In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I went through my 10-year archive of dolly pics and selected a variety of my girls in green. Some of these beauties have moved on, but most have stayed with me and continue to bring me joy. I hope they bring a smile to your face as you celebrate today with kisses to your loved ones and a nice frothy mug of green beer.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that Robert Tonner’s dolls hold a special place in my heart. I discovered Tonner’s dolls in 2003, when Tyler Wentworth and her world reigned supreme in Robert’s offerings. I was primarily enticed by the dolls’ uber-realistic, beautiful faces. They were so full of personality, and each one was distinct from the others. I loved that Robert injected racial diversity in his collections, regularly adding gorgeous African-American, Asian, and Hispanic characters into the mix. Today, I have hundreds of dolls from Tyler’s world in my collection, and they remain first in my heart.
But, of course, doll lines have short shelf lives in the world of high-end fashion dolls, and Tyler and her world were gradually phased out as collectors’ tastes changed. Tonner went on to create other doll lines. Cami, Re-imagination, DeeAnna, Antoinette, and Deja Vu took their turns in the spotlight, and many were gorgeous dolls. But while I purchased several of these dolls, none grabbed my attention like Tyler and Sydney once did. Back in those days, it was difficult for me to winnow down the list of dolls I wanted to purchase in each subsequent line unveiling. Like many collectors, I’d count down the days until Tonner’s latest unveiling, quickly emailing my dealer my wish list in hopes of getting to her first before my favorites sold out. But with Tonner’s subsequent lines, there were usually only a couple that stood out to me, and they rarely sold out.
It could be that I’m romanticizing my early collecting days, and the Wentworth family is a source of wistful nostalgia. It could be that I’ve matured as a collector, and I am now choosier with what I add to my collection. After all, I have to be out of necessity. My collection is bursting at the seams of my many doll cabinets.
At any rate, the point of all this rambling is to say that Robert Tonner just released a collection that has captured my imagination more than any other line since Miss Wentworth entered the scene. Her name is Miette, and she is far from a fashion doll. Miette’s back story casts her in the role of a character in the fictional, fairy tale-esque French village of “Faire Croire.” As described on Tonner’s website:
“Once upon a time, in a far off corner of a very southern part of France, lies a tiny village called, Faire Croire. Don’t bother to look on any map, you’ll never find it. It’s a lovely village where the people enjoy a life of beauty and peace. Every house in the village is a different color and has window boxes filled with flowers of all kinds. The moss covered thatched roofs slant in all angles. There are no locks on any doors or windows. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with fragrant flowers growing in beautiful pots adorned in jewels. The air is always thick with the scent of freshly baked pain au chocolat. It seems like a place you would hear about in a fairy tale. Although Faire Croire is well over 500 years old, no one knows it’s there. But, Faire Croire does have a quality, something sinister that hangs over the heads of all the villagers. Something like a dark cloud. Could that feeling be coming from the castle on the hill?
How could a village be over 500 years old with no one except the people that live there knowing of its existence? Miette, the lovely daughter of the Mayor of Faire Croire, intends to find out.”
I love Tonner’s quirky back stories, and I hope he expands on this one. Miette’s aesthetic is full of pastel colors, ruffles, and eyelet fabric. Her face is open and innocent, her lips ever-so-slightly parted as if she might speak. She reminds me a great deal of one of my other favorite sculpts of Robert’s, Euphemia, one of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters. But while Euphemia is pouty and cross, Miette is sweet and tender.
It seems that I am not the only collector enchanted by Miette. She was just released yesterday, and the status of many dolls has gone from “in stock” to “coming soon,” which I assume means they have sold out of much of their first shipment. While I’m delighted for Tonner Doll, as I can’t remember this happening for some time, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to place my order today. I’m going to start out with a raven basic, and if she is as lovely as her pictures, I’ll likely add a dressed doll. If money were no object, my wish list would consist of the Raven Basic, Dainty Miette, Fanciful, and Enchanting Miette.
I wish Tonner the best with this new line, and I’m looking forward to adding Miette to my dolly world. Who knows, perhaps she will fill the empty place in my heart that Tyler left when she exited the scene.
Year in review
A year ago today, I made a resolution to launch my own doll blog that would mix personal memoir with my experiences in the world of fashion doll collecting. I am proud to say that this is the only New Year’s resolution that I’ve ever actually kept.
Today, 50 posts and 37,000 views in 90 countries later, I realize that I’ve touched a nerve in the doll community. Doll collectors are a simultaneously solitary and communal people. Solitary because there are so few of us out there. Communal because we seek one another out to share a hobby that is often mocked in the mainstream. Like the “crazy cat lady,” the doll collector is perceived as eccentric and out of touch with reality. For this reason, many of us assume a self-deprecating persona with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about ourselves and our community. Like all minority groups, doll collectors often celebrate their uniqueness and form close bonds with those like them.
