Mega fun at Metrodolls

As you read in my previous post, This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend Metrodolls, an annual event hosted by the Metrodolls club in New Jersey. My only complaint about the event is that it was over much too soon. Metrodolls attempts to squeeze all of the activities of your typical weekend-long doll event into six hours. So it’s a bit of a whirlwind that seems to be over soon after it begins.

The main event was preceded by another event by Kingdom Doll, in which participants were treated to a presentation about this relative newcomer to the fashion doll scene. “Liberty,” was the event doll, an exclusive to the Kingdom Doll event. While I appreciate the beauty of these dolls and their exquisite wardrobes, their look is not for me. Which is good, considering their eyebrow-raising price tag.

For me, the festivities began soon after I flew into Newark and took a taxi to the hotel. As soon as I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by doll friends I hadn’t seen since my move from Maryland to Florida eight years ago. We had a brief reunion with lots of hugs and then went to settle down into our rooms. Soon after, I was shopping in room of the talent behind “YumYum Couture.” I purchase an exquisitely tailored distressed faux leather jacket. It was difficult to limit myself to just one piece.  IMHO, “YumYum” is one of the best seamstresses in the fashion doll world.

I then joined a cadre of doll enthusiasts for dinner in the hotel lobby, where the excitement about the day ahead grew with each glass of red wine. After a few hours of nonstop chatter, the group retired for the evening.

Upon going to bed, I set my alarm for 7am, as I promised to help Ed Ferry of “Happily Ever After” set up his vendor table the next morning. I hadn’t told him that one of the chief motivations of my offer of help was to get a sneak preview of the vendor room’s goodies.

The wine from dinner made me fall asleep very quickly, and the next thing I remember was my phone ringing from across the room, where I had plugged it in. As I stumbled over to it, I looked at the alarm clock next to the bed. 10:56 am.

WTF???!!!???!!!!

I set my alarm for 7am! I swore did! The event started an hour ago!

I’ve never thrown on clothes faster in my life. Given the choice of showering and brushing my teeth or shopping in a doll vendor room was no contest. I ran out of my room with wild hair and no deodorant. I know my priorities.

It was 11:08 am when I arrived in the vendor room. I rushed over to poor Ed, who had been the one calling me, and I apologized profusely for not helping him set up. Being the ever-sweet Ed, he told me not to worry about it, and that he was about to beat down my room door, for he knew that nothing short of near-death would keep me from this event.

But I digress.

I made a quick run-through of the room, gazing at the eye candy. Sandra Stillwell and Flutterwing Designs had particularly tempting items. But I held off, as I knew I was going to bid on some auction items, and I had to save my funds for that.

In a room adjoining the vendor room was a magnificent display of every single doll and souvenir item ever offered by Metrodolls at its annual event. It was beautifully done and a great trip down memory lane. The souvenir dolls from this event have always been some of Tonner’s best work, and many have become grails over the years, difficult to find on the secondary market.

I was still drooling over these dolls when attendees were called into the ballroom for lunch. Presentations from Kingdom Doll, Marcia Friend (of “Facets by Marcia“), and Robert Tonner (who narrated a great presentation of the fashions of “ladies who lunch”) were followed by some sort of chicken dish. (I’ve always thought that the food at these events is besides the point. It’s nearly always some type of rubbery chicken, and who has any interest in eating when there are dolls to be ogled in every direction?)

During some free time after the event, I purchased a ridiculous number of tickets for the raffle, which offered a stunning array of tempting dolls.  I then headed to the Metrodolls table, where I saw Tonner’s “companion dolls,” a blonde and redhead basic named “Carmela,” after a member of Metrodolls who passed away last year. The dolls use the Shauna/Sweetheart sculpt, and they immediately took my breath away. I purchased one of each as well as some previous Metrodolls outfits on sale.

The intermission was followed by the much-anticipated charity auction. The artist dolls, outfits, and props were stunning, and the bidding was fierce for several items. The much-talked-about Kingdom Doll fetched an eye-popping $8,000. Other items, like YumYum’s gorgeous Victorian walking outfit and Tonner Doll’s elegant OOAK Marley also went to high bidders. With all of the proceeds going to charity, it was great to witness the generosity of the winning bidders.

