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.
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.)
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend a doll convention, you know how incredibly fun it can be. Let’s face it: Not many people “get” doll collectors. They are a creative, eccentric, artistic group that speaks a language only a very few people can understand. My husband looks at me like I have two heads when I start going on about NRFB v. MIB dolls, frankendollies, BW v. AR bodies, resin v. vinyl, 1:4 v. 1:6 scale, repaints, and the size of male BJD genitalia (c’mon, you know you’ve looked). Pretty much anyone other than another fashion doll collector would think you are speaking in another language. And, let’s face it—you are.
Conventions afford hard-core doll collectors the rare opportunity to be surrounded by people who not only understand their language, but understand them. It’s the one place in the world where you are not the “weird one,” because, I guarantee it, there is someone there who is even weirder than you. (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been at a convention looking disdainfully at a fellow collector hyperventilating over a doll that I think looks like a minion of Satan. Thank God I’m not that weird, I think. And then, of course, an hour later I am panting even harder over my own quirky discovery in the sales room. Glass houses and all that.)
Being able to let your freak flag fly is not cheap—even if for only a weekend. Once you add up the cost of registration, transportation, companion dolls, break-out events, and salesroom purchases, you’re easily looking at several thousand dollars. Ours is not a cheap hobby. Like many people, my budget requires me to be creative when it comes to being able to afford to attend a convention. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it, and, although it’s still not cheap, I am usually able to attend one such event each year. Here are some tips I’ve learned through a decade of attending doll conventions:
1) Out with the old, in with the new: Limits on income and space prevent most of us from buying and keeping every doll we want. If you really want to attend a convention, take a look at your collection and ask yourself what you may be able to live without to fund your adventure. Lack of space often means that many of us must store at least some of our collection out of sight. Ask yourself how long it’s been since you’ve played with or even looked at a particular doll. Is it time for her to move on? And, of course, all the more reason if you can get a good price for her. My general rule is that if a doll hasn’t been redressed for a year (with some exceptions for the ones I keep “pristine”), it’s probably time for her to move on.
2) Prostitute yourself: Oh, how I envy you seamstresses, repainters, and crafters who create objects so beautiful that other people actually want to buy them. If that’s your bag, and you want to attend a convention this year, break out the paints, fabrics, beads, and do-dads. Update your website, open a store on Etsy, and market the hell out of yourself. It’s a small community. Word about good artists spreads fast.
3) Split expenses: Don’t go it alone. Convention-going is double the fun when you share it with friends. Save the cost of a pricey airline ticket by taking a road trip and splitting the cost of gas. Halve the price of your hotel room by sharing it with a fellow fanatic. You aren’t going to spend much time in your room anyway. And it’s only for three days, at the most, so if you find you really can’t stand the other person, you won’t be stuck with him for long.
4) Don’t eat: Let’s face it: We could all stand to lose some weight. Conventions are often held at geographically desirable locations that take advantage of that desirability by hiking dining costs. So pack sandwiches, bring munchies, drink from a refillable water bottle. Steal leftover food on your way out of breakout events and bring it back to your room to eat later. (Yes, it’s tacky, but you can sacrifice a little dignity to be able to buy another doll, right? Besides, it will just go to waste anyway.)
5) DO NOT BUY EVERY DOLL YOU SEE! Just because a doll is sitting in the middle of the table, just because you “won the right to buy” a $300 doll, just because there are only 50 companion dolls available, and you are sure to be the envy of all your friends if you get one—does not mean you should whip out your credit card. I can’t tell you how many centerpiece or companion dolls I purchased in the heat of the moment only to open them back up after the convention and say to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Now when I am presented with the “right to buy” (kudos to the marketer who thought up that idea), I ask myself two questions: 1) Do I like it enough to keep it in my personal collection indefinitely? And, if the answer is “no,” 2) What is it likely to fetch on the secondary market? While the first question may be difficult to answer, the second can be much more so. How much do you know about this line of dolls? What makes this doll “special”? Is it a rare sculpt? An usual outfit? How well do you know your market? Is the doll likely to “cause a stir” among other collectors? Which brings me to…
6) Buy low, sell high: You know who they are. The woman at the table next to you snapping photos of her souvenir doll barely out of the box and posting them to Ebay within ten seconds flat for an eye-popping “Buy It Now” price. The guy sitting next to you taking photos of the centerpiece doll from every possible angle and offering it up on a doll board before even getting it back to his room. These people are often decried by many in the doll community as opportunists, and they definitely are. And I say more power to them. There are always a few people out there who need to have the first of an exclusive doll on the second-hand market, and they will pay top dollar for it. If a convention-goer who has put out a couple grand for her weekend wants to recoup some of that expense by reselling a doll that doesn’t particularly appeal to her, why the hell not?
But while some people do manage to recoup some convention costs this way, many others do not. Buying low and selling high is difficult in any market. You have to be able to make a pretty sound prediction of what your potential buyers are willing to pay. Price it too low, and you may see subsequent sellers obtain much higher prices. Price it too high, and it will linger on Ebay indefinitely. The better you know the manufacturer and the market, the better you will be at this. If you don’t have good market insight, you’ll end up paying top dollar for a doll you don’t even like only to sell it two months later at half the price.
I think it’s safe to say that this strategy does not apply to all doll manufacturers’ conventions. If you’ve seen a dollmaker in years past liquidating its leftover convention product five months after the fact, it’s a safe bet its convention dolls won’t increase in value. But if you’ve seen dolls from a specific company’s convention consistently soar in price on the secondary market long after the convention’s end, you may have a chance.
I was able to make this happen for me. Last year’s Integrity convention was in Orlando, an hour away from my home. Without transportation costs, my overall cost to attend the convention was limited to the registration fee and breakout events. I know that Integrity convention dolls have a history of soaring in price immediately after they are released. And so I offered on Ebay any doll that didn’t appeal to me, but that I thought would be highly desirable to other collectors willing to pay a significant mark-up. In the end, I sold nine convention dolls at enough of a mark-up to cover all of my convention costs as well as seven dolls that I kept for myself.
If you do decide to try to recoup your costs this way, keep in mind that taking photos and writing up descriptions, trying to beat the other opportunists to Ebay and doll boards, and carrying out multiple virtual transactions at once can interfere with your ability to truly enjoy being present at a convention. Don’t completely take yourself away from a convention that you worked so hard to be able to attend.
If you buy to sell, do yourself a favor and only bring out the credit card if you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that you can sell that doll for more than you paid for it. And be sure to factor in any postage, customs fees, Ebay aggravation, etc. into the equation. If it’s not going to be worth your while, skip it.
7) Drag along a non-doll friend: Can’t decide which doll to sell at a markup and which to keep? Bringing along a non-collector friend (i.e., a bored spouse or child), and sell his dolls. List ‘em as soon as you get ‘em, and, with luck, you may be able to cover both of your costs. Again, not a guaranteed result, and not a wise move for many doll lines that do not sell well on the secondary market. To make it work, you need to do your homework.
Conventions are not cheap, and many of us need to get creative when it comes to finding a way to subsidize them. Whether it’s selling off some of your dolls that have lost their luster, bunking with a roomie, arranging a road trip, budgeting to a fault, sewing doll couture until your fingers bleed, or learning to buy and sell as well as a hedge fund manager, there are things you can do to make your dolly convention dreams come true.