Once upon a time, the annual Tonner Convention was a big event that I shared with my mother and looked forward to for months. In the early 2000’s, we traveled to Orlando, Chicago, and beyond, soaking up the excitement of an event that only other overly enthusiastic doll fanatics can truly understand. We would typically tack on a couple days to our adventure to see the local sights. One of my favorite memories of my mom is going on a Segway tour of Chicago with her during a picture-perfect June day in 2007.
But of course, the only constant in life is change. Mom no longer recognizes either me or her beloved dolls, and I have not attended the annual Tonner Collectors Convention for five years. Besides my mother not being there, some of the luster of that event has faded for me. Tonner fashion dolls were much more in vogue then, and Tyler and Sydney reigned supreme. Those girls got me into serious collecting in the first place, and I’m one of the old-timers who look back with nostalgia on the early 2000’s as Tonner’s heyday in the fashion doll world. Being among the first to glimpse those coveted centerpiece and souvenir dolls of Tyler and the girls of the Chase Modeling Agency–some of the best dolls Tonner ever created, IMHO–made me and my mom giddy with excitement.
And those were the days of truly limited editions. Tonner only produced enough dolls for the collectors present–if that many–and there was real suspense over who would be lucky enough to “win” the very-limited centerpieces–which were always huge, over-the-top, and fabulous. (There was actually a time when “winning” was defined as getting the centerpiece for free. Such things actually happened in the doll world pre-recession.)
Today, Tonner makes available excess convention product to the general public a few days after the convention ends. Whether this is a good thing is subject to debate. For me, it’s a bad thing. It takes away a big reason I attended the conventions to begin with. Back in my day, we worked for those convention dolls. We paid for pricey airline tickets, stayed in expensive hotels, and emptied our wallets to ship our hauls back home. Those dolls represented one hell of an investment. And I cherished them all the more for it. And they accordingly fetched a pretty penny on the secondary market–which they should.
When you remove from the equation that giddy suspense of seeing and possessing some of the most deliciously exclusive fashion dolls of the day, you fundamentally change the nature of the event. If I can get the dolls without having to shell out for transportation, lodging, and meals, why go? Tonner knows this, and in response, I see the company making a bigger effort to make their conventions more about being there. They invest in entertainment; fun, interactive games; and silly activities. They may not have as many attendees as they once did, but those they do have seem to be having one hell of a good time (if the videos and photos that end up on Facebook are any example).
But for me, Tonner Con has lost its luster. While I can definitely appreciate their artistry, some of his new doll lines leave me cold. (She may have a great wardrobe, but the permanently stoned expression and jazz hands of Deja Vu just don’t do it for me.) My mom, of course, does not attend any longer, and neither do my closest doll friends–who have mostly moved on to resin FBJDs.
This year’s Tonner Con produced some gorgeous and original dolls that have stirred in me some of that original excitement I felt for my first Tonner dolls. There are four in particular that I think are major triumphs. The others are lovely too, just not to my personal taste. And Tonner gave us the most comprehensive convention coverage yet this year. His photographer documented each event blow-by-blow, releasing photos of each souvenir doll as it was revealed to convention-goers, along with descriptions, edition numbers, and prices. It was as close to being there as you could get without actually making the trip.
The biggest objects of my desire to come out of the convention is the Ellowyne group. They are straight out of an instruction manual on how to be the perfect 50s housewife and hostess. They scream “Lucy and Ethel.” Their outfits are well-thought-out, and the fabric combinations work to great effect. Their hairstyles are elaborate and period-accurate. I. Want. One. But I couldn’t possibly tell you which one I like best.
Vintage Tea Ellowyne
My second choice is no surprise. It uses the “Kit” sculpt, one of my favorites from the Chase Modeling line. She wears an adorable “rockabilly” themed square dance outfit. Love the execution. Love the hair. Love her.
