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.)
This 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!)
At some point, it has likely become obviously to each of you, dear readers, that we doll collectors must bear the burden of sharing this earth with non-doll people. You’ve also noticed, no doubt, that this is no easy task. The vast majority of the world’s people—if they know that doll collectors even exist—suffer under gross misconceptions about who we are and what we do. Rather than imaginative, creative, and playful people, we are labeled hoarders, money-wasters, obsessive-compulsives, and just plain touched in the head. Not once in all of my 22 years of doll collecting has a non-collector recognized me as a collector of “legitimate” art, much less a curator of a beautiful collection assembled with love and care over multiple decades. Robert Tonner’s doll art is part of the Louvre’s permanent collection in its Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. What more legitimacy can an art form possibly have?
As a long-time doll collector, I have fielded nearly every outrageous and thoughtful question about my collection, and over the years I’ve come to recognize that there are different types of non-collectors. While some enrage me with their self-righteous condescension, others flatter me with their genuine interest and desire to learn more about my collection—and, by extension, me.
Although many doll bloggers over the years have sought to identify the different types of collectors, there are different types of non-collectors as well, and their attitudes toward us as collectors are generally indicative of their overall characters. When I was still single and dating, I had no compunction about showing off my collection to my various dates, as their reactions generally told me something about who they were. I used my dolls like many people use their dogs’ reactions to people as a barometer of their characters.
While he did not understand my fascination with fashion dolls—and still doesn’t—the man who ultimately became my husband had a generally playful attitude toward the growing collection that took up the majority of my bedroom in my Washington, DC apartment. He even posed the dolls in “naughty” positions while I was out to see if I would notice when I returned. (I always did.) This revealed a man who, although he was totally unable to relate to my hobby, nonetheless could derive some enjoyment from it. So I married him.
Other people in my life—from judgmental relatives to scoffing coworkers—have displayed a level of disdain for my hobby that has generally served to alienate me from them. Their wide spectrum of reactions has led me to compile this list of categories into which non-collectors generally fall. This is no exact science; they may fall into several categories at once, sometimes both positive and negative. See if you recognize your friends and relatives as:
The Condescender: This person’s gauge of their own character seems to depend on the depth of their condescension of yours. Pretty much nothing you do will convince this person that your pursuit of beautiful fashion dolls is a manifestation of your own creativity and that brings you joy as an aesthetic art form. A true condescender probably made up her mind about your pursuit—as she does about most things—long before actually seeing your collection. So don’t waste your breath trying to convince her otherwise.
The Silent Type: This person is usually struck dumb at the sight of your collection, which, for most of us, can admittedly be quite overwhelming. Their eyes grow big as they take it all in, as if they’ve never seen a doll in their life. This could either be a manifestation of admiration or judgment. But for now, they simply cannot say a thing.
The Reminiscer: I think I like this type of non-collector most of all. This is the person who immediately grows enthusiastic about your collection upon hearing about it, and she cannot wait to tell you about that special doll that she or her mother had as a child that meant so much to her. She’ll want to hear all about your dolls and will immediately understand why they appeal to you. These people are often collectors just waiting to happen.
The Questioner: These people generally mean well, but they can drive me insane, and I rarely have as much patience with them as I should. These curious types want to know everything and anything about your collection—right now. Before you can even answer their first question (Who makes these?), they are on to their second (Where do you buy them?). Sometimes these questions can border on the inane (Is that real hair?), but these people mean well, and it’s nice to see true curiosity rather than abrupt dismissal.
The Housecleaner: These are almost always husbands (although one lesbian I knew fell into this category as well). They are the ones who will immediately ask upon seeing or learning of your collection, “Hey! Can I give you my wife’s dolls?” This is done in a weak attempt at humor, as the husband goes on to tell you about the “spooky doll” that was his wife’s when she was a child and now sits in the spare bedroom. Feel free to ignore these people. Giving the wife an understanding hug might help.
The Psychologist: To this person, every collection is a pathology, so you really shouldn’t take it personally. Because your collection consists of dolls, be prepared for questions about your childhood and your mother. If you really want to have fun with this person, tell her that you were an orphan who, as a child, decapitated dolls for fun. That should give her some food for psychoanalysis that will keep her occupied for hours.
The Cheapskate: This person violates all rules of decorum as soon as he sees your collection and immediately asks you how much it is worth. There is no point in telling this person anything whatsoever about your collection and how much it means to you, as he likely cannot see past its monetary value. A subsequent value judgment about your moral character will soon follow.
The Joker: I have the least amount of patience for this non-collector. As soon as he sees your collection, or just hears about it, it becomes an endlessly amusing joke to him—and, he assumes, to everyone else. This person inevitably starts with the “Chucky” jokes—sure that he is the first person to have thought of this. This is usually followed by questions about whether “they stare at you” or “talk back.” If you can stomach sharing a room with this person for a while, it can be worth a laugh to tell him in as deadpan a voice as you can muster that “your little friends” come alive at night help you rob banks—which is how you finance your collection. The more unintelligent this person is, the more likely he will be to actually believe you—or at least be spooked enough to shut up for a while.
