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Library's 400 dolls to be sold

(ran T, NS, S editions of B)

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors and their origins can be traced to countries across the world.

But now this collection of more than 400 dolls is in storage at the Clearwater Library, waiting for a home.

Arlita Hallam, Clearwater Library director, said the city is trying to sell the dolls so it can purchase much-needed children's books and videos. The City Commission approved the sale June 3.

The dolls have been kept at the library for 53 years. They were donated by Helen Flagg, a Canadian-born woman who bought the dolls during her three trips around the globe. Mrs. Flagg spent her winters in Clearwater, Ms. Hallam said.

"They're international dolls, the kind you would buy on a trip," Ms. Hallam said. "They have been in storage all these years."

Currently, the library displays about 40 dolls in glass cases on a rotating basis. Ms. Hallam said she doesn't think the full collection was ever on display because of its large size.

Even the small display shows the collection's variation. Dolls from China stand with their white painted faces among cloth Pueblo Indian dolls. The dolls in storage represent a multitude of countries, from Uruguay to Poland.

Most of the dolls are worth between $5 and $20, but a few were valued at up to $550, said George McKibben, city purchasing manager. McKibben, who is organizing the sale, said 224 of the dolls recently were appraised at a total value of $15,152.

McKibben said he will locate a doll collector to handle the sale in mid-July.

"If we tried to sell them out of the city of Clearwater, we just don't have the expertise," McKibben said. "Obviously, this is a specialty market."

Shari Menton, a doll appraiser from Orlando who appraised the collection, said the dolls will cater only to a specialized market. "Ethnic doll collecting is a little more specific and limited. If they want to get the most for each item, it will take longer."

Ms. Hallam said there was not much opposition to selling the dolls, but Clearwater resident and City Hall watchdog Lois Cormier, a self-described doll lover, is one of those opposed to the sale.

"They're exquisite," Mrs. Cormier said. "I get very upset about (the sale). All our library director can see are dollar signs. They're part of our history."

Mrs. Cormier suggested placing the dolls in a museum. But she conceded that in the end, selling the dolls just may be the best option. "Someone's going to buy those dolls and give them a wonderful home," she said. "Maybe that's better."