Other dolls included another Rockabilly-themed fashion doll, several child dolls from the “Patsy” line, and Evangeline. The convention doll was a Marley Wentworth gift set, complete with two outfits and two wigs. It’s great to see Tonner offer a gift set again, and Marley’s black coat dress looks lovely and original. But I don’t think I will ever warm up to Marley’s stern expression. She just looks pissed off–nothing like the wholesome, healthy beauty that her sister had possessed in her early years. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Tyler wouldn’t survive in this world of harsh, eternally angry fashion dolls. Sybarites seem to have set the tone for the age of The Angry Fashion Doll, and now she is everywhere. Perhaps her face reflects the cynicism and frustration of a post-recession world. I don’t know. All I do know is that I miss her sister.
Marley’s angry predecessors:
What are YOU looking at?
So there you go–a convention review from someone who wasn’t even there.
Now excuse me while I wait for these new dollies to go on sale…
Now that you’ve saved enough money to attend a doll convention this year (see my previous post for instructions), you of course need to decide which one to spend your hard-earned dolly dollars on. This year’s lineup of fashion doll gatherings takes place on the east coast, west coast, and everywhere in between—some even overseas. Doll conventions are surprising diverse, each attracting a different type of collector, so you want to make sure you choose the one(s) that you will get the most out of.
Conventions held by the major doll manufacturers are of course the most professional and polished, while others, which can be acts of love by volunteers, can have a more “homemade” feel. I’ve attended several Tonner Doll conventions, two Integrity Toys conventions, and several Modern Doll Collector conventions, so those are the only ones I can personally comment on. One of my perennial dreams is to attend the Paris Fashion Doll Festival, but as of now it remains just that—a dream. Feel free to donate to my “Send Barb to Paris” charity if you like, and I promise to write you a kick-ass blog entry in return.
For some convention-goers, location can be a significant factor in their decision regarding which event to attend, as they like to make the event a “family affair,” allowing spouses and/or kids to explore the surrounding area while they surround themselves with dolly madness. (In my experience, spouses and kids are rarely interested in attending the convention itself. And that’s usually a good thing.)
Last year, the Integrity convention was held in Orlando (big bonus for me, as I live in Tampa), and several attendees enjoyed a few days in Disney World before and after the convention. That said, most of the collectors I know don’t care where a convention is held, as the convention itself is the big draw for them—many would travel to Jupiter, if necessary, and just put up with the weather while they play with their dolls.
Below is a list of the major fashion doll conventions slated for 2015. If I’ve missed any big ones, please let me know, and I will add it to the list. I am including brief descriptions taken from convention websites and all necessary links. Enjoy your planning! (And if you need me to talk to your spouse to convince him/her that this will be an essential expense for the year’s budget, I’m more than happy to do so.)
International Fashion Doll Convention (IFDC): Las Vegas, July 8-11Theme: “42 Street – Dolls on Broadway”
From the IFDC website: You are cordially invited to the 13th Annual International Fashion Doll Convention! Bring your family and join your friends for a full 4-day legendary adventure in Las Vegas. There will be the Goody Bag, Big Salesroom, $15 and under Salesroom, Competition, Raffles, Exhibitions, Rock of Ages Bowling Tournament for doll prizes, Sister Act Slot Tournament for doll prizes, the Freebie Bags, Workshops, Seminars, A Treasure Hunt through the Casino……..and there will be surprises!
I’ve never been to an IFDC convention, but I hear that it is a great event that incorporates a significant number of activities. A number of doll companies are represented at this annual event, including Tonner Doll and Integrity Toys, which usually turn out pretty cool souvenir dolls.