The Appraiser: This person often falls into the “Cheapskate” category as well, since he immediately reduces your dolls to their monetary value. The first thing this person will ask is “how much they are worth.” I generally reply that they are “priceless,” to which I get a scornful look and the follow-up question, “Do you have them insured?” If you answer in the negative, you are likely to be told about the horrible death your dolls will suffer if your house catches fire, or (if you live in Florida, like I do) if your home is demolished by a Category 5 hurricane. If I really want to mess with such a person, I like to respond with a tearful look and the soft words, “But how do you insure a broken heart?” This will lead to a bewildered look and an extended, awkward silence, as even the most steadfast Appraiser is at a loss to monetize emotion.
The Seamstress: This is the person who truly enjoys sewing for people and often is quite good at it. The first thing he will see upon laying eyes on your collection is the tiny scale of the tailoring required for the dolls’ clothing and the impressive amount of talent it takes to accomplish that. “How do they sew that small?” he will ask in wonder. He will want to examine the outfits in detail and lovingly pour over each stitch. This is when you bring out those OOAK gowns by your favorite artists and really blow his mind. If you are not careful, this person will stay in your home and examine your collection all day. I generally let him, as it is often a gratifying change to have my collection appreciated rather than mocked.
Anxious Annie: The only thing this person can see upon laying eyes on your collection is the inevitability that she will be responsible for breaking one of them—which she is sure will cost her millions of dollars. If this person has a child with her, she will put the fear of the Lord into her by exclaiming, “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” Explaining the Power of Play to this woman will mean nothing to her—so don’t even bother. Her main goal is to leave the room as soon as possible, lest her very breath knock one of your fragile playthings off the shelf.
The Over-enthusiast: I should probably have more patience for these people, but I just don’t. These are the ones who are thrown into a state of euphoria as soon as they see your collection, and you often can’t shut them up about it. “They are so beautiful! Where did you get them? Where are they made? What are they made of? Where did you get this gown? Is that green or blue? This one is smiling at me! Where can I buy one?” If you had to answer each question, you’d be there all day. So just smile and nod and let her get it out of her system. She’s probably like this about a lot of things.
The New Best Friend: This person shares a lot in common with the Over-enthusiast, but she’s not nearly as annoying. She takes time to truly listen to the answers to her questions, and she asks intelligent follow-up questions. She is enchanted, and you can tell she’s just itching to get one of your dolls into her hands and look it over. You can tell she wants to redress it and pose it, but she’s too shy to ask. If you open the door to that, she is likely to stay all day, swapping outfits and experimenting with different looks. This person is your New Best Friend—and a possible collector in the making.
The Artist: This person is an artist in his own right, and he immediately recognizes your collection for what it is—a form of interactive art. He is generally quiet as he purveys your collection, and you can almost see the wheels turning in his head as he compares this art form to others with which he is more familiar. This is one of the most interesting non-collectors to talk to, as you often have more to learn from him than he has to learn from you. Your mind may be open to avenues of artistic expression you’ve never even considered before.
The Undertaker: This person is generally obsessed with death in all other aspects of her life, so she naturally applies it to your collection when she sees it. Her main concern is what will happen to your collection when you die, and her goal is to help you make the necessary arrangements before your inevitable demise. The vaguer you are with your post-death plans, the more irritated this person will become. So just assure her that you’ve provided for your vinyl friends in your will and that their existence will not unnecessarily tax your family when you ultimately give up the ghost. Her work there will be done.
I’ve found through the years that collecting dolls gives me the opportunity to gauge the true characters of people sooner than I would be able to otherwise. It can be a fun pastime to try to predict a specific person’s reaction to your collection based on the things that you know about his/her personality. Of course, you should not expect everyone to share the zeal for art in doll form that you have. But it’s always fun to introduce something new into their universe.
If it isn’t already in your hot little hands, the Summer 2015 issue of FDQ (Fashion Doll Quarterly) is on its way to your mailbox (if you are a subscriber, that is). This issue of FDQ marks my first publication in a doll magazine. I’ve been writing about the business of healthcare for more than two decades as a journalist, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to use my way with words to explore the world of fashion doll collecting through my blog and industry magazines. Pat Henry, editor of FDQ, was kind enough to give me space in her terrific magazine to talk about my experience of coming to own a couple of vintage fashion dolls from Robert Tonner’s personal collection.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Robert decided to auction off a large part of his massive vintage doll collection through Theriault’s auction house last November, and I placed two winning bids online. Afterward, I talked with Robert about his own journey as a collector. During my attendance at various doll conventions over the years, nearly all of the questions I’ve heard fans ask of Robert have to do with him as an doll artist–never a doll collector. But Robert himself never tires of saying that it is precisely his perspective as a collector that shapes his vision as an artist. So I thought it was time someone explored what makes Robert the Collector tick.
