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.

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Spring Prelude Syd

A WONDERful Surprise

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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.

My haul:

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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Rufus’s Daydream

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My mother loved Rufus Rutter. He was her favorite doll, and she delighted in bringing him to the dental office where she worked. There she would place him in the reception area so he could great patients with his big, dopey grin. Some patients loved him. Others were freaked out by him. Rufus was a conversation opener–and mom loved to talk to just about anyone.
Mom got her first glimpse of Rufus at his Tonner Con debut, where he joined his perpetual love, Ellowyne Wilde, as a table centerpiece. He wore a suit and plaid raincoat, clutching an umbrella in one hand and a heart-shaped box of chocolates in the other. Something about his getup and dopey grin appealed to mom, and she declared that she’d like to have him.
Now mom did not own–or want to own–an Ellowyne doll. She didn’t collect fashion dolls in general–child dolls most appealed to her. Rufus would be the oldest doll in her collection, and he would tower over her little girls. But she said that he made her laugh.
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Rufus would become the only doll in my mother’s collection that she actually played with. While the others stayed carefully arranged on curio shelves in static positions and wearing the same outfits year after year, Rufus sat on her dresser, where he sported a variety of casual and formal clothes. Rufus had a claim on my mother’s heart that no other doll ever had.
When I inherited mom’s collection, I took Rufus from her house first. He currently stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Prudence, who, in my world, is a lesbian and has become Rufus’s best friend. When I was brainstorming an article idea for the latest issue of FDQ, Rufus’s dopey grin caught my eye, and I was struck by a vision of him between his handyman jobs–dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt–lying in his basement apartment and dreaming, as always, of Ellowyne Wilde.
The resulting article, “Rufus’s Daydream,” appears in the Autumn 2015 edition of FDQ, now shipping to subscribers. Below is a teaser. To find out how the story ends, paper and digital issues are available at FDQ’s web site.
My very talented friend, Angela Nielsen, provided the story’s photos.
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He spent a lot of time lying on the small cot that was his bed, wondering what she was doing in her apartment four stories above. His own apartment—much smaller than hers, of course—was in the basement of the grand Victorian home that once belonged to her grandmother. His space was modest, as was he, but he didn’t have many wants or needs—at least of the material sort. As the house’s resident handyman, it was also his workplace. And he didn’t venture out much— except at the insistence of Prudence, who never tired of telling him that he was growing paler by the day and needed to get out into the sunlight.
Prudence was her best friend, and his good friend as well. Prudence was also his handiest excuse to get closer to her. After all, she too did not venture out much, generally preferring to envelop herself in her pensive moods and linger over the trinkets and ephemera with which she surrounded herself in the spacious rooms she inhabited. In the handful of times he had been in her apartment, he was mesmerized at the number of antique clocks, vintage outfits on dress forms, porcelain ladies, and dried flowers that occupied every corner of her rooms.
It was an enchanted space frozen in time, much like she was. To him, she was not of this world, and that created a distance between them that he often despaired of ever bridging…

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Happy Dolly Fourth of July!

This is just a quick post to wish my American readers a festive July 4th. I am currently in Colorado visiting with my husband’s family. My in-laws live in a mountain community of less than 1,000 residents. No more than a dozen businesses line its main street, and there is no stop light. It is a quirky town, and breathtakingly beautiful.

When we visited last summer, I took a doll with me and photographed her against the mountains, valleys, and lakes we came across. This year I am doing the same, with the added bonus of sharing my doll photography time with my 7-year-old niece, who brought along her American Girl doll. It’s been so much fun getting to share my love of dolls with a little girl who is just starting to become enchanted with them. As soon as I arrived, my niece unpacked her backpack of American Girl clothes and accessories, and we both began redressing our respective dolls. I adore my son, but it is so magical to be able to relate to a child through doll play. Playing cars and trains with my son just isn’t the same.

Today my niece and I took our dolls outdoors to photograph them for the Fourth of July holiday. A holiday craft project created by my mother-in-law provided a festive backdrop.

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Even Barbie joined us for a while.
Even Barbie joined us for a while.

This year, my travel doll is “Sage,” a platinum Cinderella Tonner doll repainted by “K.” Sage wore some older Tonner separates for her photo shoot. I love the pieces that Tonner created for Tyler and friends when that line was in its heyday. They remain the basic staples of my dolls’ closet, and I return to my favorites (like Sage’s top) again and again.

Last year, Blush and Bashful Tyler accompanied us to Colorado. I was able to get some terrific photos during several day trips we took.

After our photo session was done, my niece and I headed for a playground, where our dolls joined us on the swings. It will be difficult to leave the crisp mountain air for Florida’s heat and humidity when we return home in a couple days.

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Kristen’s Tale (or Why You Should Never F*** With a Doll Collector)

Five years ago I bought a gorgeous repaint off eBay. She was a fresh-faced young woman who had begun life as Tonner’s Cinderella. Her artist sprinkled freckles across her face and chest, gave her nose and eyebrow rings, and painted an understated rose tattoo above her right breast. Her crowning glory was a fabulous head of variegated brown dreadlocks, which hung past her shoulders and down her back. Yes, she had the stereotypical hipster vibe, but she preserved the look of a young innocent and hesitant adventurer. I fell in love with her at first sight, checked my dolly budget, and eagerly clicked the “buy” button.

