International Doll Collection

Ethel Averbach

In 1994, the International Institute was surprised to receive a letter from a woman in New York who was, up to then, unknown to the International Institute. Ethel Averbach explained that she had been collecting dolls since she was a small girl. When she was very young, in the early 20th century, she had an idea that she wanted to assemble a collection of dolls from all over the world, dressed in native costumes. She obtained a list of all the world leaders and their addresses and wrote them all letters. She explained that she was a little girl in New York and explained her plan for a collection of international dolls. She asked if she could be sent a doll from their country, dressed in a native costume. Much to her surprise, many countries replied by sending her a package containing the requested doll. This was only the start of her collection. In her adult life, she traveled all over the world and added many more dolls to a collection that eventually numbered over 2,500, from 150 countries.

In her communications with the International Institute, she explained she was worried that, when she passed on, her doll collection would not be appreciated and would scatter to the wind. While she was alive, she wanted to donate her collection to a museum or other organization that would appreciate her collection and display it so others could appreciate the richness of cultural heritage around the world. She explained she had spent much time researching museums and other organizations, all over the United States, and chose the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit to receive her donation. The Board of Directors of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit sent a representative to New York to meet with Mrs. Averbach and gratefully accepted her donation. She was later invited to visit Detroit and attend a function in her honor, where many supporters of the International Institute personally thanked her for her very generous donation.

The International Institute is now proud to display the Ethel Averbach International Doll Collection, the world's largest collection of dolls dressed in native costumes. Thirty-five showcases of exhibits feature antique to contemporary dolls, as well as teddy bears, artifacts, and miniatures. Visitor are welcome during hours the International Institute is open for business and when the exhibit area is not closed for private functions. Please call ahead for details to (313) 871-8600.