Robert’s doll, now in my collection: Sweet Sue (1957)
Robert’s doll, now in my collection: Betsy McCall (1958)
My interview with Robert forms the basis of the FDQ article, “Robert Tonner: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Collector.” Although the only place you can read that article is in the pages of FDQ, below is a partial transcript of my conversation with Robert that examines a bit of the interplay between doll collector and doll artist. (For the full article, check your mailbox. And if you’re not a subscriber, find out how you can become one here.)
Is there a doll or dolls that first inspired you to begin collecting?
Robert: Back when I first moved to New York, when I went to school and started working, I often went through FAO Schwartz while walking home. It was on 57th Street, on the ground floor. I had walked through it many times; I always liked toys, and I liked looking at them. I stopped one day when I saw a Sasha doll. To me, it looked like art. It was sculptural—it wasn’t like a cutesy doll. I looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it. And I finally bought one. That was really the doll that started me off.
I wasn’t thinking about collecting, but I then I saw a flyer in the city for a doll show. I think it was in a church auditorium or something. I took a friend, and we went together. I was blown away. I had no clue there was such a thing as doll collecting. I had no idea there were mint-in-box (MIB) examples of dolls that I had seen on TV as a kid.
The thing that really got me were the Barbies. I hadn’t seen those MIB dolls since the day they came out. My interest immediately turned to Barbie, and I became a Barbie collector, which I think is what a lot of collectors do. There are all kinds of different quality ranges and price ranges for Barbies, allowing people to amass a large collection for not a lot of money.
How did you first become interested in the business of making dolls?
Robert: I became obsessed with collecting and read as much as I could. By then, I had met Glenn Mandeville, who was a long-time doll dealer, and I remember going through the doll stores with him. That was when Macy’s and Gimbels had big doll selections. And Glenn pointed out to me that people had sculpted those dolls for toy companies. I didn’t understand what he meant at first. He said to me, “Where do you think the heads come from? People have to sculpt them.” And something clicked. I thought, “Oh, I have to try that.”
Do you remember your first doll?
Robert: When I was a kid, my sister was a year younger than me. My parents were kind of progressive at the time, because I remember that all four of us children got a Tiny Tears doll one Christmas. I thought that was pretty cool, probably because I wanted one. I do remember that when Mary got her Miss Revlon doll, I thought that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was the “Kissing Pink” doll. I remember the outfit and everything. Mary renamed it “Janet.”
During my collecting years pre-Internet, I picked up a Miss Revlon doll whenever I saw one MIB. They didn’t come around that often, so I didn’t have very many. And then when eBay came along, forget about it. I just went crazy. It became fascinating to me to learn why manufacturers made the choices they did, what dolls had which features, and what rarities were out there. I think I had a representation of at least about 95% of the styles that Revlon put out.
“Kissing Pink” Miss Revlon (circa 1957)
“Tiny Tears” (circa 1950)
Where did you put all of those dolls?
Robert: I often joke with people when they ask about storage, and I ask them, “What do you mean you have trouble storing your dolls? Why don’t you put them in your factory like I do?”
I literally did that. I do not keep dolls in my house—I do not have a doll room. I live with them all day; my office is filled with dolls. My life is filled with dolls, so I don’t need to go home to them.
I had two storage units at one time, and I stored more dolls in the factory. When I got new dolls, I’d look at them and live with them for a while, take them out and display them. And then at a certain point, I’d pack them up and think, “I’ll get back to that.”
How did you come to decide to part with so much of your collection?
Robert: UFDC (United Federation of Doll Clubs) asked me to do a display of my Revlon dolls a couple years ago. I was able to display beautiful examples of many of my favorite dolls. That finished the collection for me, in a way. I felt that I didn’t have to have every single one. I felt that this was, to me, a finished collection. But I didn’t know what to do then. I had had every intention of keeping my dolls before.
Then one of the doll magazines asked me to do an article. I was working on it, and there was a doll I wanted, and I knew I had it. I thought I knew where it was. I don’t remember much, but I usually do remember where I put my dolls. So I went down to the basement, and I was digging for it, and there were dolls there that I did not remember that I had purchased. And I thought, you know what, this is enough. I have got to let other people enjoy these. This is hoarding, and it’s unfair to other Revlon collectors, or to people who have never seen some of these dolls. So I decided I was definitely going to let some of it go.
Why was the auction entitled, “Inspiration”?
Robert: Florence Theriault (founder of Theriault’s auction house) and I were talking, and I told her that these dolls are the inspiration for a lot of the work that I do today. They are many times removed, but there is a spark there that leads me in a specific direction. These dolls are the inspiration for the dolls I do.
