Setting foot into the Doll Cottage, you just can't help turning intoa child again.
You want to hug the fluffy teddy bear, gently rockthe life-size baby doll napping in the antique crib and admire the delicate Victorian lace veil worn by the bride doll.
Propped up in a corner are Raggedy Ann and Andy. There's Dorothy,Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow, right out of the Wizard of Oz.
And who could resist the impish smile of "Daisy," a handmade porcelain doll? And you would certainly want to get right on the floor to have teawith the entire family of VanderBear bears.
The shelves of the doll shop on Belair Road, in Fallston, are bursting with dolls, bears, stuffed animals and collectibles wearing such well-known manufacturer's tags as Steiff (with the button in the ear), Annette Himstedt, Robin Woods, Royal Effanbee, Maude Humphrey, Jan Hagara, Jeri, Zook and Goetz.
If the name brands don't appeal to you, then you can createyour own porcelain doll in classes offered at the shop.
Putting together all these "childhood dreams" are Joan Bridges and her husband, Jim.
For more than 20 years, the Bridges have run their shop, supplying dolls, doll accessories and doll molds for collectors of all ages.
"You are never too old or too young for dolls," says Joan, 50, as she gently smoothes the hair of "Grandma" and "Grandpa" dolls resting on a wooden bench.
She remembers how happy a 65-year-old man was when his wife gave him his first teddy bear last Valentine's Day. And she says she'll never forget the little girl with long blond hair and large blue eyes who came to the shop clutching a broken doll.She hesitantly let go of the doll trusting Joan to make her prize possession well again in the "doll hospital."
"I just love this business," says Joan, a bright smile illuminating her face.
"The business originally started out as a ceramic shop in my basement back in 1967," she recalls. "I was just trying to keep busy, while my husband was stationed in Korea."
A growing clientele prompted a move to the first shop in 1970. And five years later the Bridges built the brick cottage that still houses the ever-expanding business.
The top floor of the cottage is turned into store rooms, while classrooms and Jim's Mud Room, where the retired soldier molds all the greenware, are found in the basement.
Though Joan still teaches ceramics, she is busiest with her porcelain doll-making classes. Every Wednesday morning and Tuesday and Thursday evenings she instructs students in the art of creating porcelain dolls.
To make a doll, says Joan, students first have to clean the molds (greenware) -- usually the face, legs and hands of the doll, at times the entire body, depending on the style of the doll.
The trimmed and cleaned molds then have to be hard-fired in a kiln at 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The parts are then porcelain painted and again fired, this time at 1,700 degrees. Eyelashes and eyes are added in the next step and, finally, the doll is assembled and dressed, and its wig is carefully coifed.
Joan estimates a doll can usually be finished in four or five two-hour sessions.
"Doll making is a time consuming task," says student Kathy Cothern, of Aberdeen, who so far has created 15 porcelain dolls. But, she adds,she enjoys watching the greenware and body parts slowly turn into a complete doll.
"It's like watching a baby being born," she says.
Just like children, she explains, each one is different. "You change the colors of the eyes and wigs and you have a completely different-looking doll," she adds.
A nurse, Cothern also finds the doll classes relaxing -- an antidote to her hectic work schedule. Most of thedolls she's created have been gifts for her mother, her 92-year-old grandmother and her 11-year-old daughter.
Though it takes time to create your own doll, it's worth it, because it's not as costly as buying a handmade porcelain doll.
While the average price for a store-bought, handmade doll is around $150, supplies for making your own doll average about $50, plus $2 for each doll-making class.
A signin the Doll Cottage reads "Caution, doll collecting may be hazardousto your wealth."
Of course, that's when the child in you quickly transforms into an adult again. One look at the $1,200 price tag for an antique German doll, dating back to the early 1900s, and you realize that doll collecting requires an adult wallet.
But, Joan says, there are plenty of affordable dolls available.
Though doll pricesat the cottage can range from $4 to $1,200, Joan says dolls usually cost between $50 and $70. Bears cost slightly less.
They can be purchased from $2 to $400, with the average price $25 to $35.
On a recent visit to the doll cottage, Cothern entered the store carrying adusty box filled with dolls and stuffed animals discovered in her mother's attic. She wanted Joan to appraise them -- another service offered at the cottage.
The attic treasures, dating back to the early1950s, weren't rare finds, according to Joan. "There are still quitea few of those around," she said while examining a large bride's doll still resting in its original box. "The doll and stuffed animals are worth about $45 to $50 each," she adds.
Sometimes a rare find will come to Joan.
About six month ago, a woman in her 70s came intothe store with a doll she and her two sisters had shared during childhood years.
"She had found it in her late sister's attic," says Joan, "and it turned out to be a rare antique German doll dating back to the early 1900s -- worth $10,000."
The doll was in excellent condition, needing only a few minor repairs.
"The woman called back a few months later to say she had sold it for $8,000 and split the profits with her remaining sister," recalls Joan.
Joan says it's moments like that that make this business not only fun, but also emotionally rewarding.