The souvenir doll unveiling followed the auction. This year’s doll was a Marley in a lace and tulle gown and outrageous white crimped hair. She was striking, no doubt about it, but she wasn’t for me. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to my dolls, so I knew I was going to offer Marley to someone else who would appreciate her more.

The raffle drawing concluded the event, and I was lucky enough to win a play doll for my niece and a beautiful silk sheath dress.

And then before we knew it, the event had ended. As I hadn’t won any auctions, I had dolly money burning a hole in my pocket, so I dashed into the vendor room to made a last-minute purchase from Ed of Happily Ever After. I added to my collection a lovely Veronique I’ve had my eye on for some time.

If you simply must have one of the fabulous dolls or outfits from the event, Metrodolls will soon have them on their site for purchase. I highly recommend Carmela. She is a lovely sculpt.

And thus endeth my one doll event this year, with champagne wishes and caviar dolly dreams in my head.

Carmela3
You know you want me.

Anticipation

There is nothing quite as exciting to a doll collector as the exquisite anticipation of a doll event. Those of you who have been to one know what I am talking about. A doll event is the one place we can go to in which we are completely surrounded by people who “get” us, or at least “get” our passion for our hobby. It’s the one place we don’t have to explain our hobby to the uninitiated—those who can’t understand why a grown woman would buy 500 “Barbie dolls.” It’s the one place where we aren’t judged for putting down $300 for “just a doll” crafted by an amazing artist who should be getting much more for her efforts. And it is the one place where you can literally squeal with excitement upon winning a doll raffle and not be carted off to the Funny Farm.

Tomorrow I will attend Metrodolls in Iselin, New Jersey—an annual event founded by the Metrodolls club about a decade ago. I attended once before nine years ago, and, as I do at all doll events, I had a lovely time. The souvenir doll was a beautiful raven Tyler in black and red, and the companion doll was a pretty Shauna with variegated hair dressed in a bedtime ensemble. Both of these dolls are still in my collection.

Metro Style Tyler
Sweetheart Style Shauna

While Metrodolls is a terrific time packed with the events all doll collectors hold dear—vendors, raffles, auctions, presentations, and the great souvenir doll reveal—it is also all too short. Given that I’ve been looking forward to this event since I decided in February to attend, that’s a lot of buildup over a one-day event.

But as I sit in my hotel room in New Jersey and write this, I am reminded that I am here for more than the dolls—I am here for the doll people. I reunited with several people in my former doll club this evening, and I had a wonderful time catching up with them and chatting with collectors I haven’t met before. Doll collecting is as much about the personalities that make up our community as it is about the art we collect.

So tomorrow when I squeal with joy over being called as the winner of a raffle, or when I gasp in delight when the souvenir doll is revealed, or when I squeeze through a crowded vendor table to lay claim to that perfect little black doll dress, I will know that I am in the company of people who understand completely where I am coming from.

Before and After

So several of you contacted me after I wrote my entry about the travails of moving a considerable doll collection, asking to be updated as my move progresses. At that point, I was trying to impose some order into packing up my 514 treasures (yes, I counted). Since then, my husband and two other manly men undertook the task of moving “my girls” to a storage facility in anticipation of showing our house (not without the occasional snarky remark, of course). Our Realtor seemed to  think that 514 dolls may be a bit distracting to prospective buyers looking the place over. I can’t image why. Personally, it would make me buy the house in a minute. But that’s just me, I suppose.

Anyway, with the majority of my girls secured in a climate-controlled facility, their former home (the erstwhile “doll room”) is astoundingly spacious. I did reserve my right to keep a few (well, 30) out of captivity, as those dolls are either very close to my heart or represent a significant financial investment (sometimes both). And there is no way I am going to let them out of my sight. I’ll walk all 1,000 miles to Maryland with them in my arms, if need be.

Today is the first day our house is on the market. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date as the Great Dolly Move Drama progresses. For now, without further ado, below is a pictorial timeline of my dolly move thus far.

From this:

To this:

To this:

The doll that made me eat my words

I’ve always sworn I’d never allow any “playline” dolls into my collection. I despised their skinny bodies and what were usually bulbous heads. (Of course, I have no problem collecting Ellowyne, so I’m a hypocrite in that area.) But I held my ground. Barbies (with the exception of Silkstones) were cheap and gaudy, Monster High dolls were freakish, and Bratz were just icky. Any of these dolls and their many knock-offs would look even cheaper than they already were if I put them next to a stylish Tonner or Numina doll. No, thank you. REAL collectors do not allow big-headed plastic freaks of nature into their collections.