Of course, there’s direct correlation when I do a reproduction of a 10” Little Miss Revlon. It’s hard to explain, but it’s the feeling you get when you open a box and look at a doll for the first time. I try to capture that, although if you put the two dolls together, they look nothing alike. It’s very hard to explain – it’s part of the design process for me – it’s a very personal thing.
What dolls did you choose to keep?
Robert: I of course held on to all of the dolls that I have made. I don’t keep everything I make – I have to pick and choose, because we just don’t have the storage space. As far as the vintage ones, I kept an example here and there of dolls that really appeal to me for some reason or another. For example, there is a 22-inch Revlon I have that is really beautiful. It was a gift, and I would never let it go, because it’s part of a story. I like when dolls have a background to them.
When I see that someone has loved a doll, I love that. The “mommy-made” dolls that I have, I hold on to. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t worth anything on the market.
I sold off my Barbie collection 25 years ago, but, in 2009, Mattel came out with all of these reproduction dolls, and they did the most beautiful #1 reproduction. So I bought up a whole bunch of those. And then I found repro and vintage outfits, so I have mint #1s in all of these mint outfits. They aren’t worth much, but I love them. If a repro outfit I bought didn’t fit, I’d take it apart and make it fit. I probably have about 40 Barbies now.
Happy to be Me
Do you still collect modern dolls?
Robert: Yes, I do. I like the Pullip dolls; they are very quirky. I have a couple resin BJDs. There are a lot of people out there making wonderful fashion dolls, but we do too. So I don’t really collect those.
My collecting is taking a new turn – I now look for odd things that have never been seen, or things that had a very short life span. I like dolls with an interesting story behind them. I just bought a “Happy to be Me” doll. There was a Kickstarter campaign recently, and this guy produced a similar doll called “Lammily,” and I bought one of those. I just think these things are very interesting. I like the quirky and “interesting to me” things. I’m not looking for anything particular at this point.
The Tonner Doll Co. released images of the remainder of its spring 2015 line yesterday, and, like every other fashion doll collector on the Internet, I have an opinion about it.The fashion doll items were limited; out of 37 dressed dolls and fashion-only offerings, only 12 could properly be called “fashion dolls,” and that includes those from Tonner’s “Re-imagination” series. There were also four female superheros, although only one of those was ready for photography.
Does this mean that Tonner is moving toward primarily becoming a designer of child dolls and superheros? Patsy and Patsyette have been generously represented in the past few lines, and Tonner’s new child doll line, “My Imagination,” seems to be set up as a clear contender for American Girl fans, especially since the outfits appear to be designed to fit the AG body. Like many long-time Tonner fashion doll collectors, I yearn for the days of yore when Tyler and Company ruled the fashion doll market, and each line brought a bounty of different sculpts and fashions to choose from. Collectors rushed to get their orders in before editions as high as 1,500 sold out overnight. The stock market was up, times were good, and money was flowing. Of course, that was before we were all laid off in 2008.
That said, this line does see a return to the venerable House of Wentworth, although Tyler, Sydney, Esme, and friends appear to have faded into the annals of fashion doll history. Yesterday we were re-introduced to Marley Wentworth, Tyler’s all-grown-up sister. She has a strong angular profile and a colorful sense of fashion. One basic, two outfits, and three dressed dolls are being offered. I must admit that my first reaction to Marley’s sculpt was “What the hell pissed HER off?” She has a stern expression, with eyes set wide apart and lips that appear slightly pursed. But my reaction to new sculpts is often unfavorable at first–even with sculpts that I end up adoring. Even Sydney rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning. And now I have about 60 of her.
So I revisited the images of Marley throughout the day, and she did grow on me a bit. It does appear that this doll is still early in the manufacturing stage, as the sculpts appear a bit inconsistent. We probably won’t have a truly accurate representation of her until she is in stock.
Marley bears no resemblance to her 12-year-old self, but that matters little to me. Out of the four fashions pictured, two really appeal to me. My personal fashion taste favors bright, bold colors, and Marley seems to share the same aesthetic. “Skyline Blue” is a bold dress-and-skirt sleeveless ensemble that is a new, refreshing take on Tyler’s classic outfits. “Rose Rouge” has a colorful ’50s vibe with its full circle skirt and contrasting colors. On the other hand, I could do without the gowned doll “Positive Negative.” Other than its nod to No. 1 Barbie, I see nothing new or innovative–just a tired old one-shouldered gown. “Cool Chic” also does nothing for me. It seems recycled from past Cami designs, although it’s hard to really tell without being able to see what is underneath the coat.
My biggest problem with the Marley line is that it is presented in a vacuum. Clearly, these dolls are meant to be characters in an ongoing narrative–only, the narrative is conspicuously absent. There are plenty collectors who discovered Tonner’s dolls after the reign of the House of Wentworth. Who is Marley to them? Without a backstory, she’s some new doll with a weird name. I can’t understand why a company that goes to such pains to give backstories to some of its characters (Deja Vu came with her own book! Ellowyne keeps a diary!) completely ignores this vital element in other lines. I recall the days of Tonner’s portfolios, neat little booklets tucked into each doll box, describing and giving a backstory to each character and fashion. I understand that such little touches may no longer be economically feasible in today’s market, but how difficult would it be to write a little vignette on the website, filling us in on what Marley has been up to during the past ten years?
