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.
Strike a pose
I’m no photographer, but, through the miracle of digital photography, I’ve found that if you take enough photos, there’s bound to be a few that don’t turn out that bad. Those of us of a certain age will recall taking our film rolls to the local drug store, waiting a few days for development, and then going back to pick up our pictures to discover what those photographs looked like. Most often, mine looked like crap. Out of a couple dozen pictures taken during a summer vacation, two or three weren’t blurry. Now, of course, we have the luxury of deleting the crappy photos before sharing them with others and we don’t have to pay for our prints sight unseen. With the dawn of cheap digital photography, everyone has become an amateur photographer. The younger set tends to document every moment of their lives–whether notable or not. Women of my age are most likely to photograph our children. My five-year-old is one of the most documented little boys around. The number of his childhood pictures will dwarf the number that my mother took of me.
And then there is the doll collecting set. We love to take and share images of our dolls. Mostly, I believe, because there are so few of us, and we rely on the Internet to bring us into contact with one another. Online, we can share pictures of our latest discoveries and learn about new dolls and upcoming artists. Some of today’s doll photography is an art in and of itself. Nearly every day I come across some new doll imagery online that leaves me scratching my head, thinking, how did she do that?
My own photos are amateurish at best, but once in a while the photography gods align around me and I take a pretty decent image. Prego, one of the doll boards that I frequent, adopted the theme of doll photography this week, asking members to post some of their favorite photos. I was inspired to dig into to my 10+ years of collected doll photos to locate some of my favorites.
Doubtless this will be a trip down memory lane for some of you more seasoned Tonner collectors. Looking back on the many, many images of dolls that I’ve taken throughout the years, I’m reminded of how much pleasure this hobby has given me, how much it continues to give, and how much more I’m sure it has in store.
First up, the Sydneys:
And a few more recent lucky shots…
Home sweet home
Many of you have been following my recent move from Florida to Maryland and the trials and tribulations of transporting 500+ dolls along with all of my other crap. Well, it’s been two months since my family arrived in our new home, and the process of constructing my new office/doll room is complete. I am lucky to have a basement as well, which will house a couple cabinets that did not fit in my doll room. But today I wanted to share just pics of my anointed Dolly Room in all its glory.
My apologies for the poor quality of these photos. The room gets no direct sunlight, and my camera does not operate well in artificially lit rooms. But you should get the idea. So here’s the grand tour.
Immediately to the left when you enter the room are three cabinets and one bookshelf. The cabinets contain mostly Tonner fashion dolls, and the bookshelf is home to my mini dioramas. I am a big believer of taking advantage of any vertical space that is available, so some of my dolls aren’t far from the ceiling. Floor space is also valuable real estate, so I’ve positioned several of my Annette Himstedt girls there.
Confined to a small space, my dioramas are compact, but I enjoy making them. It really doesn’t take much to put together a classy diorama. An upholstered chair, a rug, and a glass of “wine” can show off a favorite doll to great effect. Sofas are great too—especially for the smaller girls.
On the opposite wall are two more narrow IKEA cabinets, on either side of a large window. By being creative, I managed to get quite a few Himstedts on that side. I’ve stacked up my plastic drawers that contain doll outfits and props.
Some of you may remember when Tonner Doll Company created totally over-the top table centerpieces during their annual convention and other events. I’m lucky enough to own two of these heavy, resin creations. My favorite is Aquaman riding his huge purple seahorse, “Storm,” his wife Mera by his side. The other is a street scene in which Rufus (who was making his debut) offers his heart to Ellowyne.
So there you have it. Once I get the remainder of my dolls set up in the basement, I’ll post pictures of them as well. I always love to see how others display their collections, so feel free to share a pic of your hoard as well.
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
Doll collectors are a competitive lot. There is no lack of contests in the doll world to subjectively elevate one doll over another for some reason or another. These contests can take place solely on the Internet or IRL at conventions. With one or two notable exceptions, no money changes hands in these competitions. Humble little ribbons and their accompanying bragging rights are the most common prizes awarded. And, given the enthusiasm with which collectors participate in some contests, those bragging rights can be priceless. Contests exist for manufacturers, too. Winners of the ongoing DOLLS Magazine Awards of Excellence proudly display their winning logos on their websites to market their winning entries.
Collector contests that take place at conventions can shine the light on outstanding artists in the community. Some artists work for months on their entries to impress the judges with their talents. Categories highlight the work of excellent seamstresses, repainters, diorama-makers, and even photographers. Most often, the prizes are simple ribbons. One very notable exception is Integrity’s annual best-in-show contest, in which the winner has his/her creation commercially reproduced by the company the following year.
At times, contest ribbons can be liberally distributed. I don’t create a damned thing doll-wise, yet I have two second-place ribbons to my name for the mere accomplishment of owning dolls. These were won at the 2008 Modern Doll Convention, which, at least at the time, featured contests for the best examples of dolls in a specific category. I attended the convention with my mother, and I won for a couple fairy dolls I had in my collection. My mother won for a couple dolls from her childhood, and, honestly, you’d think the woman had just won a million dollars. (Love you, Mom.)
Web-based awards are another way collectors use to separate the wheat from the chaff in the fashion doll universe. Dollobservers.com, an online community of fashion doll collectors, hosts an open contest each year for both collectors and artists, with categories ranging from best fashion doll hair to best fashion doll blog. And last year, Tonner Doll created the innovative “Doll Duels,” in which collectors can enter and rate doll photos. An ongoing tally indicates the most popular images. If you ever want to kill time in your work cubicle on an idle Tuesday, this is site is worth at least a half-hour of amusement.
So now that convention season is upon us, you will undoubtedly see the winners of various competitions appearing on Facebook or your favorite doll board or blog. Do me a favor and take a moment to look at the winning entries and think about the work that went into them. And then give the winning artists a pat on the back. Chances are they worked damn hard for those puny little ribbons.
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.
Before and After
So several of you contacted me after I wrote my entry about the travails of moving a considerable doll collection, asking to be updated as my move progresses. At that point, I was trying to impose some order into packing up my 514 treasures (yes, I counted). Since then, my husband and two other manly men undertook the task of moving “my girls” to a storage facility in anticipation of showing our house (not without the occasional snarky remark, of course). Our Realtor seemed to think that 514 dolls may be a bit distracting to prospective buyers looking the place over. I can’t image why. Personally, it would make me buy the house in a minute. But that’s just me, I suppose.
Anyway, with the majority of my girls secured in a climate-controlled facility, their former home (the erstwhile “doll room”) is astoundingly spacious. I did reserve my right to keep a few (well, 30) out of captivity, as those dolls are either very close to my heart or represent a significant financial investment (sometimes both). And there is no way I am going to let them out of my sight. I’ll walk all 1,000 miles to Maryland with them in my arms, if need be.
Today is the first day our house is on the market. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date as the Great Dolly Move Drama progresses. For now, without further ado, below is a pictorial timeline of my dolly move thus far.
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.