And then I met McKeyla. I spotted her in the Toys R US store in Times Square in New York. I take a lot of business trips to New York City, and I always try to sneak in a visit to the ginormous Toys R Us in Times Square. I was walking through the doll department (of course), when I found this new line of dolls called “Project Mc (squared).” It is a series of 10-inch tween girls that aspire to be scientists. Some of them come with science “experiments” you can do at home. They are adorable, and I love the idea of selling aspiring scientists to little girls in the form of dolls their own age.

Then “McKeyla McAlistster” looked at me with her big green eyes inset in her bulbous head and her cute little t-shirt and shorts. “Buy me,” she whispered. “I won’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret.”

“But my other girls will make fun of you,” I told her. “They are all perfectly proportioned. And you look ridiculous with your big head and impossibly skinny legs and arms. You will be the laughing stock of my doll room.”

McKeyla looked hurt. Then she narrowed her eyes at me. “So what about Ellowyne, Prudence, and Rufus? Are they what you call ‘perfectly proportioned?’ Rumor has it that your own husband refers to Ellowyne as ‘that encephalitic doll.’ And my aspirations go far beyond suffering from chronic ennui.”

McKeyla was right. I looked at her price tag. Seventeen dollars. What kind of sophisticated doll collector spends $17 on a doll? That barely covers the postage of some of the dolls I buy.

I looked at McKeyla again and took a deep breath. “Ok,” I said, “but I’m not buying any of your friends.”

She looked at me knowingly. “Of course you’re not,” she said.

I picked up her box a little more roughly than necessary and headed for the checkout line.

After going back to my hotel, I took McKeyla out of her box and looked hard at her. She was adorable, and I loved her back story of wanting to be a scientist when she grew up. Each of the girls in the MC (squared) line represents one of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). Given the paucity of girls who are encouraged to pursue these fields, it was great to see this effort to encourage girls to role play as tomorrow’s coders and mathematicians.

As far as McKeyla’s construction goes, her plastic body was pretty light and cheap, and her articulation was minimal. But her hair was thick and long and curly, and she had the perfect number of faint freckles across her nose. “Aren’t you glad you bought me?” she asked.

“I guess so,” I said.

“A doll doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be collectible,” she said, giving me a knowing look.

The damned thing was smart, too.

So today, a week after McKeyla entered my life, I found myself in Wal-Mart, shopping for a few household items. After a while, I succumbed to the siren song of the toy department and scanned the shelves for the E=Mc (squared) dolls. I soon found them. I sorted through McKeyla’s sisters, reminding myself of my determination not to furnish McKeyla with any siblings.

And then I saw Bryden Bandweth. She included a “science experiment” (materials to make a glow stick), and she wore a cute, casual, layered outfit. And then I saw her articulation. Apparently, the dolls in these more expensive doll + experiment kits had bodies with articulated elbows, wrists, and knees. A cute face AND articulation. For $25.

Dammit.

When I brought Bryden home, I tried to hide her from McKeyla for as long as possible to avoid her obnoxious “I told you so” stare. But I did intend to display them together, so I ultimately had to introduce them. I was right about McKeyla’s reaction.

“So you only lasted a week, huh?” she sneered.

“Oh, shut up,” I told her.

But this is it. I mean it. No more playline dolls. When I’m in NYC again next week, I will not go to Times Square.

I think.

(For a truly thorough review of McKeyla, check out The Toy Box Philosopher.)

How (not) to sell dolls on eBay

The vast number of collectors of fashion dolls are also sellers of fashion dolls. Some people are retailers as well as collectors, but the main reason people sell is to generate funds for the market’s newest shiny objects. Fashion doll collectors are a notoriously fickle lot. What they are scrimping and saving to buy today, they are selling at half-off tomorrow to buy something new. In recent years, I’ve seen collections turn from vinyl to resin seemingly overnight. Although my own collection has undergone a similar transformation, I tend to be a hanger-on to dolls no longer in vogue while my collector friends march on ahead of me to the next trend.