I can’t make the same complaint about Tonner’s most recent “Re-imagination” line, an enchanting reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Although this line is not to my personal taste, I certainly appreciate the artistry and creativity that went into it. Casting Alice as a male character with Lewis Carol’s given name is very imaginative, and the new Mad Hatter and White Rabbit are colorful and expressive. Sometimes I think that Robert Tonner is at his artistic best when conceiving and executing Re-imagination characters. One doll that I do possess from this line is “Sheehee,” a half-man/half-woman in the Sinister Circus. I love the playfulness of this doll, and it is executed flawlessly.
Haddy Madigan (The Mad Hatter)
Bianca Lapin (The White Rabbit)
So that’s my take on the fashion portion of Tonner’s 2015 Mainline Release. I anticipate purchasing Skyline Blue Marley and perhaps Haddy Madigan. Take a look for yourself and see what appeals most to you. I’d love to hear your feedback!
In an age in which brick-and-mortar doll stores are—with a few preciously rare examples—a thing of the past, the vast majority of doll collectors worldwide have been left to navigate the often-confusing world of online sales. I do a great deal of my personal, non-doll shopping online, and never have I come across a commodity that varies so drastically in price as collectible fashion dolls. At any point in time, the exact same doll may vary in price from $50 to several hundred dollars on multiple websites. For a new or unschooled collector, this can be more than confusing.
Twelve years ago, when I made the move from Barbie to 16” collector dolls, most dolls were sold by brick-and-mortar doll stores or online retailers for a modest percentage off retail price. Dolls offered on the secondary market via eBay could be had for a bit less, but many dolls by highly regarded artists were in high demand and either held their value or increased in price—sometimes substantially. If a collector purchased a doll and found that she did not care for it, it was not difficult to recoup her costs—or more—on eBay. And in those days, eBay still stood by its sellers, so they were generally protected from dishonest buyers. And, as is the case now, doll boards were also generally safe marketplaces to buy and sell to other collectors. Shopping around among retailers, eBay, and doll boards was always advisable, but, in general, prices did not vary substantially.
And then came the Great Recession. I think I can safely say that within the span of several months, my collection decreased in value by about two-thirds. Even now, it isn’t worth a great deal more. I doubt it will ever regain its former value. It was painful, to be sure, but I ultimately bought those dolls to keep. They were not my livelihood. They were my hobby. I couldn’t bear to part with most of them anyway, so I didn’t lose much.
The same cannot be said for the brick-and-mortar doll retailer. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, far fewer people were able to buy dolls that cost in excess of $100, so retailers were forced to drastically cut their prices and offer deep discounts to unload their inventory. Their already-small margins got smaller, and their rents went higher and higher. And so, one by one, store-based retailers disappeared from the physical landscape. Some store owners moved to solely online sales, and others simply left the retail business altogether. Many will tell you that today, seven years on from the painful fiscal memories of 2008, being even an online retailer does not pay the bills. One by one, doll retailers are disappearing from the marketplace altogether. Manufacturer direct are slowly but surely cutting out the middleman, and I believe they will soon be the only option for buyers outside of the secondary market. Independent artists who produce their art in small batches generally have no need for a middleman at all.
All this has resulted in a vast array of prices that can be quite confusing to the new or infrequent collector. Based on my experience (and I spend way more time monitoring doll prices than I care to admit), buying dolls has become an exercise in patient research. Below, I break down the five main ways collectors make their dolly purchases and my tips on getting the most doll for your dollar.
Online retailers. There are still some out there. Those that have survived have generally been in the business for a long time—often out of love as much as any financial reward (which generally gets less each year). Long-time retailers usually have a loyal following—customers who would not think of buying from anyone else. But as their pocketbooks continue to feel the pinch of a sagging economy, those customers are dwindling, and retailers must compete for sales with other sellers who often use deep discounts to unload their inventory. And retailers are increasingly competing with the manufacturers themselves, who are turning to discounted direct sales to sell their product.
The biggest rule in purchasing a doll—regardless of where you buy it—is NEVER PAY RETAIL. The second rule: WAIT. For almost all fashion dolls I know of, the longer a doll is on the market, the further its price will go down. There are some exceptions to this rule—some convention dolls and uber-limited-edition FBJDs—but not many. The days of skyrocketing secondary market prices are over. Even one month can make a difference. After retailers sell to all of the suckers with deep pockets who must be first in line and are willing to pay full price, they will discount their product. The longer you can wait, the cheaper it will be.
