EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 10, 2012

Not child's play

Haverhill woman turns toy passion into money-maker

If you tune into the Travel Channel’s “Toy Hunter” show on Nov. 14 at 9 p.m., you might see a familiar face.

Haverhill’s Catherine Stollak — a page designer here at The Eagle-Tribune — showed off her impressive toy collection on the popular show hosted by Jordan Hembrough, a renowned toy dealer.

Of course her collection — about 20 years in the making — isn’t only for enjoyment these days. She, like many of those on the show, has been able to parlay her passion for toys into a profitable home business.

It all started with her love of Strawberry Shortcake — not the dessert, but the “person.”

Strawberry Shortcake is the name of a character that graced greeting cards in the 1970s. The character’s popularity inspired the making of a doll, later a series of dolls, and eventually a cartoon about Strawberry Shortcake and her fellow sweetly-named friends like Lemon Meringue and Blueberry Muffin.

As a child, Stollak simply liked to play with the scented dolls. When she got older, she began to collect all things Strawberry Shortcake — from figures and accessories to rare pieces of Strawberry Shortcake art. Currently, it all sits on shelves in her basement, which she has nicknamed “Strawberry Land.”

“When I get new pieces, I am down here right away,” Stollak said, smiling as she looked at her collection, surveying it with pride. “I am not down here a lot just ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over it, though.”

Experts price her collection at $10,000. But the red-haired cherub-faced doll has a deeper meaning to Stollak than money.

“It’s a connection to childhood,” she said. “She is fun and sweet. There is an innocence about her that I really like.”

One of Stollak’s most valuable pieces is the unpainted prototype of a doll that never went into production, as well as the artwork that inspired it. About five years ago, Stollak paid about $250 for the prototype. For her it’s priceless — and by acquiring the original piece of art that inspired it, she increased its value significantly.

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