And yet, in the two decades I’ve been in this hobby, the hundreds of Barbies that once populated my shelves have given way to Tyler and Co. and many of her 16-inch sisters. Child dolls created by Annette Himstedt, Jan McLean, and Helen Kish also adorn my doll room. I’ve even returned to the 12-inch crowd in the form of the occasional Fashion Royalty gal who joins the ranks. In all, I probably have about a dozen Barbies left—out of the hundreds that once populated my mini-Mattel Altar of Pink.

In the very recent past, even my strong determination never to let those expensive, fragile, bitchy-looking fashion resin BJD monstrosities onto my shelves has come crashing down as two Numina sisters and a Modsdoll somehow made their way into my home. And then they were joined by two child resin BJDs, which had previously looked like grotesque alien children to me. (What’s worse—I actually sold some vinyl dolls to afford them. Oh, the hypocrisy!)

Now Tonner’s fashion dolls—and even the occasional Silkstone Barbie—still make their way into my home. I still purchase more Tonner dolls than any other. With the possible exception of Paul Pham, I think Robert Tonner continues to corner the market on beautifully realistic facial sculpts. And, of course, I do not have to sell a kidney to afford a Tonner doll. But when a gorgeous resin BJD does turn my head and I “have to have” her, there usually isn’t an extra $600 floating around in my bank account. So the rows of girls currently lining my shelves cower in fear as I contemplate how much each is worth and who to vote off Dolly Island.

But turning those dollies destined for new homes into cash is no easy proposition. It’s not that there aren’t potential buyers out there—there are plenty. The question is how to reach them and entice them to buy your goods. So below is a brief primer on how to sell a fashion doll in today’s secondary market—even if you have to do it on EvilBay.

Rule #1: Treat eBay as a last resort.

The first rule of selling on eBay is to avoid eBay at all costs. Long-time eBay sellers will tell you that the world’s largest flea market has become incredibly hostile to sellers to the point that their sales have become entirely dependent on the good will of their buyers—which is often in scant supply. Over the years, eBay has slowly chipped away at any recourse sellers once had against dishonest—and sometimes outright criminal—buyers. And we are not talking nickles and dimes here—high-end fashion dolls can be quite pricey.

Listing eBay’s sins against buyers would take up more space than I care to dedicate in this column, but suffice it to say that the company now compels sellers to accept returns from buyers for any reason and to pay the buyer’s return shipping on top of that. Oh, and your seller rating will suffer as well. I once had to accept a return from a buyer for a baby doll that the buyer claimed was defective because the baby doll would not stand up. I paid return shipping and had my nine-year-running 100% rating downgraded. Because this woman expected a baby to stand up.

Yes, it’s gotten that ridiculous.

And the fees have quadrupled since I joined eBay in 2004. The company now cheerfully takes a whopping 10% cut of your sales in return for its stellar customer service. And, of course, eBay also owns Paypal, and, since sellers are required to conduct their transactions through Paypal, they too can raise their transaction rates at will. It’s like paying to be mugged—twice—with each transaction. And until a viable competitor arises, those double fees are going nowhere but up.

Rule #2: Explore alternative selling venues.

So before heading to eBay with your precious dollies, exhaust all other resources. They do exist, and they can work well. Sellers on doll boards not only avoid eBay’s headaches and fees, selling within the doll community also often means dealing with a much more honest group of people. Over the past ten years, I’ve had two doll deals conducted on doll boards go bad. On eBay, I’ve lost count. Doll boards do a terrific job at policing their own communities. Buyers and sellers know that if they screw one person, their names quickly become mud as their identities spread like wildfire across the dolly universe. And it’s not a large group of people we’re talking about, so it’s not difficult to ruin your reputation across multiple boards after a deal gone bad on just one board. As I’ve said before, you don’t want to f*** with doll collectors.

When searching for venues for selling your dolls, don’t just limit yourself to your local doll message board. Collectors have set up swapping/selling/trading Facebook pages specifically for collectors of specific dolls. Mister Dollface, a new collector-run secondary marketplace, has gotten off to a good start. I’ve had some very smooth transactions on both Facebook and Mister Dollface, although not without first doing my due diligence. Honest buyers/sellers should always be happy to provide good references. Use caution and common sense before approaching any deal—particularly a pricey one.