It is due to this reason, I believe, that some of my most popular posts in the past year combine personal story-telling with the world of dolls. I’ve shared stories about my mother with Alzheimer’s, my late husband, and my little boy. Because doll collecting is such an intimate part of my world, each of these topics coincide in some way with my love of dolls. Before she became ill, my mother and I enjoyed the hobby together, doll collecting helped me combat depression when my husband died, and my five-year-old son thinks it’s perfectly normal to have a mommy who redresses her dolls in the evening to relax.
So whether you are a new visitor to my blog, or someone who has been with me all year, below is a list of my most-read blog posts in 2015. Thanks so much for your encouragement this year, and best wishes for a happy, healthy 2016. And remember, if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post in 2016, please follow by blog and my new entries will appear in your email in-box. Happy doll collecting to all!
#5 When a doll collector moves My interstate move this year involved packing and transporting in excess of 500 dolls amassed over two decades. See how I did it.
#4 They hide in plain sight Learn which of Hollywood’s rich and famous lead double lives as doll collectors.
#3 The 2015 WTF Doll Awards Some dolls just leave us shaking our heads. Here’s your guide to the oddest offerings of 2015.
#2 How (not) to sell dolls on eBay Learn the do’s and don’ts of selling dolls on the world’s largest online flea market.
#1 Kristen’s Tale (or Why You Should Never F*** With a Doll Collector) Read about the great dolly caper starring a now-famous lost-and-found eBay repaint.
How I met Tyler Wentworth
I met Tyler Wentworth in 2003. That was the darkest year of my life, but meeting Tyler helped me through it just a little bit. And I needed every little bit I could get that year. When Tyler and I met, my world was spinning out of control. It had been just over three months since I lost my first husband to cancer. He died three months after our wedding day. At age 29, I found myself both a newlywed and a widow.
Overwhelmed with grief, I was unmoored and devastated. I quit my job and barricaded myself inside my apartment most days, where I wept continually and surrounded myself with photos and reminders of my late husband. My mother was desperate to pique my interest in anything that would motivate me to leave my apartment and live again. So she dragged me to the doll industry’s now-defunct East Coast Doll Expo in Washington, DC.
Mom had read about the expo the day before in the Washington Post. She knew nothing more about it, except that it had to do with dolls. And mom and I loved dolls. We’d been collecting Barbies together for about ten years. So she drove to my place, dragged me out of bed, and pushed me into the Metro.
As we traveled to the hotel that was hosting the expo, I began to feel guilty at the prospect of possibly enjoying myself at the event. In those early months of my grief, I feared happiness as much as I did my constant misery. Being miserable at my loss somehow kept my husband’s spirit more present to me. In those days, grief was tangible, and the only thing I could rely on.
When we arrived at the hotel, mom and I were taken aback at the size of the event. I will never forget the moment we walked through those ballroom doors into the massive showroom. There were dolls of every shape and size as far as the eye could see. Mom and I had previously only attended small doll shows dominated by a pink sea of Barbie and friends.
I like to say that it was at that moment of taking visual stock of a room full of artist dolls unlike any I had before seen that Barbie died to me. This was especially the case when I stepped up to the Tonner Company’s considerable display and beheld for the first time Tyler Wentworth in all her couture beauty. Barbie was a pathetic little fairy in comparison. It was clear our relationship was over.
I quickly pulled my mother over to the booth and showed her Tyler. We thought she was enormous compared to Barbie, and I had never seen outfits so exquisitely tailored and detailed. Everything fit her so well. There were little buttons, little belts, sparkly jewelry, and handsome handbags. There were business suits and swim suits and gowns. Mom said she would buy me one of these little masterpieces, and I poured over Tyler and the members of the Chase Modeling Agency, looking for the face that spoke to me most.
Now what mom and I failed to understand was that these particular dolls were not for sale. The primary purpose of the expo was to provide a showroom for retailers looking to put in their orders for the year. So when I picked up a brunette “Super Stripes” Tyler and brought her over to no less than Tom Courtney, asking to purchase it, he gave me an indulgent smile. Tom, who headed up Tonner’s marketing and design team at the time, gently explained to me that these dolls were not for direct sale, and he handed me a piece of paper that listed the dealers that sold Tonner’s products, mostly online.
