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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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The doll who started it all – Super Stripes Tyler

A pretty song

Collecting high-end fashion dolls can be an expensive hobby, so most collectors have to be pretty picky about what they choose to spend their precious dolly dollars on. I like to think that within the 20+ years I’ve been at this hobby, I’ve acquired “an eye” for the best the market has to offer. I try to avoid passing fads and obvious knock-offs and go for the original–those that have that often-difficult-to-articulate “something” that sets them apart from their vinyl and resin sisters.

In general, I like my dolls to look like real people. With the considerable exception of Ellowyne Wilde, my dolls have realistic sculpts and realistic proportions. Bulbous heads and skinny bodies have never done it for me. In my estimation, a pretty face always outranks articulation. I will pass up the most realistically articulated doll with a mediocre sculpt in favor of a stiff doll with a pretty face. I think this is the reason I’ve stayed loyal to Robert Tonner all these years. His sculpts are among the most realistic and stunning faces in the market. While other artists have successfully created dolls with articulation Tyler Wentworth can only dream of, Tonner’s faces remain among the fairest in the dolly land.

So if anything was going to lure me and my dollars away from Mr. Tonner’s 16-inch girls, it had to have more than posability going for it.

And then one day I came across a face that enchanted me almost as much as Tyler Wentworth did the first time I laid eyes on her. The doll was the work of Mr. Paul Pham of Dollcis, and her name was Stratus. I quickly did my homework on Mr. Pham, and learned that he is a one-man-show who creates resin fashion ball-jointed dolls (FBJDs) in batches of about 50, as well as one-of-a-kind commissioned dolls. Stratus was long sold out, and her price tag on the secondary market was more than I was accustomed to paying for a doll. But several months after I first saw her, she came up for sale on one of the doll boards I frequent, and I purchased her. Today she reigns as one of the queens of my collection. She is far more than a pretty face–Stratus has quite the bod, and she poses like a dream.

In time, Stratus was joined by one of Mr. Pham’s other creations, the lovely, Spanish-inspired Alma. I love her aquiline features and serene expression.

I think one of the reasons I am so attract to Paul’s work is the distinct ethnic flavor of his sculpts. When he first released photos this spring of his latest creation, Sung, I did what I had to do to clear up some space for her. Her face seemed to capture the flavor of the Orient, and I wanted her to take her place among her sisters.

This past week, Sung arrived. I was delighted with her as soon as I opened the box.

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.

We’re #1!

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.

Integrity Convention 2014 Designer Challenge Award Winner

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.

Anticipation

There is nothing quite as exciting to a doll collector as the exquisite anticipation of a doll event. Those of you who have been to one know what I am talking about. A doll event is the one place we can go to in which we are completely surrounded by people who “get” us, or at least “get” our passion for our hobby. It’s the one place we don’t have to explain our hobby to the uninitiated—those who can’t understand why a grown woman would buy 500 “Barbie dolls.” It’s the one place where we aren’t judged for putting down $300 for “just a doll” crafted by an amazing artist who should be getting much more for her efforts. And it is the one place where you can literally squeal with excitement upon winning a doll raffle and not be carted off to the Funny Farm.

Tomorrow I will attend Metrodolls in Iselin, New Jersey—an annual event founded by the Metrodolls club about a decade ago. I attended once before nine years ago, and, as I do at all doll events, I had a lovely time. The souvenir doll was a beautiful raven Tyler in black and red, and the companion doll was a pretty Shauna with variegated hair dressed in a bedtime ensemble. Both of these dolls are still in my collection.

Metro Style Tyler
Sweetheart Style Shauna

While Metrodolls is a terrific time packed with the events all doll collectors hold dear—vendors, raffles, auctions, presentations, and the great souvenir doll reveal—it is also all too short. Given that I’ve been looking forward to this event since I decided in February to attend, that’s a lot of buildup over a one-day event.

But as I sit in my hotel room in New Jersey and write this, I am reminded that I am here for more than the dolls—I am here for the doll people. I reunited with several people in my former doll club this evening, and I had a wonderful time catching up with them and chatting with collectors I haven’t met before. Doll collecting is as much about the personalities that make up our community as it is about the art we collect.

So tomorrow when I squeal with joy over being called as the winner of a raffle, or when I gasp in delight when the souvenir doll is revealed, or when I squeeze through a crowded vendor table to lay claim to that perfect little black doll dress, I will know that I am in the company of people who understand completely where I am coming from.

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.

From this:

To this:

To this:

How (not) to sell dolls on eBay

The vast number of collectors of fashion dolls are also sellers of fashion dolls. Some people are retailers as well as collectors, but the main reason people sell is to generate funds for the market’s newest shiny objects. Fashion doll collectors are a notoriously fickle lot. What they are scrimping and saving to buy today, they are selling at half-off tomorrow to buy something new. In recent years, I’ve seen collections turn from vinyl to resin seemingly overnight. Although my own collection has undergone a similar transformation, I tend to be a hanger-on to dolls no longer in vogue while my collector friends march on ahead of me to the next trend.