Impromptu sales are often the best times to grab those dolly deals. Make sure you are on the mailing lists of your favorite retailers AND your favorite manufacturers. Today’s sales can be frequent and generous—and it’s first come, first served. If it’s an announced sale, monitor that in-box often and make sure your Internet connection is a fast one.
Doll boards. Fashion doll collectors are continually attracted to the next shiny object, and, like most people, their pockets are not bottomless. So, when the next pretty dolly catches their eye and they don’t have the funds to purchase it, they rob Peter to pay Paul. Collectors generally recognize that, these days, they usually can’t sell a doll for what they paid for it, so they’ll offer attractive deals. Doll boards are an increasingly popular place to unload unwanted dolls as eBay continues to institute seller-unfriendly practices that put sellers at the mercy of dishonest buyers.
My general experience has been that doll boards keep buyers and sellers more honest than eBay does. People on doll boards generally know one another, and if a buyer or seller cheats a board member, you can be sure that person will never trade on that board again. Nothing—and I mean nothing—is scarier than a doll buyer scorned. And when she/he has loyal collector friends, watch out. (I once had a posse of angry doll collectors scare a person who had stolen a doll from my front porch so much, that person snuck back in the dead of night two weeks later and returned the doll to me. True story.)
Suffice it to say that, if you scam a fellow collector, your name will be spread so quickly across the doll community you probably won’t be able to conduct your scam twice. Doll collectors who have been scammed frequently spread the name and/or eBay ID or screen name(s) of their scammers far and wide, limiting their ability to run their scam more than once. In all of my 12 years of buying and selling dolls on the Internet, I have never had an unpleasant transaction with a doll board member. My history with eBay, on the other hand, is littered with deals gone bad with dishonest buyers and seller to which I have lost money, with eBay doing nothing to protect me.
One favorite site among collectors to buy and sell their ways has been the “Show and Sell” site of The Doll Page. For many years, Steve and Rae maintained this site out of the goodness of their hearts—never charging users any fees. Recently, the Show and Sell page fell victim to the relentless tide of changing technology, and Steve and Rae were forced to shut it down when their old software could no longer accommodate their needs. Steve and Rae provided an invaluable service to our community for a long time, and they deserve our deep gratitude.
In February, several collectors launched what they hope will become an alternative to Show and Sell. Mister Dollface aims to serve as a platform for buying, selling, and trading dolls as well as a community for collectors to share and learn from one another. Based on its current look and feel, I have high hopes for this site, and I encourage everyone to check it out and take advantage of its services.
The bottom line is, doll board sellers frequently offer incredible deals, and it’s first come, first served. Keep your eyes open, and you may find a long-sought doll for a steal of a price—offered by an honest person.
evilBay. So if doll boards are such a great place to buy and sell, why bother with eBay? The simplest answer: volume. eBay’s ubiquitous presence across the globe means that any items you place for auction or sale will be seen by a limitless number of people. And more volume means more cash. If your item appeals to more than one collector, you have the potential for a lucrative bidding war. Despite all of the transactions I conduct on doll boards, I am nearly always able to obtain a higher price on eBay. HOWEVER, the ever-escalating cut that eBay and PayPal take out of each transaction is giving me less and less motivation to use their sites. Add to that the aggravation of dealing with dishonest buyers and little or no seller protections, and those doll boards look more and more attractive.
An alternative auction site reserved just for collectible dolls called dollbid was launched last year to provide doll collectors with an alternative to evilBay. As with any David going up against a Goliath, it experienced considerable difficulties getting underway. Today, visitors to the site are greeted with a message saying the site is being “updated.” We’ll see if its owners take another stab at it.
IRL stores and shows. There is a handful left out there. If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of one of the few remaining doll shops, GO THERE IMMEDIATELY AND BUY SOMETHING. Yes, you will likely have to pay more. Brick-and-mortar stores have overhead that online stores do not, and that needs to be taken into account. But you will not pay shipping, and you will be able to talk to A REAL HUMAN BEING about your purchase and hold it in your hands and examine it before you commit to purchasing it. If you do not live near a retailer, patronize a physical store that has an online presence. Remember, how we choose to spend our dolly dollars will determine the fate of the industry. The way we are currently purchasing our dolls means that the days are numbered for the few physical retailers that have been left standing.
Doll shows are another way to make purchases “in real life.” But they are few and far between. Check out this year’s schedule to see if there is one scheduled near you. They are great fun to attend. Even if you don’t find anything to buy, the novelty of actually seeing dolls for sale in person is more than worth the effort of going.
Manufacturer direct. More and more manufacturers are cutting out the middleman and selling direct to consumers. Some have been doing it this way for a while, and others are new to the practice. Whether this trend is good for the consumer is subject to debate. While many collectors like the personal contact and relationships they’ve cultivated with retailers, others appreciate not having to shop around for price. And going direct doesn’t necessarily mean higher prices. Manufacturers who have too much product on their shelves may offer deep discounts to liquidate their wares when necessary.
