A (doll) room of our own

Every doll collector knows that the only thing better than a new doll is new doll space. For those of us outside of the 1%, the biggest burden we bear as doll collectors is trying to find space to display the damned things. Dolls, of course, are like potato chips. … You can never have just one. Or two. Or two dozen. Dolls get lonely too. They need friends. And friends with benefits. And spouses. And kids. And mistresses. And extended family. And nemeses. They breed like rabbits. And they need their space.

space4
Surely I can squeeze one more in…
Perhaps not.
Perhaps not.

I am one of those lucky people with a “doll room.” Which, for me, means that the majority of my dolls are crammed into our small third bedroom. When my husband and I purchased this house–our first–eight years ago, I was delighted to finally have that “grail” that all serious collectors covet–a room of my own designated specifically for my dolls. My husband was more than happy to give this to me. In our former apartment, he slept in a bedroom festooned with dolls, including the 3-foot Himstedt that stood on his bed stand. He took the second bedroom as his “man cave” (which he would have to sacrifice three years later when our son came along, but everyone knows that doll rooms take precedence over man caves).

All lined up
All lined up

What my room lacked in square footage it more than made up in vertical space. I eyed those cathedral ceilings and envisioned tall display cabinets and shelving that would help me maximize what I had to work with. When I set up my doll room in my new house eight years ago, my collection had room to grow, and, over the years, I slowly filled up the space with creative display techniques that have enabled me to show off the majority of my collection at once. It’s an organized sort of chaos. Yes, it’s crowded, but it also feels like home. A futon in the middle of the room gives me comfortable space to stretch out and redress my girls while listening to the latest podcast of This American Life. (It’s a guest room too–for those who don’t mind 500 pairs of eyes staring at them while they sleep. On the plus side, it keeps down the number of overnight guests we get.)

I just about reached maximum doll capacity a few months ago. The one piece of real estate left was a bookshelf that contained a selection of my husband’s large military history book collection. (Doll collectors and military historians share a surprising amount of chemistry.) This was the last remnant of the “man cave” that predated my son’s entrance into this world, and I generally tried to keep my mouth shut about how cool it would be to have that space for the girls who had taken up residence in the garage due to the doll room’s worsening real estate crisis.

And then out of the blue the husband tells me he’s rearranging the house and is moving the bookcase elsewhere. It was like hearing that Christmas was coming twice this year.

I immediately began to make plans in my mind. I had my eye on a beautiful, tall, long-neglected walnut bookcase in our garage. Its deep shelves could accommodate 16-inch dolls, and I envisioned creating mini dioramas in them. All of the rest of my shelf space was filled to capacity with dolls lined up like toy soldiers. This space would be different–it would be my creative space, my in-progress space, where I would frequently rotate displays.

I’ve enjoyed playing with this new space during the past month, and I’m happy with the mini dioramas and small scenes that I’ve created thus far. I recently ventured into the resin fashion ball-jointed doll (FBJD) world, and I now have space to better access and display them.

I am so grateful for this little escape in my little townhouse in my little central Florida town. In this doll space of my own, I escape the sometimes difficult realities of a full-time job in corporate American and an obstinate four-year-old boy who is certain that my function on this earth is to please only him. After I close my computer for the night and tuck the little one into bed, I am able to get creative with my dolls for an hour or two before it’s time to head to bed and face it all again.

And that’s why we’re in this hobby, right?

IMHO

The Tonner Doll Company released photos of its “mainline preview” this week. Apparently, the balance of the 2015 mainline release will be announced sometime in March. According to the company, March’s release will include dolls from the Patsy, Patsyette, American Model, DC Stars, Sindy, Déjà Vu, and much-anticipated Marley Wentworth lines. And, lest I forget, I hear that there will be new Wizard of Oz dolls. Again. No one knows how to wring the value out of a commercial license like Robert Tonner.

Of the 15 dolls that Tonner announced this week, 12 are now available for shipping—a huge improvement over having to wait for the vast majority of the dolls to arrive from a slow boat from China by dubious arrival dates. This also marks the first time Tonner’s release of licensed dolls based on characters from a contemporary movie will actually be ready for shipping while the movie is still in theatres. (Well, at least two dolls will. The third seems to still be pending approval.) So, even if the film tanks, there is a chance the dolls will sell on at least the premise of Jupiter Ascending being a good film.

Jupiter Ascending Jupiter Jones (In stock!)
“Caine” from Jupiter Ascending (Arrival time: Anyone’s guess.)

