Each vacation, my mother decorates her fire mantel with a group of dolls that she calls her “carolers.” Solely not too long ago, nevertheless, I found that these collectible figurines are known as Simpich Dolls. Handmade from begin to end, they’re more and more uncommon, with an unmatched creative high quality that makes them irresistible collectibles.
Dolls Born of Necessity
Because the Christmas vacation approached in 1952, married artists Bob and Jan Simpich realized they may not afford items. So, the couple determined to create dolls of their Colorado Springs house as an alternative, utilizing sculpting clay and paint to make the faces and stitching doll clothes with cloth scraps. Earlier than lengthy, their dolls grew to become so well-liked they fashioned Simpich Character Dolls, Ltd., and provided their creations to the shopping for public from their close by manufacturing studio, a two-story, 11,000-square-foot building within the Previous Colorado Metropolis historic district.
Literary and Biblical Characters
“For those who grew up in Colorado Springs, anytime between 1952 and 2007, Simpich Dolls are seemingly a part of your story,” stated Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum curator Leah Davis-Witherow in a 2021 interview.
Whereas many Simpich dolls should not holiday-themed, probably the most well-known creations are the twelve-inch tall English carolers, made to resemble characters in A Christmas Carol. The dolls’ endearing options embrace cheerful eyes and mouths vast open in tune. A typical Simpich Santa Claus figurine sports activities a richly sewn coat trimmed in fur and a sort face accented with rosy cheeks.
The artists additionally relied on literature and faith to create different collectible figurines, together with angels, animals, and Santa Claus, together with characters like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice In Wonderland.
Though the founding couple’s sons, David and Ragan Simpich, and a collection of employed artists helped sustain with demand, the Simpich household frequently resisted provides to promote the enterprise or ship manufacturing abroad. “They weren’t ever even tempted as a result of that was not what they ever envisioned this to be,” David Simpich said. “It was a really uncommon type of European-style enterprise of making artwork.”
By the early 2000s, doll pricing ranged from $115 to $185, in accordance with a 2004 story in TDMonthly, because the studio loved a strong native tourism base amplified by catalog and on-line gross sales.
Though the couple retired and closed the studio in 2007, their announcement sparked a mad rush of orders, they usually spent the subsequent two years filling them.
In 2007, son David Simpich turned the studio right into a doll museum and the Simpich Marionette Theatre, the place he carried out puppet exhibits with a group of handmade Simpich marionettes. By 2019, a declining tourism base and the COVID-19 pandemic pressured David Simpich to shut. Jan Simpich died in 2014, and Bob in 2020, and with their passing went their inventive brilliance.
Gathering Simpich Dolls
Immediately, Simpich dolls are well-liked area of interest collectibles within the secondary market, though the hunt for them is changing into more and more troublesome as a result of solely a finite quantity stays. I searched the web market and located listings starting from $40 for doll accessories to about $6,000 for full units like an eleven-piece Nativity scene. Whereas some platforms had no listings, others had near 100, though many had been doll adornments.
Jenna Mattioli of Colorado Springs grew up with Simpich dolls and now sells classic items in her Etsy store, HeirloomsbyOlive. “My father selected a doll yearly as a Christmas present for my mother,” Mattioli stated. “My sister and I’d accompany and help him together with his choice.”
Amongst her favorites, Mattioli stated, is Ebenezer Scrooge and a ruggedly dressed Woodland Santa Claus holding a small Christmas tree and a lantern. It’s entitled “I Am Looking for…”—a model offered in 2023 for $650.00.
A Particular Doll Area of interest
“As a result of these dolls may solely be present in Colorado Springs, that meant individuals who would go to the store in Previous Colorado Metropolis would buy a doll and take it house, however we all know one was by no means sufficient,” Davis-Withrow said. “They wished to have a Simpich Doll household, or possibly they wished to have a Christmas vignette. …”
Mattioli stated many collectors at the moment are reluctant to promote their dolls, making the resale market a problem. “I believe these dolls are onerous to seek out as a result of their top quality,” she stated. “I don’t assume persons are prepared to half with the items they’ve bought themselves or inherited.”
Nevertheless, Mattioli stated she continues discovering and promoting Simpich dolls, noting that the rarer items are Santas, and Scrooge is the most well-liked vendor.
“It’s vital to protect these collectible dolls,” Mattioli stated, “as a result of they symbolize a particular time within the historical past of Colorado Springs.”
I agree with Mattioli that preserving artwork in each type permits us not solely to cherish but in addition to guard components of our tradition.
In the meantime, doll pricing nonetheless can fluctuate as David Simpich not too long ago started providing doll restoration companies, growing the worth of classic items. And you may all the time view a whole bunch of donated dolls which might be on show on the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, together with three life-sized carolers—the one ones identified to exist.
Armed with this new data in regards to the expertise and care that went into making every Simpich doll, I’m positive my mother’s Christmas mantel show this yr will tackle new which means and a contact of added pleasure.
Between excursions to hunt for antiques and classic décor, Lynda Houston is busy restoring her Fifties cottage in Cincinnati, Ohio. She and her companion Dave Beck function TheRustInPeaceShop on Etsy.
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