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.

IMG_3060IMG_3069Eager to play, I began trying different looks on her right away.

Then I photographed her with her Numina sisters.

IMG_3133IMG_3127Sung 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.

IMG_3163SUI 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.

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.

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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.”

On top of Doll Mountain

KewpieA 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.”

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BOXES ONE BOXES TWO boxesI 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.

Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?
Himstedt packing in progress. Can you spot the real child?

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.

dancersSo, 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.

moving-homePacking 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.

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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!

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Why the hell isn’t this doll sold out?

Fashion ball-jointed doll (BJD) artists continue to dazzle the collector community with their creations–and there seem to be more to choose from each year. These dolls are typically of very high quality and are produced in very limited editions. They are accordingly very expensive. Nevertheless, the top doll artist can sell out of their creations within minutes.

Which leads me to wonder why the hell this doll is still available. Doll artist Paul Pham was a pioneer in the fashion BJD market, offering extremely well-made, well-engineered resin dolls with perfectly scaled couture. Paul’s dolls are the only ones that have been able to lure away this committed vinyl doll collector into the resin BJD world. Paul’s “Stratus” was my first fashion doll BJD, and I was only able to afford her after selling off a good number of my vinyl girls. I was so pleased with the beauty of Stratus’ sculpt and her versatility in being able to pull off innumerable wigs and outfits, that I knew I was destined to add another one of Paul’s creations to my collection.

When I saw “Alma”–Paul’s Spanish-inspired creation–last year it was love at first sight. And again, I thinned the herd a bit to be able to add her to my collection. Alma is a limited edition of 50, and it recently came to my attention that, after originally being offered in September 2014, Alma is not yet sold out. In the doll world, four months is an eternity–the most superior fashion BJDs do not linger on the virtual store shelves for long.

So here is my plug for those of you who may be sitting on the fence about Alma (or any fashion BJD doll). Buy her. If you don’t have the cash (and she’s not cheap), sell off some of your collection you can live without or borrow against your dolly budget until you have enough. Sell a kidney if you have to. Because, next to the lovely Stratus, Alma is one of the most elegant dolls I own. Her sculpt is different, distinct, and sophisticated. Her face paint is superb. Her gown is regal. And she adapts well to different looks. I’ve had her in dozens of outfits that she has done tremendous justice to.

Below are a few of my very amateur photos of my Alma (as well as several superior photos by the talented Angela Nielson) and my Stratus. Now click HERE and buy yourself the loveliest fashion doll you are likely to own.