My mother and I spent the next few hours wandering around the room, discovering new artists, some of which I still collect to this day. But no other doll made quite the impression that Tyler did. When I returned home, I immediately logged on to my computer, and Savvy Stripes Tyler was on her way to my apartment. My mother would tell me years later that it was that day at the expo that she saw me smile for the first time since my husband’s death.
Since that fateful day nearly thirteen years ago, my life has gone in totally unexpected directions. The raw pain that ravaged me upon the death of my first husband slowly dulled with each passing day, month, and year, and today I am able to recall him with warmth and joy rather than pain and sorrow. He is always with me, but as a source of comfort rather than sadness.
I have since remarried a wonderful man and gave birth to our beautiful son. I have a successful career and good friends. I can’t complain. Life has tossed me occasional curve balls, but I have successfully fielded each one and come out on top.
Doll collecting continues to play an important role of my life. I have made many friends in the community, and I even founded a local club. I’ve gone to several conventions and have been delighted with the kindness and creativity of the doll collecting circuit. And, of course, I started a blog that has attracted an enthusiastic following for which I am so grateful.
I still have that first brunette Super Stripes Tyler. She has traded her striped swimsuit for a sharp business suit, and I’ve accessorized her with glasses, stylish boots, and a brand-name handbag. I like to think that she represents me after I was able to dig myself out of the deep hole of grief that once threatened to consume me. She has seen me through a period of tremendous change, and she will likely see me through much more.
The doll who started it all – Super Stripes Tyler
A pretty song
Collecting high-end fashion dolls can be an expensive hobby, so most collectors have to be pretty picky about what they choose to spend their precious dolly dollars on. I like to think that within the 20+ years I’ve been at this hobby, I’ve acquired “an eye” for the best the market has to offer. I try to avoid passing fads and obvious knock-offs and go for the original–those that have that often-difficult-to-articulate “something” that sets them apart from their vinyl and resin sisters.
In general, I like my dolls to look like real people. With the considerable exception of Ellowyne Wilde, my dolls have realistic sculpts and realistic proportions. Bulbous heads and skinny bodies have never done it for me. In my estimation, a pretty face always outranks articulation. I will pass up the most realistically articulated doll with a mediocre sculpt in favor of a stiff doll with a pretty face. I think this is the reason I’ve stayed loyal to Robert Tonner all these years. His sculpts are among the most realistic and stunning faces in the market. While other artists have successfully created dolls with articulation Tyler Wentworth can only dream of, Tonner’s faces remain among the fairest in the dolly land.
So if anything was going to lure me and my dollars away from Mr. Tonner’s 16-inch girls, it had to have more than posability going for it.
And then one day I came across a face that enchanted me almost as much as Tyler Wentworth did the first time I laid eyes on her. The doll was the work of Mr. Paul Pham of Dollcis, and her name was Stratus. I quickly did my homework on Mr. Pham, and learned that he is a one-man-show who creates resin fashion ball-jointed dolls (FBJDs) in batches of about 50, as well as one-of-a-kind commissioned dolls. Stratus was long sold out, and her price tag on the secondary market was more than I was accustomed to paying for a doll. But several months after I first saw her, she came up for sale on one of the doll boards I frequent, and I purchased her. Today she reigns as one of the queens of my collection. She is far more than a pretty face–Stratus has quite the bod, and she poses like a dream.
In time, Stratus was joined by one of Mr. Pham’s other creations, the lovely, Spanish-inspired Alma. I love her aquiline features and serene expression.
I think one of the reasons I am so attract to Paul’s work is the distinct ethnic flavor of his sculpts. When he first released photos this spring of his latest creation, Sung, I did what I had to do to clear up some space for her. Her face seemed to capture the flavor of the Orient, and I wanted her to take her place among her sisters.
This past week, Sung arrived. I was delighted with her as soon as I opened the box.
Eager to play, I began trying different looks on her right away.
Then I photographed her with her Numina sisters.
Sung looked great in every look I tried on her. She especially favors pink and green, given her pink lips and green eyes. Ultimately, I dressed her in a top from an artist on eBay, a pair of Tonner slacks, and a wonderfully tailored jacket by Yum Yum Couture.
I may sound like a “fan girl” saying this, but IMHO, Mr. Pham is one of the most talented artists in the fashion doll community. His face sculpts are exquisite, his bodies are works of art, and although his dolls are obviously created by the same artist, each of one has a distinct ethnicity and is lovely in its own pronounced way. I also see him maturing as an artist with each subsequent doll. His dolls from six years ago are lovely, but the ones he produces today are a marked improvement from what came before. I look forward to seeing where this budding artist goes with his future creations.
Bravo, Mr. Pham. Job well done.