Modern Doll Collectors Convention: Reno, NV, Sept 16-19Theme: “My Favorite Things”
Modern Doll incorporates breakout events from a wide variety of artists, spanning vinyl fashion dolls, fantasy resin BJDs, child dolls, and many others. I’ve attended this event twice, and each time was very enjoyable. In addition to adding to my collection exclusive dolls from artists I already collect, I’ve also discovered new artists who have made my collection more diverse. In 2014, the Modern Doll convention was hosted in Orlando (again, awesome for me), and Tonner Doll furnished the final banquet’s souvenir doll, from the Déjà vu collection. This year, Connie Lowe is creating the convention doll, and collectors who do not wish to purchase the doll have the option to pay a reduced registration price to attend. Modern Doll has even made a photo of the in-progress doll to help collectors make their choice.
Last year, I attended several breakout events hosted by artists I do not typically collect, and I was delighted by the dolls I received from Connie Lowe’s lunch and Helen Kish’s breakfast. If you do attend the convention this year, make sure you go to artist Nikki Britt’s event. Nikki is a young resin BJD artist of all of 23 years, and she is producing imaginative dolls unlike any other in the BJD market. I did not attend her event, and boy was I sorry when I saw the adorable BJD that was the souvenir. Nikki is headed places; don’t miss the opportunity to add one of her fantastic dolls to your collection.
One final comment on Modern Doll: It is clearly an act of love by a small group of retirees who work very hard to bring it together each year. They do a great job, but, that said, there are some noticeable bumps and bruises that at times give it a “homemade” flavor. Both times I attended the event, the participants tended to be much older. Not a lot of partying going on with this group. At the final event, organizers arranged for a cash bar in the back of the ballroom. I think myself and one bedraggled husband were the only patrons. The bartender did not look pleased with her empty tip jar.
Integrity Toys: Long Beach, CA (date TBD)
Integrity generally does not announce its theme and convention date until later in the year, although they have announced that this year it will take place in Long Beach, California. The 2014 convention was over the Halloween weekend, and it also took place during Halloween in 2013, so I’m assuming that trend will continue. I’ve been to the Integrity convention twice now—when it was held in Orlando in 2011 and again in 2014. (There are definite perks to living in Florida.) I was left giddy with doll happiness each time. Integrity gives you a lot for your money (and it’s not cheap to attend), and they work hard to make sure you enjoy yourself. I also think the attendees of Integrity’s conventions are among the doll community’s most colorful characters, and that makes it all the more fun.
One note of caution: Collectors who attend the Integrity convention generally know their dolls. I consider myself an Integrity collector, but my knowledge of body types, characters, storylines, and sculpts paled in comparison to those around me. These are hard-core core collectors, and—more so than others of their ilk—they take their hobby very seriously. So, unless you can carry your own weight during a conversation regarding the multiple incarnations of Vanessa’s face sculpt over the years and which one is superior to which, be prepared to smile and nod a lot.
Tonner Doll convention: Dallas, TX, May 29-31
Theme: “Guilty Pleasures”
From Tonner Doll website: Don’t be shy – we’re all guilty here! Welcome to the wide world of guilty pleasures! Like decadent desserts, binge watching your favorite TV shows, and frivolous luxury, the 2015 Tonner Convention is going to be Wilde… especially since it’s in Dallas, TX – the Wild West! Famous for hosting more restaurants per capita than New York City, local celebs Bonnie and Clyde, its sheer love of country clubs and more, Dallas is an exciting, urban city that will no doubt be the perfect backdrop for all our Guilty Pleasures!
This year’s fun will kick off with registration starting Friday morning, from 10a-12p, with events beginning later that very afternoon. For those that delight in ‘evening’ wear, the PJ Party is BACK with a ferocious appetite for fun! AND prepare yourselves for a super fabulous 16” fashion doll souvenir – a BRAND NEW collection debut that we are excited to welcome (back) to the Tonner Family.
I’ve been to more Tonner Doll conventions than any other. Until my mother got Alzheimer’s, we went together each year, and each year, we had more fun than the previous one. For a long time, Tonner held its annual gathering in Chicago, but this year they are venturing into Texas. Like most doll manufacturers, Tonner’s employees work their butts off to make sure their attendees enjoy themselves. There are generally more hits than misses with their souvenir dolls, and their comedic presentations are invariably laugh-inducing. (This is the company that staged a doll wedding when Tyler Wentworth tied the knot with Matt O’Neill.)