Besides the three Jupiter Ascending dolls, also released were an impressive seven dolls from the Diana Prince collection, which features the popular Tyler 2.0 sculpt and reimagines Wonder Woman as a fashionable woman about town. This clever recasting of Diana Prince makes her potentially appealing to both comic book geeks and fashion doll collectors. I personally know at least one of the latter who will be adding a Diana Prince doll to her collection.

Rounding out the preview are one Tiny Kitty, two Scarlett O’Haras, one Wicked Witch (probably edition number 459, but who’s counting?), and a resin Snoopy and Belle gift set. Not sure what market Tonner is targeting with that last one. My general impression of the preview is positive, and I’d like to call attention to three products that I particularly like. But before I do, I really need to get something off my chest.

My chief critique of this collection has nothing to do with the dolls themselves. It is the way they are presented. Tonner Doll Company’s inadequate photography of its products does a huge disservice to collectors, and, of course, to the company itself. With the near-eradication of the local doll shop, collectors no longer have the luxury of being able to personally handle and evaluate dolls before they purchase them.

Collector fashion dolls are expensive—and they are getting more so. Plunking down $200 for a purchase sight unseen takes quite the leap of faith. With less and less discretionary income available to the middle class, the concept of “pre-ordering” has become almost quaint. Many collectors now reserve judgement until they review IRL (“in real life”) photos of dolls that have already been purchased by other collectors who are kind enough to share their personal photos. Under these circumstances, manufacturers can become hugely dependent on the picture-taking skills of anonymous collectors to sell their wares. After investing countless dollars on creative talent, manufacturing costs, and ever-rising overhead, why in the world would any company allow their sales to depend on homemade photos shared in online collector groups?

The transformation of doll commerce from brick-and-mortar to online stores has made it incumbent upon manufacturers to try to replicate the in-store shopping experience online via high-quality, multiple, detailed photographs.  And that doesn’t mean taking one front-view photo of a doll and then using close-ups of that same photo for your detailed photos. Show me that your product is worth my $189.99! Take off that coat. What’s under it? Is it lined? Does the dress come with a slip? Are there crinolines under that gown? Pick up that long hem and show me the shoes! Do they zip up, or do I have to fumble around with tiny buckles? What is the quality of that fabric? Are the beads sewn on? How thick is that sweater? What does the jewelry look like? All of these factors can be make-or-break for different collectors.

You may very well list what your outfits do or do not include in your product descriptions, but telling me that there are “white faux leather pumps” under that long gown does nothing to help me know what they actually look like. A short time ago, Tonner Doll Company did begin posting short videos of its dolls taking a 360-degree turn. I was delighted to see that, but the effort was short-lived, and the videos were too small to see any real detail.

Mr. Tonner, you can make it wholly unnecessary for collectors to wait to see the snapshots other collectors have taken of their dolls—and you can sell more dolls in the process—by taking high-quality, detailed photos of your production dolls when they are ready for shipping. Your photos are the only thing left on which your potential buyers can base their purchasing decisions. Don’t make it an afterthought. Pay a good photographer and stylist well, and you will see a handsome return on your investment.

To borrow an overused phrase, this is not rocket science. Integrity Toys has managed it for years. Each time they announce a doll, collectors are provided multiple detailed photographs from multiple angles as well as up-close photos of the doll’s accessories. This has allowed the company’s collectors to make more informed purchasing decisions, leading to fewer cases of “buyer’s remorse” that can result in returned products.

Sermon over. I’ve been holding that one in for a while.

Back to the preview. My main pick of this group’s litter is Jupiter Ascending, a doll based on the character and movie of the same name. I am not a sci-fi fan, and I have no idea who Mila Kunis is. I do know that I love the sculpt, and that getup looks like runway couture at its best. I want one.

Jupiter Ascending

“Diana” is my second pick. Of course, it’s difficult for me to make any definitive judgement, as I have no idea what the doll’s dress looks like when it isn’t being covered up by a coat. And where do those boots end? At her knee? Her crotch? Her waist? What the hell do her earrings look like? I guess I’ll have to go down to my local doll shop and check it out for myself. Oh, that’s right…

Diana Prince

Then there’s the “Winter Princess” outfit. Although it is quite similar to Diana’s outfit, I can never resist a good coat dress. From what I can see of it, this is classic Tonner style at its best. But it would really, really be super to know what the coat looks like without the scarf on. Does it have a wide collar? A narrow one? Is the belt attached? And, please, let’s get a look at that damned purse!