And yet, in the two decades I’ve been in this hobby, the hundreds of Barbies that once populated my shelves have given way to Tyler and Co. and many of her 16-inch sisters. Child dolls created by Annette Himstedt, Jan McLean, and Helen Kish also adorn my doll room. I’ve even returned to the 12-inch crowd in the form of the occasional Fashion Royalty gal who joins the ranks. In all, I probably have about a dozen Barbies left—out of the hundreds that once populated my mini-Mattel Altar of Pink.

In the very recent past, even my strong determination never to let those expensive, fragile, bitchy-looking fashion resin BJD monstrosities onto my shelves has come crashing down as two Numina sisters and a Modsdoll somehow made their way into my home. And then they were joined by two child resin BJDs, which had previously looked like grotesque alien children to me. (What’s worse—I actually sold some vinyl dolls to afford them. Oh, the hypocrisy!)

Now Tonner’s fashion dolls—and even the occasional Silkstone Barbie—still make their way into my home. I still purchase more Tonner dolls than any other. With the possible exception of Paul Pham, I think Robert Tonner continues to corner the market on beautifully realistic facial sculpts. And, of course, I do not have to sell a kidney to afford a Tonner doll. But when a gorgeous resin BJD does turn my head and I “have to have” her, there usually isn’t an extra $600 floating around in my bank account. So the rows of girls currently lining my shelves cower in fear as I contemplate how much each is worth and who to vote off Dolly Island.

But turning those dollies destined for new homes into cash is no easy proposition. It’s not that there aren’t potential buyers out there—there are plenty. The question is how to reach them and entice them to buy your goods. So below is a brief primer on how to sell a fashion doll in today’s secondary market—even if you have to do it on EvilBay.

Rule #1: Treat eBay as a last resort.

The first rule of selling on eBay is to avoid eBay at all costs. Long-time eBay sellers will tell you that the world’s largest flea market has become incredibly hostile to sellers to the point that their sales have become entirely dependent on the good will of their buyers—which is often in scant supply. Over the years, eBay has slowly chipped away at any recourse sellers once had against dishonest—and sometimes outright criminal—buyers. And we are not talking nickles and dimes here—high-end fashion dolls can be quite pricey.

Listing eBay’s sins against buyers would take up more space than I care to dedicate in this column, but suffice it to say that the company now compels sellers to accept returns from buyers for any reason and to pay the buyer’s return shipping on top of that. Oh, and your seller rating will suffer as well. I once had to accept a return from a buyer for a baby doll that the buyer claimed was defective because the baby doll would not stand up. I paid return shipping and had my nine-year-running 100% rating downgraded. Because this woman expected a baby to stand up.

Yes, it’s gotten that ridiculous.

And the fees have quadrupled since I joined eBay in 2004. The company now cheerfully takes a whopping 10% cut of your sales in return for its stellar customer service. And, of course, eBay also owns Paypal, and, since sellers are required to conduct their transactions through Paypal, they too can raise their transaction rates at will. It’s like paying to be mugged—twice—with each transaction. And until a viable competitor arises, those double fees are going nowhere but up.

Rule #2: Explore alternative selling venues.

So before heading to eBay with your precious dollies, exhaust all other resources. They do exist, and they can work well. Sellers on doll boards not only avoid eBay’s headaches and fees, selling within the doll community also often means dealing with a much more honest group of people. Over the past ten years, I’ve had two doll deals conducted on doll boards go bad. On eBay, I’ve lost count. Doll boards do a terrific job at policing their own communities. Buyers and sellers know that if they screw one person, their names quickly become mud as their identities spread like wildfire across the dolly universe. And it’s not a large group of people we’re talking about, so it’s not difficult to ruin your reputation across multiple boards after a deal gone bad on just one board. As I’ve said before, you don’t want to f*** with doll collectors.

When searching for venues for selling your dolls, don’t just limit yourself to your local doll message board. Collectors have set up swapping/selling/trading Facebook pages specifically for collectors of specific dolls. Mister Dollface, a new collector-run secondary marketplace, has gotten off to a good start. I’ve had some very smooth transactions on both Facebook and Mister Dollface, although not without first doing my due diligence. Honest buyers/sellers should always be happy to provide good references. Use caution and common sense before approaching any deal—particularly a pricey one.

And speaking of pricing, keep in mind that when you are selling off eBay, you are saving yourself not only the hefty eBay fees, but also a potentially significant amount of pain and suffering. So when pricing items for sale on a doll board, Facebook, or Mister Dollface, I start with what I think the doll will sell for on eBay, deduct eBay’s 10% fee, and then take another 5%-10% off for avoiding what I call eBay’s general “pain and suffering.” So if the doll sells, it’s ultimately not for much less than I would have gotten on eBay, and the savings is passed on to the buyer. Everybody wins.

Rule #3: Do your homework.

