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Hernando man all dolled up

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By Nancy Kennedy

 

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Nancy Kennedy

Staff writer

HERNANDO — It started innocently enough.

In 1966, Ben Edney’s now-late wife wanted only one old doll to put on their bed.

That’s all it took for one to become 500 — and counting.

“After she got that one doll she found out that her grandmother’s bridge partner was a doll collector,” Edney said. “So we took that one old doll to her to see what it was and she loaned us a book. The book is what hooked me. I found out there’s research and history involved, and that’s what I like.

“It started out as my wife’s hobby,” he said, “and it wound up as our hobby. When she died a few years ago, I continued it.”

When you enter Edney’s Hernando home, you see dolls everywhere.

And then you enter the doll room, filled with glass cabinets with shelves upon shelves of dolls of every size — baby dolls and kid dolls, dolls from the late 19th century and most of the 20th century.

They’re made from china, rubber, wood, cloth, plastic and wax. They’re Shirley Temple dolls, Bye-Lo Babies, Dionne Quintuplets, Victorian dolls, boys, girls, realistic “Barefoot Children,” dolls in cradles, in high chairs, dolls sitting at a table having a tea party — but no Barbies.

“My wife hated Barbies,” Edney said. 

One doll, made by a man in Philadelphia named Ludwig Greiner, is like a doll that’s in the Confederate Museum in Richmond, Va. 

“They call it a ‘drug doll,’” Edney said. “During the Civil War a lady and her little girl used to go back and forth across enemy lines visiting family. When she went North, she’d put drugs (medicine) in the doll’s body and nobody checked.”

The biggest doll is a life-size boy doll that wears size 4 clothes. Edney said when they bought the doll in Bethesda, Md., it wasn’t wearing any clothes, and as he carried it around, people were staring. So, he and his wife stopped at a store to buy and outfit so the doll wouldn’t be naked.

The oldest doll is from 1830. The “queen” of the collection is a French doll from the late 1800s made by Leon Casimir Bru. The smallest doll is about 1 inch tall and belonged to Edney’s father.

Besides dolls, Edney’s house is filled with pictures of dolls, doll plates, doll puzzles, calendars, even salt and pepper shakers.

He said his favorite dolls are the ones made from wax, although wax is not a good material for paint, he said.

Sometimes groups come by for a tour of his collection. Edney loves to tell stories about the history and origin of the dolls, who made them, where he found a particular doll. Each one is numbered, tagged and cataloged. He continually buys and sells, and adds to his collection.

“I love it,” he said. “Every doll has a story behind it.” 

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.