It can take the new collector a while to learn how to navigate all of these choices in order to come up with the best price. I’ve been at it for 12 years, and I still manage to overpay now and again. But if you follow the two Cardinal Rules of Doll-buying, you should be okay: 1) Never pay retail, and 2) Hold your horses. If you take time to shop around and wait for a bargain … Chances are you’ll find one.
A gay friend of mine once told me—half-jokingly—that it was easier for him to come out as a homosexual than as a doll collector. He recounted to me how for years he had taken his dolls off a shelf in his apartment and hid them in a closet whenever he was expecting company. He described how he once literally threw them into a box while his sister knocked on his door for an unannounced visit.
Finally, he said, it just became too exhausting to carry on his charade. He told me that when he did “come out” to his family as a fashion doll collector, they seemed even more confused than when he announced to them that he was gay and had a boyfriend. “It was insane,” he told me. “My heart was beating faster than when I introduced my partner to them.”
In my experience as a doll collector, this story, while amusing, isn’t all that far-fetched. I may not hide “my girls” when I have company, but I do find myself censoring myself when it comes to talking about my dolls. I’ve also found myself mentally categorizing my friends and colleagues into those who “know” and those who “don’t know”—much, I suppose, like a closeted homosexual.
Now I don’t mean to equate being a doll collector who gets smirks when revealing her hobby with being a lesbian who must put up with homophobia on a regular basis. But there are some interesting parallels, nonetheless. Doll collectors are more than aware that many people find their hobby odd, to say the least. We are regularly confronted with questions like, “Do they stare at you at night?” “Is that a Chucky doll?” and (my favorite) “How much money did you pay for that?”
It’s no wonder we seek one another out for company. The company of other doll collectors is one of the few places we can revel in our love of all things doll and know we won’t be judged for it.
So it’s safe to say that collecting dolls is far from mainstream. This line of thinking led me to wonder if any celebrities collect dolls—and, if so, what the general reaction to that is.
The handful of famous people I already knew of who collect dolls of some sort (or at least are open about doing so) tend to be people who are otherwise perceived as—how shall I say this—“quirky.” The fact that Richard Simmons and Marie Osmond both collect and produce dolls doesn’t exactly lend a lot of credibility to the rest of us. Ditto for Morgan Fairchild, Annette Funicello, and Kathie Lee Gifford.
One mainstream doll collector who has never felt the need to closet herself is Demi Moore, although the media has taken its share of jabs at her substantial collection (by some estimates, more than 3,000 dolls valued at more than $2 million, all displayed in a house of their own). It seems that Demi’s first husband, Bruce Willis, initiated her love of dolls by purchasing her a pair of Anne Mitrani dolls early in their courtship. Demi loved the dolls and quickly got bit by the collector bug. Her second husband wasn’t all that enthralled with his wife’s blossoming collection. Here’s one quote from Ashton Kutcher that doll collectors will find particularly endearing:
“They upset me – I saw Chucky! These things freak me out, man, and she’s got like thousands of them. They’re everywhere – and they’re freaky. I think the dolls have souls. And they’re always looking at you – we have some in the bedroom and that makes things just weird. Some of these things are worth a lot of money apparently but they frighten me a little bit.”
What a prize he was. You’re better off without him, Demi.
I had dug up this information on Demi last week, while I was researching for this post on celebrity doll collectors. Demi seemed to be the most “mainstream” collector out there. And then, performing yet another doll/celebrity Google search, I saw a headline that I was certain I had read wrong.
It appears that Johnny Depp, the coolest of the cool kids in Hollywood, one of the most respected, most celebrated male actors of our age, collects dolls.
According to the various Hollywood media reports I uncovered, Depp’s collection includes “dozens and dozens of Barbies, all limited and special editions.” His focus, apparently, are dolls depicting Hollywood celebrities, including himself. Beyonce, Elvis, Paris Hilton, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Lindsay Lohan are also listed by anonymous “sources” as some of the celebrity dolls in Depp’s collection. In interviews, Depp has no qualms talking about how he plays dolls with his kids and owns that he has “a lot of Barbies in storage.”
In fact, it seems like Depp enjoys his own play with his collection. Several Hollywood news sites state that the actor dresses and accessorizes his dolls to reflect the goings-on of various Hollywood divas. This includes his Lohan doll, which sources say Depp had accessorized with an ankle bracelet when Lindsay was put under house arrest. Johnny Depp, it seems, is a collector who has learned “the power of play.”
“Surely,” I thought, “if Johnny Depp collects dolls, then it will be perceived as ‘normal.’ If someone this cool is a doll collector, how can I be called weird?”
Apparently it will take more than Johnny Depp’s Barbie collection to break the general distaste and contempt our society as a whole reserves for doll collectors. I believe that even if that embodiment of the very pinnacle of masculinity itself—Don Draper—acknowledged possessing a doll collection, it still would likely not remove the stigma associated with it.