And speaking of pricing, keep in mind that when you are selling off eBay, you are saving yourself not only the hefty eBay fees, but also a potentially significant amount of pain and suffering. So when pricing items for sale on a doll board, Facebook, or Mister Dollface, I start with what I think the doll will sell for on eBay, deduct eBay’s 10% fee, and then take another 5%-10% off for avoiding what I call eBay’s general “pain and suffering.” So if the doll sells, it’s ultimately not for much less than I would have gotten on eBay, and the savings is passed on to the buyer. Everybody wins.

Rule #3: Do your homework.

So, if the informal, online doll collector network is such a great place to sell, why do we need EvilBay at all? One word: Reach. eBay’s vast, international reach means that more potential bidders will see your goods than on any other venue. When I really need to sell a doll fast, EvilBay is unsurpassed in its reach to interested buyers. Dolls that have lingered for months on the doll boards to which I belong often sell in days on eBay. So, whether you have a particularly expensive doll to sell and need a wider reach, or if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you must go to the Dark Side, follow these tips:

Rule #4: Price to sell.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 75% of the fashion doll auctions currently listed on eBay are priced in the upper stratosphere of the market. I’m sorry, but an unremarkable mint Tyler Wentworth doll from the 2006 line is not going to fetch you $249. No matter how many times you renew your auction.

The optimism I see in such auctions is truly stunning to behold. And it gives people like me a chance. Sellers who know how to price, sell. And they can sell high. One weekly reseller of mostly Tonner products lists each item on eBay at $9.99. And her items often fetch top dollar.

But sometimes they don’t. Pricing competitively also means taking a risk. How much of a risk is, of course, up to you. But whatever you decide, do yourself a favor and don’t price your item in the dark. Do your homework. Researching price is one thing eBay does make ridiculously easy. A simple advanced search of completed listings will tell you what amounts your item has fetched in the recent past. And it will likely give you a longer list of overly enthusiastic prices that bidders have passed on—repeatedly.

My own strategy is to take the average winning bid and price somewhat below that. How much below? Here comes the gambling part. Simple psychology will tell you that bidders are more likely to bid an item up if the starting price is low. That’s why an item with a starting bid of $29.99 may ultimately go for $225, while the same item listed at a BIN of $225 will linger unpurchased indefinitely. When bidders see a $29.99 starting bid for an item worth eight times as much, they are more likely to take a gamble to get a “deal,” even if they ultimately end up paying the same price as a fully priced item. Thrill of the hunt and all that.

So let’s say I have a doll that I wish to sell on eBay. I research past prices and find a high-selling price of $150 and a low-selling price of $100. So I list the item at $75, which will hopefully make the item attractive to bargain-hunters hoping to score a deal. The risk, of course, is that bidding will stop at $75, and I will end up low-balling myself. The rosiest outlook is that I will start a bidding war and the auction will close on the high end—or beyond. Pricing the item very low, say, at $9.99, can attract a good number of bargain hunters and ultimately drive your item sky-high as bidders lose their collective heads in the auction’s waning moments. But, like all bets, don’t count on it. It does happen. But not always.

Rule #5: Take damned good pictures.

Following this simple rule will put you heads and shoulders above your eBay competition. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can make your item more attractive to potential buyers than a few decent photographs showing the item to its best advantage. This especially holds true today, given that most bidders no longer bother with actually reading the item description at all.

I have scored more than a few bargains on eBay by bidding on poorly photographed items that I knew to be valuable. And I have sold at higher-than-market prices items that I managed to photograph particularly well.

You don’t have to be a gifted photographer to make your item visually attractive to potential bidders. Just light your item well, take crisp, clear images, and highlight those little details (shoes, earrings, embroidery) that make your item worth its asking price. This is the best no-brainer advice I can give you on achieving eBay selling success.

Rule #6: Protect yourself.

eBay’s never-ending slew of policies hostile to buyers has put on the onus on us to protect ourselves. Of course, there is only so much we can do within the eBay universe, but some proactive measures may shield us from potential problems before they begin.

First, try to protect yourself from well-publicized “past offenders.” Many doll boards will keep lists of the eBay IDs of dishonest buyers and sellers, and those lists are often updated frequently as IDs are changed and new scammers emerge. Adding these individuals to your “blocked bidders” list on eBay may provide you with some measure of protection.

Also pay attention to your auction “boilerplate,” which should detail your terms of sale. eBay will not enforce any of these terms, of course, but there is the off chance that a bidder will actually read your description and police him/herself. Terms in my own boilerplate include “final sale,” “no full or partial returns,” “please ask all questions before bidding,” and “payment expected within three days.” Again, non-enforceable, but there’s the off chance someone may read it.