Robert Tonner is one of the nicest people you ever want to meet, and he cheerfully endures what can most generously be described as the “over enthusiasm” of many of his fans. The company has managed to keep the event exciting throughout the years. The addition of Wilde Imagination and Tonner’s multiple comic book and movie licenses has added to the diversity of the dolls offered.
The waning popularity of Tonner’s fashion dolls in recent years (he has a lot more competition now than he had a decade ago) has meant that the company often has convention dolls left over, which it makes available to the public soon after the convention has ended. This has dampened the enthusiasm of many convention-goers (admittedly, including me), as a big drawn of conventions is the exclusivity of the dolls offered. If a collector can purchase an “exclusive” convention doll just a few days after the event without having to pay for an airline ticket, it kind of defeats the point.
That said, many collectors point out that there is no way to replicate the thrill of “being there” and enjoying several days of being with other collectors who “get” you and your hobby. Should you go to a Tonner Convention, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll agree.
P.S. It’s a poorly kept secret that an all-grown-up Marley Wentworth will make her debut at this year’s Tonner Convention. She’s the first addition to the Wentworth line in quite some time, so I expect collectors of the Wentworth dynasty (myself included) will be pretty psyched about this particular event.
National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention: Arlington, VA, July 29 – August 1
Unfortunately, the Barbie Convention site has been down for the past week, and I’m unable to find information other than the time and place. I’ve never attended the Barbie Convention (produced and hosted by Mattel), but I’ve been told it’s as polished a doll event as you ever want to attend. If you have any more information about this event, please feel free to add it in the comments section.
United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC): Kansas City, MO, July 16-19
Theme: “A Dream Come True”
From UFDC website: Join us for an exciting experience sharing our passions for dolls with friends and family. Fun filled days of educational activities, superb salesroom, themed meal events and sightseeing opportunities including tours of our UFDC headquarters and newly renovated museum.
UFDC bills itself as a no-nonsense, research-oriented institution. Local clubs that want to become officially associated with the UFDC must submit an application and pay dues. In fact, individual collectors must be formally invited to join an UFDC club, and likewise apply for membership and pay (modest) dues.
UFDC’s mission statement states that its global community aims to elevate doll-collecting by enabling the study of dolls: The home of our organization is our headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. From this hub UFDC is able to support the goals of its membership: to promote and assist in the preservation of dolls and historical documents pertaining to dolls; to serve as a clearing house for ideas pertaining to dolls; to promote and stimulate interest in the establishment and maintenance of museum doll collections and other permanent and temporary exhibits for display in public places; to assist the educational process through the sponsorship of and participation in lectures, seminars, conferences, and symposia; to publish a magazine to encourage the above enumerated charitable, scientific and educational activities.
I’m told the UFDC’s museum houses quite the collection, representing antique through modern fashion dolls. UFDC’s 2014 convention likewise featured a wide variety of doll artists, including Denis Bastien, Susan Fosnot, Beverly Stoehr, Helen Kish, and Kathe Kruse, among others. Like Modern Doll, I’m betting that it’s a good gathering for collectors open to discovering artists who are new to them.
Madame Alexander Doll Convention: Dallas, TX, July 29-Aug. 1
Theme: “Bluebonnets, Boots, and Big ‘D’”
From Madame Alexander Doll Club website: Each summer the Madame Alexander Doll Club holds it annual convention. It has been in locations all over the continental United States. During the convention, there are Events, Workshops, Seminars, A Competitive Exhibit, Sales Room, Raffle Room, Special Exhibit and the Annual MADC Meeting. It takes countless volunteers to hold this event, and we are thankful to everyone who helps out with their support.