Then again, I thought, perhaps it’s not so bad to be in the company of Johnny Depp and Demi Moore. Demi’s selection of fine artist dolls shows that she has a deep appreciation for art in doll form, and Depp’s admission that he enjoys accessorizing his celebrity dolls illustrates that he is open to expressing his creativity in unconventional ways.
I hate science fiction. I know that may make me unpopular with a lot of fashion doll collectors, as I know there’s a lot of crossover between these two groups. There are also a good number of science fiction dolls that use fashion doll bodies. The Robert Tonner Doll Company has produced dolls from Dr. Who, Firefly, Tron, The Hunger Games, and more. I don’t own any of these dolls, as I’ve seen about two science fiction movies in my life–and that was under protest.
I mention this because I just purchased my first science fiction-inspired doll. (That’s doll, not “character figure.” Changing the name does not change that fact that it is a doll, although it may make it more palatable for geeky male collectors.) The doll is “Jupiter Ascending,” which shares the same name as a science fiction movie currently in theatres. The movie apparently stars an actress named Mila Kunis. I have no idea who this woman is, which, according to my friends, makes me a pop culture imbecile. So be it.
Anyway, since I had no previous knowledge of what the actress looks like (I have since Googled her), I had no expectations of what her sculpt should look it. I am told that it bears only passing resemblance to Mila. You be the judge of that. I just think she’s a pretty doll, and, as a fashion doll collector, that’s all I care about.
I mention this because sci-fi fans/doll collectors may have some disappointed expectations in this doll due to the alleged fact that the doll bears little resemblance to the actress it is supposed to portray. I urge those who fall into that category to look beyond that factor–if you do, you are missing one gorgeous doll.
I have mentioned before in this blog that I very, very rarely purchase a doll soon after it is released. This rule especially applies to Tonner dolls, as the company holds frequent and generous sales, in some cases not that long after the dolls first appear on the market. That said, there is the occasional doll that strikes my fancy so much I do purchase her out of the gate. The last time this happened was last year soon after the Tonner Convention, when 15th Anniversary Tyler was offered for sale. I could not push that “buy” button soon enough, and I was rewarded with a truly stunning, quality doll.
I felt the same way when I saw pre-production photos of Jupiter Ascending. She is so different from the many fashion dolls in my collection, and her outfit to me looked like haute couture at its finest. I could totally see a human-sized version of this dress worn by a model strutting the catwalk during New York Fashion Week. I decided to break my “wait for a sale” rule and purchase her from a retailer. Although the doll’s MSRP is $240, she can generally be had for $200 or a bit less from most retailers, who typically discount their dolls 15%-20% when they are first released.
I received Jupiter in the post yesterday, and I was impressed as soon as I opened the box. Let me say at the start that this doll’s complex getup–a reproduction of a gown worn in the film–could very easily have been executed in a very chintzy, gaudy manner. Its excess of sequins, embroidery, and attached flowers of different sizes could have spelled disaster in the hands of a less practiced dollmaker. But Robert Tonner did this costume justice in its recreation. The gown is high-quality and tasteful. Yes, it’s way over the top, but that’s what haute couture (and, I suppose, the latest fashion in science fiction films) is supposed to be.
The gown’s fit is perfect, and it drapes beautifully from her waist.
The design continues on the sides and back. No cutting corners here.
Sequins, embroidery, and flowers are tastefully arranged on the gown.
Her headpiece is a marvel. It is huge, and, again, in less practiced hands, it could have been gaudy as hell. But somehow it works. It is attached to the head with a loop that fits over the back of the doll’s updo, making it very sturdy. No chance of this thing falling off.
Mona Lisa smile
The shoes are simple, white pumps. An appropriate choice, as any more frippery at this point would be a bit much.
There are two items that I would have done differently. The dress is lined in white only from the waist down, which makes those areas above the waist not covered in sequins or embroidery a bit sheer. And Jupiter’s right boob is lacking in this frippery. (Can you tell I like that word?)
I personally don’t care to see my doll’s boobs in a full-length gown. (I’m no Sybarite fan.) I have no idea why Tonner chose not to line the top of the dress. It seems like an odd choice, given the attention to detail of the rest of the dress.
Jupiter also came with wrist cuffs, which I believe were recreated from the film. On the doll, they are flimsy and cheap-looking, and they attach with a large snap, which makes them lay awkwardly on the doll’s wrists. I took them off as soon as I finished photographing the doll. They add nothing to the outfit. The earrings were lovely, though. Small silver rhinestone flowers. A nice change from the studs Tonner usually gives his girls.
As far as the sculpt goes, I just love it. It would be terrific to see this face again in a fashion doll line (although, since it was produced under license, that’s not likely). Jupiter has a lovely, serene face with just a hint of a smile. Her face is fuller than most of Tonner’s fashion dolls, which, IMHO, makes her a refreshing change from the vast majority of angular faces in my collection.
So that’s all I have to say about that. Your thoughts?