One can dream.

Rule #7: Use eBay “services” as little as possible.

Over the years, eBay has multiplied its convenient seller “options” that exploit its ability to rob you of more of your already-miniscule earnings. All-inclusive international shipping services are but one. Avoid these like the plague.

I’ve always avoided squabbles over shipping fees but simply offering flat rates. Sometimes this works in my favor, sometimes not. But it all generally works out in the end, saving both me and the buyer much unnecessary grief. The buyer is under no illusions as to what the shipping costs will be, and it is much, much easier on my end. And my educated guesses are usually pretty accurate. For example, for an average-sized Tonner doll box, I’ll usually charge about $13, and the actual costs, nation-wide, generally fall into that range.

*****

Whether you’re a newby collector or a hardened veteran like me, selling online isn’t for the faint of heart. But that said, it’s also–at least for me–one of the most exciting things about the collecting experience. Refreshing my collection by letting go dolls that I have cared for and loved in favor of new discoveries yet to be experienced is fun. And trying to get top dollar for my dolls can be an enjoyable challenge. But–whether you list on eBay or elsewhere–always look before you leap, and remember that, in today’s online environment, the first rule of doll commerce should always be: “Seller beware.”

Throwback Tonner (#TBTonner): Sydney Chase

Like many long-time Tonner collectors, I have vivid memories of my first encounters with Ms. Sydney Chase. Sydney made her entrance into Tyler Wentworth’s world of high fashion in 2001—just two years after Tyler’s debut. Sydney’s beauty was entirely different from that of Tyler’s, a notable contrast that quickly captured the imaginations of her growing legions of fans. Whether intentional or not, Tyler’s wholesome beauty stood in stark contrast to Sydney’s haughty sophistication. Their physical differences sparked the creativity of their fans, and different forms of fan fiction soon surfaced. Most fans agreed on the dichotomy the two dolls represented—Tyler the wholesome, over-achiever, and Sydney, the world-wise, scheming business woman. While Tyler cultivated friendships and family bonds, Sydney thrived on duplicity and deception on her way up the New York City social ladder. While Tyler designed wholesome outfits for her prep-school tween sister, Sydney bought and sold the models at her Chase Modeling Agency like so much chattel. While Tyler slept exclusively with her boyfriend, Matt O’Neill, Sydney slept exclusively with everybody.

I began collecting Robert Tonner’s dolls in 2004, three years after Sydney made her appearance in the Tyler Wentworth line. She was then at the peak of her popularity, often selling out on pre-orders. I recall those heady days of anxiously awaiting the newest Tyler line to go live on the Tonner website, jotting down which dolls I wanted to order and quickly forwarding my list to my dealer, in hopes I would get to her in time. Most dealers gave modest discounts to attract business, but in those days there was no need for deep reductions. Those dolls went like hotcakes, and, even though their edition numbers ran into the thousands, they could multiply in value several times over on the secondary market. Accusations of dolls scalping ran high as people bought low and sold high.

The vast majority of my early Sydneys remain in my collection. Dolls like “Black and White Ball,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Absolutely Aspen,” with their fantastic fabrics, exquisite detailing, and perfect tailoring have remained classics long after their novelty faded. Many of my dolls remain dressed just as they were they day I received them. “Cocktails on the Plaza,” “Beyond Envy,” and “Just Divine” are all perfect combinations of sculpt, color, and style. Looking back on Sydney’s numerous incarnations 15 years after her debut, it’s astounding how few of them were fashion “misses” (I’m looking at you, “High Style 1.0”). That’s quite a feat when you consider how many fashion dolls Robert Tonner was churning out at the time. Once he introduced Tyler and Sydney and their fantastic fashions to the world, Tonner’s reputation in the hallowed halls of doll artistry was sealed.

And so I begin what will be my new weekly feature, “Throwback Tonner” (#TBTonner), with a brief homage to Ms. Sydney Chase with a handful of the many photos I’ve take of her in years past. Here’s to you, Syd. May you remain as beautiful—and as bitchy—as you were the day we first met.

