Basement museum of childhood to be sold

One of the last great doll collections in private hands is to be sold on Friday because the owner, who exhibited them as Aunt Len's Doll and Toy Museum, is in failing health.

Aunt Len, otherwise known as Lenon Holder Hoyte, began collecting dolls after she staged a doll show in 1962 to raise money for the Harlem Hospital Mental Health Clinic in New York.

It fired her imagination and she began collecting dolls world-wide until she had amassed enough to open a doll museum in the basement of her home in Harlem.

Now in her eighties, Mrs Hoyte was a pioneer in the doll world, collecting at a time when people believed that cloth, composition and wood dolls were junk. The collection is expected to make up to £470,000.

One of the most unusual features of the sale at Sotheby's in New York is the rare German JD Kestner interchangeable head doll in its original box,estimated at £4,600 to £6,000. The doll, dating from about 1910, has three alternative heads. and might be better suited to serial killer rather than the average child.

The sale comprises the most exceptional two-thirds of Mrs Hoyte's collection, about 1,500 dolls.

There is also a dandified tin mechanical man with a clockwork mechanism which gives him the appearance of guffawing (about £330 to £530) and a head preacher toy which stands at a pulpit with strings at its base which can be pulled to make the figure swayfervently, raise his arms, and turn his head from side to side (£2,000 to £2,500).

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