Theresa's Dolls & Gifts
 
Theresa Neaves Photograph"A Lady And Her Dolls"

Late in the 1950’s my mother, Theresa Neaves, started selling cards in our home, in Hamilton, Montana. She had them in a cupboard in the living room and people would come by to buy a single card or a box. Some of her friends were making ceramic items and she added pieces to sell. After a while she added glass vases, cups and saucers and some gift items.

She had always loved dolls and never been able to own them. Even as a child, she only had one. She went to the local banker and asked for a $500.00 loan to allow her to purchase some dolls to sell in her store. After some pleading, she got her loan.

The first dolls she purchased were “Muffy” dolls. They were 7 inch play dolls, very cute and special in their time. She, and some of her friends, sewed clothes for them, to sell separate from the dolls. Little girls and their moms loved them and her business grew.

My Dad built a small room onto our house and it became her store. With her name on the window and a separate door, she was in business. She added some more lines of dolls, namely Vogue and Effanbee. She eventually outgrew that room and needed to look for a new place to display her lovely dolls.

My Dad remodeled old houses and they bought a two story house on Main Street.  She moved her store into the bottom portion of that house and an apartment was upstairs.  She ran her business at that location and had more exposure, since it was located on the main street.  While there she added Madame Alexander to her selection of dolls.  They were considered the very top of the line and she was popular with people from surrounding towns.  She became one of the Alexander companies top retailers for many years. During this time she began keeping some special dolls to start a collection of her own.

In 1965 my Dad purchased an old building on north 2nd street.  It was a two story building with another building beside it that had housed an old blacksmith shop.  It was in the downtown section of Hamilton and a good location for the store.  Mom moved her business to the lower floor of the two story building and her inventory grew even larger. All of this she was doing on her own, by getting loans and buying stock and repaying with her sales.  She was a good business woman.

In 1968 Dad purchased a set of antique cases from an old pharmacy, in Victor, that was closing.  He remodeled the old blacksmith shop and made Moms permanent store. She had more display area and a large backroom for her storage.  There was also a small room to the side that she later called her museum room and put a small amount of her collection on display. In her new location, she expanded her dealerships to include Kingstate, Gadco and Nabor Kids.

My Dad opened a “new and used” store in the building she moved out of.  He began going to auction sales and estate sales to purchase for his store   He found many wonderful dolls in the boxes he purchased and they were added to her collection  He also liked to dig in dumps for old bottles and unearthed some bisque dolls that could be salvaged, with some care.

Mom's store was kind of a hodge podge of cases and cabinets, but it was a fairy land of dolls.  Her passion for them, and her knowledge, brought people from near and far to visit and come back every chance they got.  Many people would sit and stay for hours visiting with her. She was a warm, loving, friendly person and everyone loved “the doll lady” or just Theresa herself.

Her collection is a wide variety of dolls.  Some she got from her dealerships or collector clubs.  She also belonged to the Historical Society and purchased some wonderful historical dolls from them. People would come by or write about dolls they wanted to sell or give to her.  She got many wonderful pieces that way also.

In 1996 we built the current store in Florence, Montana and I opened my business.  Mom and I each ran our stores and shared inventory and dealerships.  Our new store also shared the name.

Over the years she suffered from many serious health problems, but it was hard to keep her down and away from the store and dolls.  In 2001 illness made it impossible for her to return to the store and it was closed with everything still in it’s place.  When she had to go to a care facility, we would take some of her special dolls to visit and some stayed in her room.  Being the saleswoman that she was, she made some sales from her bed.  She passed away January 27, 2003.  Her comfort was in knowing we were building a Museum to house her treasures and that they wouldn’t be sold.  She never saw the museum finished with the dolls in place, but I believe she sees them all and highly approves of their displays.  She leaves a void that will never be filled.

My Dad passed away on March 12, 2005.  When we went through the house, we found many dolls in closets and drawers.  There were also many antique treasures, from glassware, pottery and
other items too numerous to mention.  Many of them are currently in the museum, along with some wonderful antique furniture

The Museum

We opened for viewing in 2004.  The cases had been moved from Moms store and installed here.  We built the room to include 4 small enclosed rooms to display dolls with furniture.  The rooms are each decorated with a different doll border, lace curtains and rugs to compliment the room. The dolls are displayed to highlight their personality.There is a large variety of dolls that range from the 1800’s to current.  There are china head, bisque, vinyl, plastic, composition, celluloid, cloth and hand carved wooden dolls.  Several displays of Oriental dolls from various regions and, even Chinese paper dolls, are of interest to many.   Some special figurines and antique glassware or pottery are displayed to brighten the displays. The dolls are displayed in a way to show the beauty of each.

I have, and continue, to add to the collection with special dolls, as I acquire them, so the collection will continue to grow.

We are hoping to be able to obtain financing to build an addition to double the size of the existing museum space.  I only have about half of the dolls from my mothers collection displayed.  I also have been given dolls from several other collections.  One sweet lady in Minnesota is sending me her cherished collection and I would love to be able to properly display each of those dolls.  I have been given some others that people wanted to go to the collection, rather than be sold or, worse, discarded.  Some are in need of TLC or clothes, while others are just waiting for a place to be shown.  I also have more furniture and some tapestry from Egypt that  we would display in an  addition.  I would like to add a room for coffee and refreshments  that could be available for small groups  to use.  I have a wonderful, hand made, wall cabinet and beautiful antique dishes to display in it.  The dishes belonged to my grandmother, who passed away when I was 12.  She had willed all of them to me. I used to go to have lunch with her and take all of these wonderful pieces out of the cupboard and wash them for her.  There are some beautiful pieces and I would like to have them out for all to enjoy.

We are open Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. Special arrangements can be made for Sundays or evenings by pre-arrangement.  Groups are welcome and you can stay as long as you want.  Admissions is free, with donations appreciated. You will enjoy the time you spend and, we hope, bring others back to see it too.  We are a hidden treasure to be enjoyed!! Take time to come and see the collection, store and visit, You will be glad you did.

 

 

 

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Theresa's Dolls & Gifts Pearl Bullet 5908 Eastside Highway, Florence, Montana 59833
(406) 273-6332 Pearl Bullet mtdollhouse@aol.com