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Spring Prelude Syd

A WONDERful Surprise

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It’s not my intention to turn my blog into a doll sales notification service, but I gotta share the love with this one. Tonner Direct sent out an email to its subscribers this afternoon alerting them to a liquidation sale on its Diana Prince (aka “Wonder Woman”) line. This line re-imagines Wonder Woman’s alter-ego, Diana Prince, as a fashionable woman about town. Robert Tonner incorporates into each ensemble subtle references to Diana’s true identity, such as elements of red, white, and blue, and star charms on earrings, bracelets, and belts. I think it is a brilliant re-imagining of a female archetype that strikes a chord particularly for my generation, which delighted in Lynda Carter’s adventures fighting bad guys every Friday evening.

Originally intending to purchase just two outfits, I somehow ended up with three outfits and two dressed dolls in my cart before I checked out. The one drawback fore me is the fear that such an awesome sale is an indication that Tonner Doll is falling on hard times. It’s difficult to believe that the company is making any profit by selling those ensembles for just $29 each. It seems to me that these emails about generous sales from Tonner Direct are coming into my mailbox more and more frequently. Collector dolls are a tough business, and Tonner Doll has been around for a long time.  I appreciate the sales, but I would prefer to pass on them if it means that a company that has brought so much joy into my life is living on borrowed time.

My haul:

On top of Doll Mountain

KewpieA few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about my impending move out of state and the unsavory task of packing up an obscene number of dolls acquired during my 22 years of collecting. Many of you wrote me, asking to be kept updated on the drama of moving a doll hoard—I mean collection. You’ll be happy to know that I have succeeded in my task, and the seven curios, nine shelves, and innumerable boxes that once occupied my doll room have been replaced by what my family has dubbed “Doll Mountain.”

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BOXES ONE BOXES TWO boxesI must admit that it’s an impressive sight. And I think I did an admirable job of consolidating the real estate that my 500+ girls occupy. I tossed out about 70% of my doll boxes, and instead carefully packed about 300 girls in sturdy plastic bins (complete with desiccant packs to avoid molding). The remaining 200 or so girls had either intricate gowns or hairdos or were deemed “too special” to travel via cargo. So they were lucky enough to get their own individual boxes.

The larger girls also got their own boxes in which to travel. Packing my dozen Himstedts (many taller than three feet) was no easy task. I have most of their huge boxes and shippers, but dragging those boxes out of storage meant confronting the ever-present “palmetto bugs” that reside in our garage. If you’ve ever seen a Florida palmetto bug, you know that it can reach roughly the size of a small rat. Now, I’m not frightened of many things. Snakes and spiders are fine with me. But Florida roaches are a fucking freak of nature and need to be destroyed at all costs. Needless to say, there was a lot of shrieking in the garage and orders to my husband to “kill the damned thing.”

The things I do for dolls.

Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?
Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?

I was nervous about packing my porcelain and resin dolls. In particular, I have one delicate porcelain Native American mother and child dressed in real leather and adorned with turquoise and sterling silver. Her artist named her “Butterfly Mother,” and she stands about two feet tall. I love this doll. I purchased her at, of all places, Trump Tower in Las Vegas for an amount of money that I will divulge only upon pain of death—and perhaps not even then. It was 2004, and I was in Vegas with my mom to see Barry Manilow in concert. (Yes, you read that right. Don’t judge.) This was also the trip in which I took my mother to see a Chippendales show. She enjoyed it way too much.

dancersSo, as you can imagine, this doll is not only gorgeous—it’s steeped in memories. I used a combination of bubble wrap, foam, and packing peanuts to cushion mother and child. I’ll be putting this box in the car with me when we make our journey. Not trusting any moving dudes with this treasure.

moving-homePacking up my girls did give me the opportunity to appreciate each one individually. It also was a chance to do an inventory. I entered the name of each doll in an Excel spreadsheet as I packed it away and noted the numbered box it was going into, which will help me identify where specific dolls are when we arrive at our new home. I’ve always been terrible at keeping track of my hoard, instead relying on memory, which, when it comes to dolls, is scarily good. I only had to consult the Internet a handful of times to identify specific dolls or their outfits as I packed them away. If only my memory worked just as well when it comes to locating my keys or glasses.

I was also able to identify a dozen or so dolls that I can live without. I’ve mostly sold them off, which will allow me to pay for a particular doll I’ve been waiting for all year. Paul Pham’s latest Numina doll—Sung—will join my other Numinas—Stratus and Alma—in October. Pinch me.

