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May/June 2006
Volume 46 #2

"Oh, Such Eyes!"
Replacing Crazed Eyes in Composition Dolls


"Oh, Such Eyes!  The Doll With Those Marvelous Eyes!  Eyes That Win Your Heart At Once! Those Marvelous Flirting Eyes!"


     These are just a few "EYE" catching slogans used by a 1920's-30's store catalog, previewing their new dolls of the upcoming season. Of course they also promote the other attributes of their dollies such as Curly wigs, satin dresses and voices that cry, "Mama". But the dominating slogans in their advertisements are largely geared towards those mesmerizing eyes. Those eyes that have grabbed the young and old alike, those eyes that still make us choose just the right doll, just because of the tilt, flirt, color or shine of these unforgettable Eyes.

     So, of course the eyes are a very important part of our preference in the dolls of our choosing. The Composition doll collector would like their perspective purchase to have the nicest outfit, the best wig, craze-free composition and sparkling eyes that captivate their possible new owner to bring them home. Oh, but, those crazed, crackled eyes have deterred many a prospective buyer from an otherwise lovely face!

     So, what do we do about this? Why does it happen? And what can be done?

     First, I will describe the four basic types of eyes that were used in Composition Dolls from the late teens to the 1940's. Then I will discuss why and what type of eye this happens to, and the methods that can be utilized to restore the sparkle back into your dollies’ eyes.







Photo #1
Top to Bottom

Eye #1 - Reverse printed Celluloid Covered Metal Eyes-Patent # 1,252,469 issued to Samuel Marcus of New York, NY, on January 8, 1918

Eye #2 - Surface Printed (Lithographed) Metal Eyes, introduced in the late 1920's (so called “Tin-Eyes”)

Eye #3 - "Glass-Like" Eyes (trade name was Glassene eyes -- The eyes that craze). Introduced in the early 1930's.

Eye #4 - Plastic Lens eyes on surface metal Eyeballs. introduced in the early 1940's.


     Each of these eyes had their redeeming features, but also had their flaws. The early lithographed eyes tended to become scratched up easily and the plastic lens of the 1940's did not have the look and depth of the 1930's Glassene Eyes. The Glassene eyes gave much more color and life to the dolls, colors of brown, hazel, amber, green and shades of blue.  But the great flaw in making these eyes was the combination of the metal core behind the glass-like lens. The eyes crazed or crackled because the metal core behind the lens would rust (As seen in Photo #2) and cause the glass-like lens to shatter. I have seen eye units where one eye is crazed and the other is not, and upon dismantling the unit, I would find one metal core had rusted and the other had not.

     Now, dealing with these eyes. Some doll collectors can live with this problem, some cannot. One thing that I recommend not to do, is to oil doll eyes. This is a very bad practice, is not practical, and could possibly end up costing you more money than replacing the doll's eyes. When oiling the doll eyes, the oil can run onto the composition around the dolls eyes and cause the tell-tale olive green halo that is seen around many composition doll eyes. Also, as can be seen in my photo #2, the metal core opens into the back of the eye unit, so if too much oil is inserted into the eyeball, it will run into your dolls head.

Photo #2

     I recommend replacing the pupils if they have become that eerie, milky green color or if they are just not acceptable to the doll owner. I feel that if they are just crazed, leave them, but not all doll collectors like this, so I will discuss my method of replacing the pupils.

     I used Effanbee's Patsy Lou, as my patient (As seen in Photo #3 - Eyes Before). Once I removed the eyes from her head, I used an X-Acto knife to remove the crazed pupils. I took the tip of the knife and place it into the center of the pupil and turned it until a hole was created. I then began slowly flaking the pupil out (I always wear safety glasses when doing this).  Remember that these eyes were celluloid coated and the glass-like pupil was inserted separately. So it will pop out and leave a perfect circular hole in the unit to place the new pupil into. I removed the pupil with extreme care, because the celluloid whites of the eye could crack.

     My choice of pupil replacement is German Blown Glass Eyes. They have the closest qualities to the original glassene eyes, and I found a use for my damaged blown glass eyes! As long as the pupils are intact, the eyes are useable.

    This is the hardest part of the replacement. I used small nosed pliers to slowly crack away any existing white left in the blown glass eye. Caution must be used when doing this (I always wear safety glasses -- MY EYES are important!). Once I got to the pupil, I sanded it until it had no rough edges and fit perfectly into the metal core of the unit. I have found that sometimes I have to put glue into the metal core to hold the pupil, but most times the pupils slips and snaps right into place.


Photo # 3, Eyes Before

Photo #4, Eyes Finished

Photo #5, Patsy Lou now has her eyes back in place and sparkling again.

     My results are beautiful and customers are always happy with the new eyes.

     Doll Restoration is a process of finding, exploring and attempting new avenues and methods that can be found and utilized to continue to enhance the beauty & originality of the doll. So, I strive to keep as much originality as possible in a doll. I feel the German Blown Glass eyes are the closest thing I have found to resembling the Glassene eyes of the 30's and are a perfect solution for those crazed/crackled eyes of our Compo Cuties!

     I like to share my methods with other doll lovers and I am sure that there are other options for replacement pupils in composition dolls. Through our sharing and learning from each other, we continue to grow in our knowledge, as with all things. The Doll Industry is always coming up with new products to repair, restore and maintain our little treasures of the past. In the doll world, we are all striving for the same thing ---Collectors, Dealers, Suppliers, & Manufacturers -- We are always looking and creating new ways to preserve and maintain the originality of the dolls of the past.

     If you would like more information about replacing your dolls eyes, or any other restoration needs go to my website at:

E-mail: louisesladies-at-comcast-dot-net







©2006, Doll Castle News
& Louise Sleeter


1. Eyes Slogans from, "Collectible Dolls & Accessories of the Twenties and Thirties from Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalogs" - Edited by Margaret Adams ©1986, Dover Publications

2. Information on the Four Basic Eyes used in Composition Dolls-"Eyes Used in the Production of Composition Dolls" Pages 21-25, Found in "The Collector's Encyclopedia of American Composition Dolls 1900-1950" Volume I, Author - Ursula Mertz ©1999, Ursula R. Mertz