Mega fun at Metrodolls
As you read in my previous post, This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend Metrodolls, an annual event hosted by the Metrodolls club in New Jersey. My only complaint about the event is that it was over much too soon. Metrodolls attempts to squeeze all of the activities of your typical weekend-long doll event into six hours. So it’s a bit of a whirlwind that seems to be over soon after it begins.
The main event was preceded by another event by Kingdom Doll, in which participants were treated to a presentation about this relative newcomer to the fashion doll scene. “Liberty,” was the event doll, an exclusive to the Kingdom Doll event. While I appreciate the beauty of these dolls and their exquisite wardrobes, their look is not for me. Which is good, considering their eyebrow-raising price tag.
For me, the festivities began soon after I flew into Newark and took a taxi to the hotel. As soon as I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by doll friends I hadn’t seen since my move from Maryland to Florida eight years ago. We had a brief reunion with lots of hugs and then went to settle down into our rooms. Soon after, I was shopping in room of the talent behind “YumYum Couture.” I purchase an exquisitely tailored distressed faux leather jacket. It was difficult to limit myself to just one piece. IMHO, “YumYum” is one of the best seamstresses in the fashion doll world.
I then joined a cadre of doll enthusiasts for dinner in the hotel lobby, where the excitement about the day ahead grew with each glass of red wine. After a few hours of nonstop chatter, the group retired for the evening.
Upon going to bed, I set my alarm for 7am, as I promised to help Ed Ferry of “Happily Ever After” set up his vendor table the next morning. I hadn’t told him that one of the chief motivations of my offer of help was to get a sneak preview of the vendor room’s goodies.
The wine from dinner made me fall asleep very quickly, and the next thing I remember was my phone ringing from across the room, where I had plugged it in. As I stumbled over to it, I looked at the alarm clock next to the bed. 10:56 am.
I set my alarm for 7am! I swore did! The event started an hour ago!
I’ve never thrown on clothes faster in my life. Given the choice of showering and brushing my teeth or shopping in a doll vendor room was no contest. I ran out of my room with wild hair and no deodorant. I know my priorities.
It was 11:08 am when I arrived in the vendor room. I rushed over to poor Ed, who had been the one calling me, and I apologized profusely for not helping him set up. Being the ever-sweet Ed, he told me not to worry about it, and that he was about to beat down my room door, for he knew that nothing short of near-death would keep me from this event.
But I digress.
I made a quick run-through of the room, gazing at the eye candy. Sandra Stillwell and Flutterwing Designs had particularly tempting items. But I held off, as I knew I was going to bid on some auction items, and I had to save my funds for that.
In a room adjoining the vendor room was a magnificent display of every single doll and souvenir item ever offered by Metrodolls at its annual event. It was beautifully done and a great trip down memory lane. The souvenir dolls from this event have always been some of Tonner’s best work, and many have become grails over the years, difficult to find on the secondary market.
I was still drooling over these dolls when attendees were called into the ballroom for lunch. Presentations from Kingdom Doll, Marcia Friend (of “Facets by Marcia“), and Robert Tonner (who narrated a great presentation of the fashions of “ladies who lunch”) were followed by some sort of chicken dish. (I’ve always thought that the food at these events is besides the point. It’s nearly always some type of rubbery chicken, and who has any interest in eating when there are dolls to be ogled in every direction?)
During some free time after the event, I purchased a ridiculous number of tickets for the raffle, which offered a stunning array of tempting dolls. I then headed to the Metrodolls table, where I saw Tonner’s “companion dolls,” a blonde and redhead basic named “Carmela,” after a member of Metrodolls who passed away last year. The dolls use the Shauna/Sweetheart sculpt, and they immediately took my breath away. I purchased one of each as well as some previous Metrodolls outfits on sale.
The intermission was followed by the much-anticipated charity auction. The artist dolls, outfits, and props were stunning, and the bidding was fierce for several items. The much-talked-about Kingdom Doll fetched an eye-popping $8,000. Other items, like YumYum’s gorgeous Victorian walking outfit and Tonner Doll’s elegant OOAK Marley also went to high bidders. With all of the proceeds going to charity, it was great to witness the generosity of the winning bidders.
The souvenir doll unveiling followed the auction. This year’s doll was a Marley in a lace and tulle gown and outrageous white crimped hair. She was striking, no doubt about it, but she wasn’t for me. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to my dolls, so I knew I was going to offer Marley to someone else who would appreciate her more.
The raffle drawing concluded the event, and I was lucky enough to win a play doll for my niece and a beautiful silk sheath dress.
And then before we knew it, the event had ended. As I hadn’t won any auctions, I had dolly money burning a hole in my pocket, so I dashed into the vendor room to made a last-minute purchase from Ed of Happily Ever After. I added to my collection a lovely Veronique I’ve had my eye on for some time.