Winter Princess (outfit only)

Other items that interest me (at least what I can see from the single photo that Tonner offers), include Diana Prince’s “Stars and Stripes” outfit and a darling little Tiny Kitty.

Stars and Stripes (outfit only)
Tiny Kitty, Perfectly Pink

I rarely pay retail for Tonner dolls any longer, as their sales are frequent and generous these days. That said, I did put an order in for Jupiter Ascending, as I got a good deal on her from Happily Ever After. (A terrific doll shop owned by a terrific guy. As a die-hard collector, I think it’s important that our community patronize the few brick-and-mortar doll shops still left standing, and this is a great one. I highly recommend them; tell Ed that Barb sent you.)

The entire preview can be viewed here. What are your favorites?

How to Afford to Attend a Doll Convention in 7 Easy Steps

sales

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend a doll convention, you know how incredibly fun it can be. Let’s face it: Not many people “get” doll collectors. They are a creative, eccentric, artistic group that speaks a language only a very few people can understand. My husband looks at me like I have two heads when I start going on about NRFB v. MIB dolls, frankendollies, BW v. AR bodies, resin v. vinyl, 1:4 v. 1:6 scale, repaints, and the size of male BJD genitalia (c’mon, you know you’ve looked). Pretty much anyone other than another fashion doll collector would think you are speaking in another language. And, let’s face it—you are.

2009 Tonner Doll Convention breakout event with obligatory table balloons

Conventions afford hard-core doll collectors the rare opportunity to be surrounded by people who not only understand their language, but understand them. It’s the one place in the world where you are not the “weird one,” because, I guarantee it, there is someone there who is even weirder than you. (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been at a convention looking disdainfully at a fellow collector hyperventilating over a doll that I think looks like a minion of Satan. Thank God I’m not that weird, I think. And then, of course, an hour later I am panting even harder over my own quirky discovery in the sales room. Glass houses and all that.)

You see a cute BJD, I see a doll with encephalitis
You see a cute BJD, I see a doll with encephalitis

Being able to let your freak flag fly is not cheap—even if for only a weekend. Once you add up the cost of registration, transportation, companion dolls, break-out events, and salesroom purchases, you’re easily looking at several thousand dollars. Ours is not a cheap hobby. Like many people, my budget requires me to be creative when it comes to being able to afford to attend a convention. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it, and, although it’s still not cheap, I am usually able to attend one such event each year. Here are some tips I’ve learned through a decade of attending doll conventions:

1) Out with the old, in with the new: Limits on income and space prevent most of us from buying and keeping every doll we want. If you really want to attend a convention, take a look at your collection and ask yourself what you may be able to live without to fund your adventure. Lack of space often means that many of us must store at least some of our collection out of sight. Ask yourself how long it’s been since you’ve played with or even looked at a particular doll. Is it time for her to move on? And, of course, all the more reason if you can get a good price for her. My general rule is that if a doll hasn’t been redressed for a year (with some exceptions for the ones I keep “pristine”), it’s probably time for her to move on.

kish
So how badly do you want me?

2) Prostitute yourself: Oh, how I envy you seamstresses, repainters, and crafters who create objects so beautiful that other people actually want to buy them. If that’s your bag, and you want to attend a convention this year, break out the paints, fabrics, beads, and do-dads. Update your website, open a store on Etsy, and market the hell out of yourself. It’s a small community. Word about good artists spreads fast.

Conventions filled with like-minded doll obsessives are the best place to sell your wares.
Conventions filled with like-minded doll obsessives are the best place to sell your wares.

3) Split expenses: Don’t go it alone. Convention-going is double the fun when you share it with friends. Save the cost of a pricey airline ticket by taking a road trip and splitting the cost of gas. Halve the price of your hotel room by sharing it with a fellow fanatic. You aren’t going to spend much time in your room anyway. And it’s only for three days, at the most, so if you find you really can’t stand the other person, you won’t be stuck with him for long.

My Modern Doll roomie. She didn't snore.
My Modern Doll roomie. She didn’t snore.

4) Don’t eat: Let’s face it: We could all stand to lose some weight. Conventions are often held at geographically desirable locations that take advantage of that desirability by hiking dining costs. So pack sandwiches, bring munchies, drink from a refillable water bottle. Steal leftover food on your way out of breakout events and bring it back to your room to eat later. (Yes, it’s tacky, but you can sacrifice a little dignity to be able to buy another doll, right? Besides, it will just go to waste anyway.)