So, if the informal, online doll collector network is such a great place to sell, why do we need EvilBay at all? One word: Reach. eBay’s vast, international reach means that more potential bidders will see your goods than on any other venue. When I really need to sell a doll fast, EvilBay is unsurpassed in its reach to interested buyers. Dolls that have lingered for months on the doll boards to which I belong often sell in days on eBay. So, whether you have a particularly expensive doll to sell and need a wider reach, or if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you must go to the Dark Side, follow these tips:

Rule #4: Price to sell.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 75% of the fashion doll auctions currently listed on eBay are priced in the upper stratosphere of the market. I’m sorry, but an unremarkable mint Tyler Wentworth doll from the 2006 line is not going to fetch you $249. No matter how many times you renew your auction.

The optimism I see in such auctions is truly stunning to behold. And it gives people like me a chance. Sellers who know how to price, sell. And they can sell high. One weekly reseller of mostly Tonner products lists each item on eBay at $9.99. And her items often fetch top dollar.

But sometimes they don’t. Pricing competitively also means taking a risk. How much of a risk is, of course, up to you. But whatever you decide, do yourself a favor and don’t price your item in the dark. Do your homework. Researching price is one thing eBay does make ridiculously easy. A simple advanced search of completed listings will tell you what amounts your item has fetched in the recent past. And it will likely give you a longer list of overly enthusiastic prices that bidders have passed on—repeatedly.

My own strategy is to take the average winning bid and price somewhat below that. How much below? Here comes the gambling part. Simple psychology will tell you that bidders are more likely to bid an item up if the starting price is low. That’s why an item with a starting bid of $29.99 may ultimately go for $225, while the same item listed at a BIN of $225 will linger unpurchased indefinitely. When bidders see a $29.99 starting bid for an item worth eight times as much, they are more likely to take a gamble to get a “deal,” even if they ultimately end up paying the same price as a fully priced item. Thrill of the hunt and all that.

So let’s say I have a doll that I wish to sell on eBay. I research past prices and find a high-selling price of $150 and a low-selling price of $100. So I list the item at $75, which will hopefully make the item attractive to bargain-hunters hoping to score a deal. The risk, of course, is that bidding will stop at $75, and I will end up low-balling myself. The rosiest outlook is that I will start a bidding war and the auction will close on the high end—or beyond. Pricing the item very low, say, at $9.99, can attract a good number of bargain hunters and ultimately drive your item sky-high as bidders lose their collective heads in the auction’s waning moments. But, like all bets, don’t count on it. It does happen. But not always.

Rule #5: Take damned good pictures.

Following this simple rule will put you heads and shoulders above your eBay competition. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can make your item more attractive to potential buyers than a few decent photographs showing the item to its best advantage. This especially holds true today, given that most bidders no longer bother with actually reading the item description at all.

I have scored more than a few bargains on eBay by bidding on poorly photographed items that I knew to be valuable. And I have sold at higher-than-market prices items that I managed to photograph particularly well.

You don’t have to be a gifted photographer to make your item visually attractive to potential bidders. Just light your item well, take crisp, clear images, and highlight those little details (shoes, earrings, embroidery) that make your item worth its asking price. This is the best no-brainer advice I can give you on achieving eBay selling success.

Rule #6: Protect yourself.

eBay’s never-ending slew of policies hostile to buyers has put on the onus on us to protect ourselves. Of course, there is only so much we can do within the eBay universe, but some proactive measures may shield us from potential problems before they begin.

First, try to protect yourself from well-publicized “past offenders.” Many doll boards will keep lists of the eBay IDs of dishonest buyers and sellers, and those lists are often updated frequently as IDs are changed and new scammers emerge. Adding these individuals to your “blocked bidders” list on eBay may provide you with some measure of protection.

Also pay attention to your auction “boilerplate,” which should detail your terms of sale. eBay will not enforce any of these terms, of course, but there is the off chance that a bidder will actually read your description and police him/herself. Terms in my own boilerplate include “final sale,” “no full or partial returns,” “please ask all questions before bidding,” and “payment expected within three days.” Again, non-enforceable, but there’s the off chance someone may read it.

One can dream.

Rule #7: Use eBay “services” as little as possible.

Over the years, eBay has multiplied its convenient seller “options” that exploit its ability to rob you of more of your already-miniscule earnings. All-inclusive international shipping services are but one. Avoid these like the plague.

I’ve always avoided squabbles over shipping fees but simply offering flat rates. Sometimes this works in my favor, sometimes not. But it all generally works out in the end, saving both me and the buyer much unnecessary grief. The buyer is under no illusions as to what the shipping costs will be, and it is much, much easier on my end. And my educated guesses are usually pretty accurate. For example, for an average-sized Tonner doll box, I’ll usually charge about $13, and the actual costs, nation-wide, generally fall into that range.

*****

Whether you’re a newby collector or a hardened veteran like me, selling online isn’t for the faint of heart. But that said, it’s also–at least for me–one of the most exciting things about the collecting experience. Refreshing my collection by letting go dolls that I have cared for and loved in favor of new discoveries yet to be experienced is fun. And trying to get top dollar for my dolls can be an enjoyable challenge. But–whether you list on eBay or elsewhere–always look before you leap, and remember that, in today’s online environment, the first rule of doll commerce should always be: “Seller beware.”