If you simply must have one of the fabulous dolls or outfits from the event, Metrodolls will soon have them on their site for purchase. I highly recommend Carmela. She is a lovely sculpt.
And thus endeth my one doll event this year, with champagne wishes and caviar dolly dreams in my head.
How (not) to sell dolls on eBay
The vast number of collectors of fashion dolls are also sellers of fashion dolls. Some people are retailers as well as collectors, but the main reason people sell is to generate funds for the market’s newest shiny objects. Fashion doll collectors are a notoriously fickle lot. What they are scrimping and saving to buy today, they are selling at half-off tomorrow to buy something new. In recent years, I’ve seen collections turn from vinyl to resin seemingly overnight. Although my own collection has undergone a similar transformation, I tend to be a hanger-on to dolls no longer in vogue while my collector friends march on ahead of me to the next trend.
And yet, in the two decades I’ve been in this hobby, the hundreds of Barbies that once populated my shelves have given way to Tyler and Co. and many of her 16-inch sisters. Child dolls created by Annette Himstedt, Jan McLean, and Helen Kish also adorn my doll room. I’ve even returned to the 12-inch crowd in the form of the occasional Fashion Royalty gal who joins the ranks. In all, I probably have about a dozen Barbies left—out of the hundreds that once populated my mini-Mattel Altar of Pink.
In the very recent past, even my strong determination never to let those expensive, fragile, bitchy-looking fashion resin BJD monstrosities onto my shelves has come crashing down as two Numina sisters and a Modsdoll somehow made their way into my home. And then they were joined by two child resin BJDs, which had previously looked like grotesque alien children to me. (What’s worse—I actually sold some vinyl dolls to afford them. Oh, the hypocrisy!)
Now Tonner’s fashion dolls—and even the occasional Silkstone Barbie—still make their way into my home. I still purchase more Tonner dolls than any other. With the possible exception of Paul Pham, I think Robert Tonner continues to corner the market on beautifully realistic facial sculpts. And, of course, I do not have to sell a kidney to afford a Tonner doll. But when a gorgeous resin BJD does turn my head and I “have to have” her, there usually isn’t an extra $600 floating around in my bank account. So the rows of girls currently lining my shelves cower in fear as I contemplate how much each is worth and who to vote off Dolly Island.
But turning those dollies destined for new homes into cash is no easy proposition. It’s not that there aren’t potential buyers out there—there are plenty. The question is how to reach them and entice them to buy your goods. So below is a brief primer on how to sell a fashion doll in today’s secondary market—even if you have to do it on EvilBay.
Rule #1: Treat eBay as a last resort.
The first rule of selling on eBay is to avoid eBay at all costs. Long-time eBay sellers will tell you that the world’s largest flea market has become incredibly hostile to sellers to the point that their sales have become entirely dependent on the good will of their buyers—which is often in scant supply. Over the years, eBay has slowly chipped away at any recourse sellers once had against dishonest—and sometimes outright criminal—buyers. And we are not talking nickles and dimes here—high-end fashion dolls can be quite pricey.
Listing eBay’s sins against buyers would take up more space than I care to dedicate in this column, but suffice it to say that the company now compels sellers to accept returns from buyers for any reason and to pay the buyer’s return shipping on top of that. Oh, and your seller rating will suffer as well. I once had to accept a return from a buyer for a baby doll that the buyer claimed was defective because the baby doll would not stand up. I paid return shipping and had my nine-year-running 100% rating downgraded. Because this woman expected a baby to stand up.
Yes, it’s gotten that ridiculous.
And the fees have quadrupled since I joined eBay in 2004. The company now cheerfully takes a whopping 10% cut of your sales in return for its stellar customer service. And, of course, eBay also owns Paypal, and, since sellers are required to conduct their transactions through Paypal, they too can raise their transaction rates at will. It’s like paying to be mugged—twice—with each transaction. And until a viable competitor arises, those double fees are going nowhere but up.
Rule #2: Explore alternative selling venues.
So before heading to eBay with your precious dollies, exhaust all other resources. They do exist, and they can work well. Sellers on doll boards not only avoid eBay’s headaches and fees, selling within the doll community also often means dealing with a much more honest group of people. Over the past ten years, I’ve had two doll deals conducted on doll boards go bad. On eBay, I’ve lost count. Doll boards do a terrific job at policing their own communities. Buyers and sellers know that if they screw one person, their names quickly become mud as their identities spread like wildfire across the dolly universe. And it’s not a large group of people we’re talking about, so it’s not difficult to ruin your reputation across multiple boards after a deal gone bad on just one board. As I’ve said before, you don’t want to f*** with doll collectors.