5) DO NOT BUY EVERY DOLL YOU SEE! Just because a doll is sitting in the middle of the table, just because you “won the right to buy” a $300 doll, just because there are only 50 companion dolls available, and you are sure to be the envy of all your friends if you get one—does not mean you should whip out your credit card. I can’t tell you how many centerpiece or companion dolls I purchased in the heat of the moment only to open them back up after the convention and say to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

My haul from the 2014 Modern Doll Convention
Hypocrite.

Now when I am presented with the “right to buy” (kudos to the marketer who thought up that idea), I ask myself two questions: 1) Do I like it enough to keep it in my personal collection indefinitely? And, if the answer is “no,” 2) What is it likely to fetch on the secondary market? While the first question may be difficult to answer, the second can be much more so. How much do you know about this line of dolls? What makes this doll “special”? Is it a rare sculpt? An usual outfit? How well do you know your market? Is the doll likely to “cause a stir” among other collectors? Which brings me to…

boneka group
How can you resist all this cuteness?

6) Buy low, sell high: You know who they are. The woman at the table next to you snapping photos of her souvenir doll barely out of the box and posting them to Ebay within ten seconds flat for an eye-popping “Buy It Now” price. The guy sitting next to you taking photos of the centerpiece doll from every possible angle and offering it up on a doll board before even getting it back to his room. These people are often decried by many in the doll community as opportunists, and they definitely are. And I say more power to them. There are always a few people out there who need to have the first of an exclusive doll on the second-hand market, and they will pay top dollar for it. If a convention-goer who has put out a couple grand for her weekend wants to recoup some of that expense by reselling a doll that doesn’t particularly appeal to her, why the hell not?

99_robert and helen
What do you mean, you sold my event doll???

But while some people do manage to recoup some convention costs this way, many others do not. Buying low and selling high is difficult in any market. You have to be able to make a pretty sound prediction of what your potential buyers are willing to pay. Price it too low, and you may see subsequent sellers obtain much higher prices. Price it too high, and it will linger on Ebay indefinitely. The better you know the manufacturer and the market, the better you will be at this. If you don’t have good market insight, you’ll end up paying top dollar for a doll you don’t even like only to sell it two months later at half the price.

I think it’s safe to say that this strategy does not apply to all doll manufacturers’ conventions. If you’ve seen a dollmaker in years past liquidating its leftover convention product five months after the fact, it’s a safe bet its convention dolls won’t increase in value. But if you’ve seen dolls from a specific company’s convention consistently soar in price on the secondary market long after the convention’s end, you may have a chance.

How much would YOU pay?

I was able to make this happen for me. Last year’s Integrity convention was in Orlando, an hour away from my home. Without transportation costs, my overall cost to attend the convention was limited to the registration fee and breakout events. I know that Integrity convention dolls have a history of soaring in price immediately after they are released. And so I offered on Ebay any doll that didn’t appeal to me, but that I thought would be highly desirable to other collectors willing to pay a significant mark-up. In the end, I sold nine convention dolls at enough of a mark-up to cover all of my convention costs as well as seven dolls that I kept for myself.

If you do decide to try to recoup your costs this way, keep in mind that taking photos and writing up descriptions, trying to beat the other opportunists to Ebay and doll boards, and carrying out multiple virtual transactions at once can interfere with your ability to truly enjoy being present at a convention. Don’t completely take yourself away from a convention that you worked so hard to be able to attend.

If you buy to sell, do yourself a favor and only bring out the credit card if you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that you can sell that doll for more than you paid for it. And be sure to factor in any postage, customs fees, Ebay aggravation, etc. into the equation. If it’s not going to be worth your while, skip it.

Are you SURE you can resell it?
Are you SURE you can resell it?

7) Drag along a non-doll friend: Can’t decide which doll to sell at a markup and which to keep? Bringing along a non-collector friend (i.e., a bored spouse or child), and sell his dolls. List ‘em as soon as you get ‘em, and, with luck, you may be able to cover both of your costs. Again, not a guaranteed result, and not a wise move for many doll lines that do not sell well on the secondary market. To make it work, you need to do your homework.

99_TC 2009 - me and mom
Me and Mom at Tonner Con. Unfortunately, she usually wanted to keep her dolls.

Conventions are not cheap, and many of us need to get creative when it comes to finding a way to subsidize them. Whether it’s selling off some of your dolls that have lost their luster, bunking with a roomie, arranging a road trip, budgeting to a fault, sewing doll couture until your fingers bleed, or learning to buy and sell as well as a hedge fund manager, there are things you can do to make your dolly convention dreams come true.

raffle room
I know I can win SOMETHING if I just spend $50 more on raffle tickets…