Book: Velvalee Dickinson: The "Doll Woman" Spy by Barbara Caseycategories: Book, World War II, Spy, Doll Collecting, Japanese Culture, History, Imperial Japanese Goverment, Bright's Disease, USS Saratoga, USS Shaw, USS Lewisville, Ethel Kennedy, True Crime
Barbara Caseyabout this book: THE "DOLL WOMAN" SPY
Even as a young girl, Velvalee showed a keen interest in the Japanese and their culture. While attending Sacramento High School, she studied Japanese. After graduating from Leland Stanford Junior University, colloquially known as "the farm," she worked in social services where she assisted Japanese families, and later she became a bookkeeper for an agriculture brokerage firm located in the Japanese community of the Imperial Valley where she met her third husband, Lee Dickerson. It was during this time that she and her husband joined several Japanese societies with the stated purpose of promoting an awareness and appreciation of Japanese culture.
Because of these associations, it wasn't unusual for Velvalee to attend many social functions where she would meet high-ranking officials of the Imperial Japanese Government and its military. She frequently wore authentic Japanese dress, and entertained these same officials in her home. She had a vast collection of author-signed Japanese books, musical recordings, and Japanese jewelry.
At the age of 41, Velvalee started collecting dolls. She and Lee moved to New York after the brokerage company was shut down where she eventually opened the Velvalee Dickinson Doll Store on Madison Avenue. In New York, she quickly joined the Japanese societies as well as several professional doll-collecting organizations. Her clientele, which eventually numbered up to 20,000, included movie and Broadway stars, assorted social celebrities, politicians, as well as affluent men and women of the carriage trade. The prices she charged these collectors for her highly sought-after dolls started at a minimum of twenty-five dollars, with some of the more rare dolls fetching well into the thousands of dollars.
Velvalee was extremely proficient at marketing, and she frequently wrote for publication articles pertaining to dolls, she traveled around the country giving talks about doll collecting, she advertised regularly in the doll magazines, and, in short, quickly became known as an expert in the doll-collecting world. Most notable was her written correspondence with collectors who purchased dolls from her store. It was this abundance of letters that the FBI eventually focused on, ultimately bringing about the downfall of the "Number One American Spy" during World War II - Velvalee Dickinson.
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