When searching for venues for selling your dolls, don’t just limit yourself to your local doll message board. Collectors have set up swapping/selling/trading Facebook pages specifically for collectors of specific dolls. Mister Dollface, a new collector-run secondary marketplace, has gotten off to a good start. I’ve had some very smooth transactions on both Facebook and Mister Dollface, although not without first doing my due diligence. Honest buyers/sellers should always be happy to provide good references. Use caution and common sense before approaching any deal—particularly a pricey one.
And speaking of pricing, keep in mind that when you are selling off eBay, you are saving yourself not only the hefty eBay fees, but also a potentially significant amount of pain and suffering. So when pricing items for sale on a doll board, Facebook, or Mister Dollface, I start with what I think the doll will sell for on eBay, deduct eBay’s 10% fee, and then take another 5%-10% off for avoiding what I call eBay’s general “pain and suffering.” So if the doll sells, it’s ultimately not for much less than I would have gotten on eBay, and the savings is passed on to the buyer. Everybody wins.
Rule #3: Do your homework.
So, if the informal, online doll collector network is such a great place to sell, why do we need EvilBay at all? One word: Reach. eBay’s vast, international reach means that more potential bidders will see your goods than on any other venue. When I really need to sell a doll fast, EvilBay is unsurpassed in its reach to interested buyers. Dolls that have lingered for months on the doll boards to which I belong often sell in days on eBay. So, whether you have a particularly expensive doll to sell and need a wider reach, or if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you must go to the Dark Side, follow these tips:
Rule #4: Price to sell.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 75% of the fashion doll auctions currently listed on eBay are priced in the upper stratosphere of the market. I’m sorry, but an unremarkable mint Tyler Wentworth doll from the 2006 line is not going to fetch you $249. No matter how many times you renew your auction.
The optimism I see in such auctions is truly stunning to behold. And it gives people like me a chance. Sellers who know how to price, sell. And they can sell high. One weekly reseller of mostly Tonner products lists each item on eBay at $9.99. And her items often fetch top dollar.
But sometimes they don’t. Pricing competitively also means taking a risk. How much of a risk is, of course, up to you. But whatever you decide, do yourself a favor and don’t price your item in the dark. Do your homework. Researching price is one thing eBay does make ridiculously easy. A simple advanced search of completed listings will tell you what amounts your item has fetched in the recent past. And it will likely give you a longer list of overly enthusiastic prices that bidders have passed on—repeatedly.
My own strategy is to take the average winning bid and price somewhat below that. How much below? Here comes the gambling part. Simple psychology will tell you that bidders are more likely to bid an item up if the starting price is low. That’s why an item with a starting bid of $29.99 may ultimately go for $225, while the same item listed at a BIN of $225 will linger unpurchased indefinitely. When bidders see a $29.99 starting bid for an item worth eight times as much, they are more likely to take a gamble to get a “deal,” even if they ultimately end up paying the same price as a fully priced item. Thrill of the hunt and all that.
So let’s say I have a doll that I wish to sell on eBay. I research past prices and find a high-selling price of $150 and a low-selling price of $100. So I list the item at $75, which will hopefully make the item attractive to bargain-hunters hoping to score a deal. The risk, of course, is that bidding will stop at $75, and I will end up low-balling myself. The rosiest outlook is that I will start a bidding war and the auction will close on the high end—or beyond. Pricing the item very low, say, at $9.99, can attract a good number of bargain hunters and ultimately drive your item sky-high as bidders lose their collective heads in the auction’s waning moments. But, like all bets, don’t count on it. It does happen. But not always.
Rule #5: Take damned good pictures.
Following this simple rule will put you heads and shoulders above your eBay competition. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can make your item more attractive to potential buyers than a few decent photographs showing the item to its best advantage. This especially holds true today, given that most bidders no longer bother with actually reading the item description at all.
I have scored more than a few bargains on eBay by bidding on poorly photographed items that I knew to be valuable. And I have sold at higher-than-market prices items that I managed to photograph particularly well.
You don’t have to be a gifted photographer to make your item visually attractive to potential bidders. Just light your item well, take crisp, clear images, and highlight those little details (shoes, earrings, embroidery) that make your item worth its asking price. This is the best no-brainer advice I can give you on achieving eBay selling success.
Rule #6: Protect yourself.
eBay’s never-ending slew of policies hostile to buyers has put on the onus on us to protect ourselves. Of course, there is only so much we can do within the eBay universe, but some proactive measures may shield us from potential problems before they begin.
