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.
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.
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.
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.
Doll people have an interesting lexicon exclusive to their community. Besides our acronym alphabet soup (BJD, FBJD, BW, AR, SA, NRFB, MIB, etc.), we coin terms that often betray our tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. “Hoo-hoo stands” in particular springs to mind. But my personal favorite by far, is “grail doll,” also occasionally referred to as “cold, dead hands doll.” (As in, “You would have to pry this doll from my cold, dead hands.”) Every collector I know has, at one time or another, used this phrase to refer to that special doll that, were their house engulfed in flames and they had time to rescue just one doll from their collection, this doll would be the one.
Sometimes one’s grail doll is an OOAK piece that has been repainted by a favorite artist and wears a piece of couture created by a talented seamstress. Sometimes it is an exclusive, limited edition factory doll that they’ve pursued for years. It may be a particularly expensive doll that took them months to save for. Or it could be a doll whose value is purely personal, perhaps a gift from a dear friend.
My local doll club chooses a theme each month and encourages members to bring to every meeting a doll or dolls that fall into that category. February’s theme was “grail doll,” and the variety of dolls that members brought in represented a wide interpretation of what constitutes a grail doll. There were factory dolls and customized dolls–repainted, rerooted, and redressed. There were resin dolls and vinyl dolls, fashion dolls and child dolls. The owner of each doll gave a mini-presentation explaining why their doll was special to them, often sharing the story of how they came to own the doll after pursuing it for years or working with artists to create their vision of what it should be. There were widely varying interpretations of what makes a grail doll, but a common theme was the strong emotional connection collectors have to their dolls as miniature pieces of art created by respected artists.
It seems to me that when we take time to think about which dolls in our collection that someone would have to pry from our “cold, dead hands,” we reflect on why we have taken up this hobby to begin with. What do we appreciate the most about the hobby that occupies our spare hours? The art? The creativity? The “power of play”? The friendship? The sense of community? Often, it is a combination of all of these factors.
Even though you may not personally prefer what another collector calls her grail, you can always respect why she does.
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.
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.
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?
Each week, the Prego doll discussion board posts a specific theme, and readers are invited to share photos that fit that theme. This week the theme is “Favorite Tonner Sculpt,” and it struck me just how difficult it can be to choose one Tonner face above the rest. I’ve been collecting Tonner dolls since 2003, and, during that time, I’ve seen what I believe to be the best doll artistry in the world. Robert Tonner’s exquisite facial sculpts breathe life into his vinyl creations, and many fashion doll collectors agree that his sculpts are the the industry’s most realistic.
Like many collectors, Tyler Wentworth’s lovely face was the one that first pulled me into the world of 16-inch collectible dolls. She was soon joined on my display shelves by Sydney Chase and the talent of the Chase Modeling Agency: Esme, Ashleigh, Stella, Kit, Jac, and Angelina. Others would follow. Cinderella, Euphemia, Mera, Carrie, Layne, Brenda Starr, and Daphne all took their places in my collection and my heart. I loved each one and truly had no favorite.
Tonner introduced DeeAnna Denton in 2008 and imagined her as a 1950s heiress to a chewing gum empire founded by her father. Her 17-inch, curvy body was quite unlike what had become known as the “Tyler body,” with its generous bust and small waist. Her face was simultaneously youthful and sophisticated. I thought she had the loveliest expression I had ever seen on a fashion doll. I found her markedly different from the Tonner fashion doll sculpts that had come before her. Upon adding her to my collection, I knew that I could finally declare that I had a “favorite” among Tonner’s many lovely faces.
The many faces of DeeAnna Denton. All photos are courtesy of the talented Angela Nielsen.
And I must add one more…
When my son was born four years ago, I was going out of my mind with boredom during my maternity leave. So I started taking photos of my infant son with my dolls. Unbeknownst to me, my husband then took those photos and made comic strips out of them–which he later shared with the world on Facebook. This one–my favorite–stars DeeAnna. (Click on image to enlarge.)
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.
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.
“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…
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.