Paris Fashion Doll Festival: March 13-15, Paris
I’ve only attended the Paris Fashion Doll Festival in my dreams, but I hear that it’s a terrific affair for fashion doll collectors the world over. This year’s souvenir doll will be a Barbie produced by Mattel exclusively for the convention. Wilde Imagination and Tonner Doll are also typically represented, and their event dolls are almost invariably TDF. I’ve spent years chasing after some of them on the secondary market. This year, Superdoll will also be represented, although its souvenir doll has somehow already sold out two months ahead of the event.
St. Louis BJD Convention: St. Louis, Missouri (Where else?), Nov. 13-15
Theme: “Pirates and Ninjas”
From the website: We geek out about dolls, learn new things, meet new people, and have lots of fun! We offer workshops to learn more about the care and design of your dolls – want to learn how to face-up your doll? Give it a manicure? Create your own doll? Perhaps you’d like to learn how to create and sew a corset for your doll using a sewing machine? Or make a wig? These are all things that we’ve offered at the convention previously, and we’re just getting started!
I don’t know much about this event, but, according to the website, this is a one-day gathering hosted by a St. Louis-based doll club is in its fourth year. The website states that the event typically draws about 50 people, so it seems to be a small affair.
Italian Doll Convention: Milan, Italy, May 16-17
Again, I don’t know much about this international event besides what I can see from its website. From what I can gather from the photos, good-looking men, drag shows, and alcohol play significant roles in the proceedings. And really, do you need any more motivation to attend than that? Barbie appears to be the main doll represented, and the 2015 souvenir doll is a Barbie dressed by Magia2000.
2014 doll convention photos:
In addition to these events, local clubs often sponsor “doll shows” in locations across the country. Rather than shows, these are typically one-day salesrooms, at which local retailers and informal sellers gather to sell their wares. There are usually one or two of these events within reasonable driving distance of me each year, and I enjoy attending them to see dolls in person that I can otherwise only see on the Internet. If you find one of these events near you (and most of them are held in the late winter or early spring), make an effort to attend. They are good places to meet fellow collectors in your area and perhaps pick up a doll you’ve been searching for. Doll Show USA lists events by state.
Once again, a post that I thought would take a few minutes to write has ended up being the length of a short novel. If you are still with me at this point, thanks for reading, and may all your doll convention dreams come true.
Wilde Imagination debuted its Spring Line today … Sort of. While 12 dressed Ellos and friends were introduced, only six came with production photos. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to hold off until most of the the completed dolls were ready for photography. But what do I know?
Along with the 12 dressed dolls, three basic dolls were released. As I observed yesterday, the brunette is my favorite.
My top pics
Of course, there are new Evangeline, Amelia Thimble, and Sad Sally offerings as well. I do not collect any of these, so my opinion on them probably isn’t worth much. Nevertheless, the new AA sculpt, Angelique, caught my attention. Tonner’s AA sculpts are some of his loveliest, I think. This one is no exception.
I also like “Sister Moon” Evangeline. She’s a nice alternative to Evie’s overdone (IMHO) gothic ensembles. I especially like the ornate hairstyle Tonner gave her.
Altogether, Wilde is offering nine dressed dolls, one basic doll, and nine outfits in this line. They’ve been working hard. I guess Evie and her friends are selling well.
No new Patience dolls, which doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think she’s gained much of a following. I suspect she’ll join the ranks of Tonner’s “in-like-a-lion-and-out-like-a-lamb” offerings. One Sad Sally dressed doll and three outfits joined the line, along with one dressed Amelia and one Hamish.
Now I’m waiting impatiently for the introduction of Tonner’s spring fashion doll lines. From the sneak peaks we’ve been given, the Diana Prince line looks promising for collectors who want to transform her from superhero into fashion model. And I’m really, really hoping that Marley will join the ranks of Wentworth this season. And dare I hope for a few more Tylers and Sydneys? Nah …. I’ve been disappointed too many times to set myself up for that kind of heartbreak again.