First, try to protect yourself from well-publicized “past offenders.” Many doll boards will keep lists of the eBay IDs of dishonest buyers and sellers, and those lists are often updated frequently as IDs are changed and new scammers emerge. Adding these individuals to your “blocked bidders” list on eBay may provide you with some measure of protection.
Also pay attention to your auction “boilerplate,” which should detail your terms of sale. eBay will not enforce any of these terms, of course, but there is the off chance that a bidder will actually read your description and police him/herself. Terms in my own boilerplate include “final sale,” “no full or partial returns,” “please ask all questions before bidding,” and “payment expected within three days.” Again, non-enforceable, but there’s the off chance someone may read it.
One can dream.
Rule #7: Use eBay “services” as little as possible.
Over the years, eBay has multiplied its convenient seller “options” that exploit its ability to rob you of more of your already-miniscule earnings. All-inclusive international shipping services are but one. Avoid these like the plague.
I’ve always avoided squabbles over shipping fees but simply offering flat rates. Sometimes this works in my favor, sometimes not. But it all generally works out in the end, saving both me and the buyer much unnecessary grief. The buyer is under no illusions as to what the shipping costs will be, and it is much, much easier on my end. And my educated guesses are usually pretty accurate. For example, for an average-sized Tonner doll box, I’ll usually charge about $13, and the actual costs, nation-wide, generally fall into that range.
Whether you’re a newby collector or a hardened veteran like me, selling online isn’t for the faint of heart. But that said, it’s also–at least for me–one of the most exciting things about the collecting experience. Refreshing my collection by letting go dolls that I have cared for and loved in favor of new discoveries yet to be experienced is fun. And trying to get top dollar for my dolls can be an enjoyable challenge. But–whether you list on eBay or elsewhere–always look before you leap, and remember that, in today’s online environment, the first rule of doll commerce should always be: “Seller beware.”
Throwback Tonner (#TBTonner): Sydney Chase
Like many long-time Tonner collectors, I have vivid memories of my first encounters with Ms. Sydney Chase. Sydney made her entrance into Tyler Wentworth’s world of high fashion in 2001—just two years after Tyler’s debut. Sydney’s beauty was entirely different from that of Tyler’s, a notable contrast that quickly captured the imaginations of her growing legions of fans. Whether intentional or not, Tyler’s wholesome beauty stood in stark contrast to Sydney’s haughty sophistication. Their physical differences sparked the creativity of their fans, and different forms of fan fiction soon surfaced. Most fans agreed on the dichotomy the two dolls represented—Tyler the wholesome, over-achiever, and Sydney, the world-wise, scheming business woman. While Tyler cultivated friendships and family bonds, Sydney thrived on duplicity and deception on her way up the New York City social ladder. While Tyler designed wholesome outfits for her prep-school tween sister, Sydney bought and sold the models at her Chase Modeling Agency like so much chattel. While Tyler slept exclusively with her boyfriend, Matt O’Neill, Sydney slept exclusively with everybody.
I began collecting Robert Tonner’s dolls in 2004, three years after Sydney made her appearance in the Tyler Wentworth line. She was then at the peak of her popularity, often selling out on pre-orders. I recall those heady days of anxiously awaiting the newest Tyler line to go live on the Tonner website, jotting down which dolls I wanted to order and quickly forwarding my list to my dealer, in hopes I would get to her in time. Most dealers gave modest discounts to attract business, but in those days there was no need for deep reductions. Those dolls went like hotcakes, and, even though their edition numbers ran into the thousands, they could multiply in value several times over on the secondary market. Accusations of dolls scalping ran high as people bought low and sold high.
The vast majority of my early Sydneys remain in my collection. Dolls like “Black and White Ball,” “Love Is Blue,” and “Absolutely Aspen,” with their fantastic fabrics, exquisite detailing, and perfect tailoring have remained classics long after their novelty faded. Many of my dolls remain dressed just as they were they day I received them. “Cocktails on the Plaza,” “Beyond Envy,” and “Just Divine” are all perfect combinations of sculpt, color, and style. Looking back on Sydney’s numerous incarnations 15 years after her debut, it’s astounding how few of them were fashion “misses” (I’m looking at you, “High Style 1.0”). That’s quite a feat when you consider how many fashion dolls Robert Tonner was churning out at the time. Once he introduced Tyler and Sydney and their fantastic fashions to the world, Tonner’s reputation in the hallowed halls of doll artistry was sealed.
And so I begin what will be my new weekly feature, “Throwback Tonner” (#TBTonner), with a brief homage to Ms. Sydney Chase with a handful of the many photos I’ve take of her in years past. Here’s to you, Syd. May you remain as beautiful—and as bitchy—as you were the day we first met.
