Making customers cry may not be most shopkeeper's goal, but
at Sydney's 101-year-old Doll Hospital workers take tears as
a sign of a job well done.
In an age of mass-produced plastic dolls, few doll hospitals
around the world have survived, the owners said.
"We're one of the last ones that does everything, when it
comes to dolls, there's very few that are capable of that
sort of work," said Geoff Chapman, 67 and "surgeon-in-chief"
at the family-run business his father started more than a
Since then, the Doll Hospital has restored more than three
million dolls, teddy bears, rocking horses and wheeled toys
for Australian and New Zealand children.
"We've had clowns as big as a person, and a 12-foot (4m)
crocodile - plush - not real," Chapman joked, noting that
"the most common problem usually is the hair and the eyes".
One of the pleasures of working at the hospital is seeing
customers' reactions when they collect their prized
"It's both men and women, obviously more women are getting
dolls and teddies repaired, but there's quite a few men
attached to teddy bears too," Chapman said.
"We've had customers who've burst into tears" when they saw
the treasured doll or teddy as good as new, he said.
Located behind a toy shop on a busy suburban street in south
Sydney, workers fix fingers, toes and heads, and repair
broken eye sockets in dolls - victims of childhood tantrums,
dog attacks or sibling rivalry, sometimes as long as decades
"A lot of our tools are like surgeons', operating on human
patients," said Kerry Stuart, who has worked there for 25
Like a real hospital too, work depends on the availability
and schedule of a specialist, as well as the backlog. Gail
Grainger, for example, specialises in repairing legs, feet
Stuart said the most difficult job is repairing "celluloid
dolls" because the material is very thin, like tissue, having
been made from one of the first synthetic plastics.
"The thing I like least is eyes. It's a very difficult
balancing act to get them right, so it does take a while.
Sometimes I have to do them three times before I'm happy with
them," she said.
The Doll Hospital was opened by Chapman Senior as part of his
general store after a batch of celluloid dolls made in Japan
arrived damaged and Chapman had to repair them.
Demand for the hospital's services skyrocketed during World
War 2 when import restrictions meant new dolls were no longer
an option and parents brought in broken dolls for repair.
"My father was through the war years, that was the busiest
time at the Doll Hospital. At the peak they had 70 staff and
six workrooms," Chapman said.
Today the Doll Hospital has up to 12 staff, some of whom work
remotely, and handles up to 200 dolls and toys a month.
"I would say about 80 percent of our work comes from 'big
children'," Chapman said, a reference to the clientele being
mostly middle-aged and older women wanting to pass on
childhood toys to grandchildren and others restoring
"When they were children they possibly only got one doll, not
a new doll every time you go down the supermarket like it
happens today. That's why it's so emotional," Chapman said.
While fixing plastic parts is a big part of the work carried
out, hair transplants also are high on the list.
"I think there were lots of budding hairdressers that took to
their dolls and thought it was going to grow back. Well it
didn't grow back, did it?" Chapman laughed.