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With the dollies and lots more of our household in boxes and ready for storage, hubby and I are working on some minor house fixes. So if anyone out there is interested in relocating to sunny Tampa, let me know and I’ll give you a deal!

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8 Awesome Doll memes

Doll people–and fashion doll people in particular–are among the most sardonic and self-deprecating people I know. We know what most people think of our passion for all things doll, and most of us generally don’t give a shit–preferring instead to ironically assume the stereotypes that accompany the general view of us as neurotic hoarders slightly out of touch with reality. Kind of like the sci-fi nerds who dress like Chewbacca and Princess Leia as they revel in their geekdom at Comic Con. If you’ve ever attended a doll convention, you already know that our own costume-clad events are just as dorky as anything you’ll see in San Diego this week.

It is in that spirit of self-deprecating humor that many in our community have, over the years, created memes that play on our inside jokes about who we are and what we do. There was a particularly amusing image that made the rounds on FB and the doll boards last week of a truck carrying what is surely the most obscenely large Amazon box ever created. (Spoiler alert: The box contained a Nissan and was a publicity stunt for car sales on Amazon. Sorry–no dolls.)

AmazonThis meme sent me searching for others created by our community, and a friend of mine sent me several that she has been collecting. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to share them on my blog.

So enjoy this heavy dose of dolly humor, and remember that you are in the company of some very funny, very clever, very talented people. (And if you have any of your own, please share with the rest of us!)

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Rufus’s Daydream

Rufus
*****
My mother loved Rufus Rutter. He was her favorite doll, and she delighted in bringing him to the dental office where she worked. There she would place him in the reception area so he could great patients with his big, dopey grin. Some patients loved him. Others were freaked out by him. Rufus was a conversation opener–and mom loved to talk to just about anyone.
Mom got her first glimpse of Rufus at his Tonner Con debut, where he joined his perpetual love, Ellowyne Wilde, as a table centerpiece. He wore a suit and plaid raincoat, clutching an umbrella in one hand and a heart-shaped box of chocolates in the other. Something about his getup and dopey grin appealed to mom, and she declared that she’d like to have him.
Now mom did not own–or want to own–an Ellowyne doll. She didn’t collect fashion dolls in general–child dolls most appealed to her. Rufus would be the oldest doll in her collection, and he would tower over her little girls. But she said that he made her laugh.
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Rufus would become the only doll in my mother’s collection that she actually played with. While the others stayed carefully arranged on curio shelves in static positions and wearing the same outfits year after year, Rufus sat on her dresser, where he sported a variety of casual and formal clothes. Rufus had a claim on my mother’s heart that no other doll ever had.
When I inherited mom’s collection, I took Rufus from her house first. He currently stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Prudence, who, in my world, is a lesbian and has become Rufus’s best friend. When I was brainstorming an article idea for the latest issue of FDQ, Rufus’s dopey grin caught my eye, and I was struck by a vision of him between his handyman jobs–dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt–lying in his basement apartment and dreaming, as always, of Ellowyne Wilde.
The resulting article, “Rufus’s Daydream,” appears in the Autumn 2015 edition of FDQ, now shipping to subscribers. Below is a teaser. To find out how the story ends, paper and digital issues are available at FDQ’s web site.
My very talented friend, Angela Nielsen, provided the story’s photos.
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He spent a lot of time lying on the small cot that was his bed, wondering what she was doing in her apartment four stories above. His own apartment—much smaller than hers, of course—was in the basement of the grand Victorian home that once belonged to her grandmother. His space was modest, as was he, but he didn’t have many wants or needs—at least of the material sort. As the house’s resident handyman, it was also his workplace. And he didn’t venture out much— except at the insistence of Prudence, who never tired of telling him that he was growing paler by the day and needed to get out into the sunlight.
Prudence was her best friend, and his good friend as well. Prudence was also his handiest excuse to get closer to her. After all, she too did not venture out much, generally preferring to envelop herself in her pensive moods and linger over the trinkets and ephemera with which she surrounded herself in the spacious rooms she inhabited. In the handful of times he had been in her apartment, he was mesmerized at the number of antique clocks, vintage outfits on dress forms, porcelain ladies, and dried flowers that occupied every corner of her rooms.
It was an enchanted space frozen in time, much like she was. To him, she was not of this world, and that created a distance between them that he often despaired of ever bridging…

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