A WONDERful Surprise
It’s not my intention to turn my blog into a doll sales notification service, but I gotta share the love with this one. Tonner Direct sent out an email to its subscribers this afternoon alerting them to a liquidation sale on its Diana Prince (aka “Wonder Woman”) line. This line re-imagines Wonder Woman’s alter-ego, Diana Prince, as a fashionable woman about town. Robert Tonner incorporates into each ensemble subtle references to Diana’s true identity, such as elements of red, white, and blue, and star charms on earrings, bracelets, and belts. I think it is a brilliant re-imagining of a female archetype that strikes a chord particularly for my generation, which delighted in Lynda Carter’s adventures fighting bad guys every Friday evening.
Originally intending to purchase just two outfits, I somehow ended up with three outfits and two dressed dolls in my cart before I checked out. The one drawback fore me is the fear that such an awesome sale is an indication that Tonner Doll is falling on hard times. It’s difficult to believe that the company is making any profit by selling those ensembles for just $29 each. It seems to me that these emails about generous sales from Tonner Direct are coming into my mailbox more and more frequently. Collector dolls are a tough business, and Tonner Doll has been around for a long time. I appreciate the sales, but I would prefer to pass on them if it means that a company that has brought so much joy into my life is living on borrowed time.
On top of Doll Mountain
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about my impending move out of state and the unsavory task of packing up an obscene number of dolls acquired during my 22 years of collecting. Many of you wrote me, asking to be kept updated on the drama of moving a doll hoard—I mean collection. You’ll be happy to know that I have succeeded in my task, and the seven curios, nine shelves, and innumerable boxes that once occupied my doll room have been replaced by what my family has dubbed “Doll Mountain.”
I must admit that it’s an impressive sight. And I think I did an admirable job of consolidating the real estate that my 500+ girls occupy. I tossed out about 70% of my doll boxes, and instead carefully packed about 300 girls in sturdy plastic bins (complete with desiccant packs to avoid molding). The remaining 200 or so girls had either intricate gowns or hairdos or were deemed “too special” to travel via cargo. So they were lucky enough to get their own individual boxes.
The larger girls also got their own boxes in which to travel. Packing my dozen Himstedts (many taller than three feet) was no easy task. I have most of their huge boxes and shippers, but dragging those boxes out of storage meant confronting the ever-present “palmetto bugs” that reside in our garage. If you’ve ever seen a Florida palmetto bug, you know that it can reach roughly the size of a small rat. Now, I’m not frightened of many things. Snakes and spiders are fine with me. But Florida roaches are a fucking freak of nature and need to be destroyed at all costs. Needless to say, there was a lot of shrieking in the garage and orders to my husband to “kill the damned thing.”
The things I do for dolls.
I was nervous about packing my porcelain and resin dolls. In particular, I have one delicate porcelain Native American mother and child dressed in real leather and adorned with turquoise and sterling silver. Her artist named her “Butterfly Mother,” and she stands about two feet tall. I love this doll. I purchased her at, of all places, Trump Tower in Las Vegas for an amount of money that I will divulge only upon pain of death—and perhaps not even then. It was 2004, and I was in Vegas with my mom to see Barry Manilow in concert. (Yes, you read that right. Don’t judge.) This was also the trip in which I took my mother to see a Chippendales show. She enjoyed it way too much.
So, as you can imagine, this doll is not only gorgeous—it’s steeped in memories. I used a combination of bubble wrap, foam, and packing peanuts to cushion mother and child. I’ll be putting this box in the car with me when we make our journey. Not trusting any moving dudes with this treasure.
Packing up my girls did give me the opportunity to appreciate each one individually. It also was a chance to do an inventory. I entered the name of each doll in an Excel spreadsheet as I packed it away and noted the numbered box it was going into, which will help me identify where specific dolls are when we arrive at our new home. I’ve always been terrible at keeping track of my hoard, instead relying on memory, which, when it comes to dolls, is scarily good. I only had to consult the Internet a handful of times to identify specific dolls or their outfits as I packed them away. If only my memory worked just as well when it comes to locating my keys or glasses.
I was also able to identify a dozen or so dolls that I can live without. I’ve mostly sold them off, which will allow me to pay for a particular doll I’ve been waiting for all year. Paul Pham’s latest Numina doll—Sung—will join my other Numinas—Stratus and Alma—in October. Pinch me.
With the dollies and lots more of our household in boxes and ready for storage, hubby and I are working on some minor house fixes. So if anyone out there is interested in relocating to sunny Tampa, let me know and I’ll give you a deal!