Hillary Ellis

The Eyes Have It

When The Strong museum recently acquired a Shirley Temple doll from the 1930s, it went to the museum’s doll conservator Darlene Gengelbach for treatment. These dolls have sleep eyes that open and close with metal rockers. The rocker is a spindle attached to the inside of the doll's head with a small weight attached to a metal plate. Each painted metal eye has a celluloid pupil and iris.

More significantly, the celluloid centers of Shirley Temple's eyes appeared "crazed," a term conservators use to describe fine cracking throughout the early plastic. In the early 20th century, manufacturers used celluloid to make knife handles, fountain pens, and phonograph records. It imitated ivory, wood, tortoiseshell, or bone. When celluloid deteriorates, it can appear cloudy, cracked, or shattered. After a certain point in time, the celluloid's inherent vice causes it to catastrophically fail, crumbling or shattering into small glass-like chips. The Shirley Temple doll we acquired had celluloid eyes that were in the late stages of deterioration.

Rolling Out the First Driving Game

I’ve admired The Strong’s vintage Drive-Mobile arcade game since the first time I stood in front of it with Martin Reinhardt, the museum’s arcade game conservation technician. It was exciting to see how the first arcade driving game—a popular and enduring genre—actually worked. Martin opened the back of the game for me and demonstrated the mutoscope drum design in action. Early mutoscope machines contained a revolving flipbook on a spindle to create the illusion of a moving image when a customer looked through the viewfinder. The International Mutoscope Company first made coin-operated mutoscope machines before they eventually branched out to produce arcade games such as Drive-Mobile.