation of owners, but also its third generation of "doctors", the skills and knowledge being passed down through the family of repairers. Like a real hospital, work depends on the availability and schedule of a specialist, as each doctor specializes in her own area.
Today, the Doll Hospital covers an unbelievable range of repairs from antique and modern dolls, teddy's and soft toys, to prams and rocking horses, and even suitcases, handbags, umbrellas and porcelain. Till date, the hospital has repaired more than 3 million dolls.
"There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the smile on a little girls face when she comes to collect her beloved doll. People often have tears in their eyes when they have to leave their precious dolls, but tears of joy when they come to collect them and see the transformation." Geoff says.
All images by Jason Reed/Reuters
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