Vinyl doll expert Nick Hill figures people ponder, ``Why is grandpa playing with dolls?'' The 75-year-old retired organic chemist fell into his job of saving dolls while helping his wife save a Ginny doll that had lived in the attic for 40 years. Chemical reactions in soft vinyl caused the red dye from the doll's dress to imprint onto its body.
``I'm not a collector,'' Hill said in a July 12 telephone interview from his home in Scarborough, Maine.
``I'm an old chemist who got sucked into this. My wife had problems with collections.''
But Hill has the pedigree in saving plastics dolls, backed by 51 years as a chemist and three plastics technology patents. He wrote the book, The Definitive Book on the Care and Preservation of Vinyl Dolls and Action Figures.
According to the Toy Industry Association Inc., based in New York, and research firm NPD Group Inc., action figures and accessories in the United States alone were a $1.3 billion market in 2006; and dolls were a $2.7 billion market.
By Hill's estimate, nearly all dolls are made from vinyl and have been since at least the early 1950s, if not earlier.
``Vinyl is unique in that you can handle vinyl using any plastics equipment,'' he said. ``Injection molding, rotationally cast, extruded. Vinyl essentially is less expensive, comparatively.''
Vinyl changed doll making, allowing doll makers to root hair into the head, rather than using wigs or painted-on hair, according to the Connecticut Doll Artists.
The first large vinyl doll made in the United States was produced by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. in the 1950s and marketed as Ms. Revlon. In the decades following that, other dolls would be developed, including Barbie, which was produced and marketed by Mattel Inc. in El Segundo, Calif.
According to Mattel, Ruth Handler invented Barbie. The doll was introduced at the Toy Fair in New York in 1959. Handler got the idea for an adult fashion doll in the early 1950s while watching her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls.
G.I. Joe was developed by Pawtucket, R.I.-based company Hasbro Inc., which was the market's answer for dolls, renamed ``action figures,'' to sell to boys. He hit the market in 1963, according to the Toy Industry Association.
Nowadays, he said, Madame Alexander Doll Co. in New York is the only company that still makes its own vinyl dolls in the United States.
For Hill, the frenzy for dolls and action figures continues to fuel his business. The older the doll, the more use for his products.
``Brass earrings studs, the copper in the brass reacts with the chlorine in the PVC make copper chloride, which dissolves in the plasticizer that makes the doll flexible,'' he said. ``So you get a metal stain. The problem with that is that it's all through the vinyl. The product that I had to make to solve the problem had to penetrate the vinyl to get all the green stuff.''