The Pryor Doll Collection

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One of the most interesting and highly-visible residents in Greenwich was Samuel Pryor, Jr. (1898-1986).

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Besides being very politically active, Mr. Pryor was head of Pan American Airways.  This would prove to be very instrumental in the development of his doll collection.  He told his managers to keep an eye out for any unusual dolls. They would mail overnight boxes from all over the world.  Sam inherited 300 dolls from an assistant vice president, Ann Archibald.   As he travelled himself, he picked up dolls from such countries as Thailand and Mexico.  He even recruited his friends - Charles Lindbergh and Gene Tunney - to help him acquire specimens he might add to his collection.  The collection ended up containing 8,000 dolls representing every religion, country and custom.   This was the largest and most valuable doll collection in the world at the time.  It soon outgrew its space in the main house (called the Pryory) in Field Point Park, and a barn was restored to hold the items.  He created the International Doll Library Foundation.  More and more visitors began visiting the museum, and he decided to hire a curator to catalog and preserve the items.  The Junior League took over guided tours of the collection. (Up until this time, Sam would give the tours, and talk to the public about the items.)

 

The collection had a large range of items, including lovely works of art to simple children's toys.  It contained dolls from as far back as 1300 BC, which were retrieved from ancient Greek and Egyptian tombs.  There were specimens from the colonial 1700s.  The finest piece was said to be a Samurai Warrior with full battle gear and very detailed.  There was a flag carried in one of the Apollo spacecrafts, which traveled to the moon.  Toy banks of many kinds were included.  There were First Day Covers of flight stamps, a 300-year old Flemish tapestry and unusual furniture pieces.  Mr. Pryor arranged his collection of dolls in such a way as to promote peace and understanding among nations.  For instance, he mixed Israeli dolls with Arabs.  He hoped this would provide a forum for discussion between different cultures.

 

Part of the collection (2,000 dolls) was supposed to be exhibited at the 1965 World's Fair.  Sam had made an agreement with Robert Moses to display them, but Sam backed out at the last moment, saying he couldn't turn a profit on the exhibit. This was after Moses went to great lengths to make sure no other doll exhibit "upstaged" Sam's!  Pryor allowed some of the collection to go to Japan on two occasions, at the request of the Emperor's wife.  In 1975 a large representation of the collection was exhibited at the 1970 World's Fair in Tokyo.

 

When Sam retired permanently to Hawaii, the collection was left to the International Doll Library Foundation.  Then in 1982, Sotheby's auctioned off most of the collection.  The Readers Digest and National Geographic both featured articles on the Pryor Doll Collection.  This is also discussed in Make It Happen: the Fascinating Life of Sam Pryor, Jr (Sam Pryor III, 2008).

Photo courtesy of National Geographic (1959).

1 Comment

I visited the home of Sam Pryor in the late 60's. My Aunt was Mr.Pryor's secretary at Pan Am, previously. It was amazing. We went through what looked like a barn, but it was full of dolls. Not a small barn but a huge barn full of dolls. Amazing for a little girl. Then we met with Mr. Pryor and the next thing I knew we were at the zoo. He had a beautifully landscaped property with cages containing monkeys. I will never forget it.My Aunt was called Clemence Haefelfinger, one of the nicest and most interesting people you could ever want to meet. I love her and miss her and thank her for giving me the aforementioned experience. r

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on August 12, 2010 3:53 PM.

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