Her artist, the talent behind “Bordello Dolls,” promptly shipped the doll—christened “Kristen”—and sent me her tracking information. A few days later, I received a USPS notice on my front door advising me that Kristen’s delivery had been attempted. I work out of the house full-time, so I signed the slip, asking the postman to leave the doll at my door. I waited three days for Kristen’s redelivery, but she did not arrive.

I contacted the post office, which swore the doll was delivered per my instructions. I then contacted the artist, who also contacted her post office, and she got the same reply. The front desk worker at my post office produced my signed slip and said they had done their job. The slip indicated that I authorized delivery without a signature, so they were not responsible for the doll once it was redelivered at my front door.

I had never had a package stolen before, and I live in a low-crime neighborhood. I feared I was out both the lovely Kristen and my $300, but the artist kindly offered to paint me another doll, which was more than nice of her, as she was not the one at fault. I knew, however, that there was only one Kristen.

It was the next day or so after my doll disappeared that I was casually browsing my typical haunts on eBay, and I saw Kristen again offered for sale. This time the seller was not Bordello Dolls, but one completely unknown to me. The auction was a carbon copy of the artist’s original one, complete with her photos and description.

WTF?

Was this seller my thief? Or was it another rip-off artist trying to sell a doll he/she did not have, making this a very weird coincidence?

In my confusion, I sought advice from the established online Doll Authorities—my favorite doll community board (in my case, Prego).

The Pregoites immediately swung into action–as I knew they would–doing the background checks and homework that I didn’t have time to do with my hectic work schedule and small child. In no time, they had shut down the criminal’s eBay account (these were the days in which eBay was actually responsive to their customers’ needs). Other Pregoites researched the seller’s background and soon identified him as a well-known con artist in the doll world—although his “real” name was unknown.

By now, conversation about Kristen and her whereabouts dominated the board’s discussion on a daily basis. Theories were put forward, allegations were made, and the most die-hard sleuths remained committed to identifying the thief by name. The biggest mystery, of course, was how this random member of an online doll community manage to identify me as the buyer of this specific doll, get my address, stalk my postman, and then steal the doll from my front door. The unlikelihood of it all seemed to propel my amateur detective friends on in their quest to solve the mystery.

In the meantime, I contacted my local police station to report the theft and enlist their help. As I related my unlikely tale to officers whose job it is to track down stolen goods, I could sense their incredulity in the silence on the other end of the phone line. And when I told them the stolen item was a doll purchased off eBay for $300, I actually heard a chuckle. At which point I slammed down the phone and muttered obscenities about the uselessness of my local taxpayer-funded police force.

But the real detectives wouldn’t give up. Finally, one day I heard from a Pregoite who had not only identified the thief, but also had his street address.

He lived within a ten-minute drive of my house.

After more digging, it was discovered that this individual was a member of Prego himself. He apparently saw a previous post in which I announced my purchase of Kristen, located my address, stalked my postman, stole the doll, and then listed her on eBay.

WTF?

Prego is an international board, but its membership is relatively small. The entire fashion doll community is small—estimated to be no more than several thousand. The fact that someone in my neighborhood was a Prego member, managed to identify a specific doll I had purchased off eBay, tracked down my address, found out exactly when that doll was being delivered, and then stole that doll from me to repost it on eBay strained belief. A few people even hinted that I had staged the whole thing. I almost couldn’t blame them.

With a physical address, Prego really sprang into action. They had a name and an address, and they did everything in their power to shame this person into returning the doll. They also knew his personal email address and they knew that he was on Prego, so they peppered him with threats if he did not return the stolen merchandise. They threatened everything from legal action to a good house egging. I could not help but to sit back and enjoy this rallying to Kristen’s defense.

And now comes the most unbelievable chapter of this unlikely tale of dolly theft. One evening in the midst of this drama I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs into my kitchen to get a glass of milk. It was probably around midnight. I was startled by some scuffling close to my house, and I peered out the kitchen window. I saw nothing. I attributed the noise to some random animal and went back to bed.

The next morning, when I opened my front door to go to work, I tripped over a Tonner-sized box. Kristen had come home.

KristenNews of the doll’s return brought much joy to the Prego community. My dolly friends had accomplished what the post office and police refused to—and they did it with far fewer resources. I learned that day to never, ever fuck with the doll community or one of its own. They will take you down.

Hell hath no fury like a doll collector scorned.

Dolly orgy averted: A wedding tale

Since my husband has always vied with my dolls to be first in my heart, it was important to me to accommodate both of them on my wedding day—which took place eight years ago today. So not long after I said “yes” to the ring, I suggested to my fiancé that we place doll bride and groom centerpieces at each of the tables at our reception.

That did not go over well.

Instinctively jealous of his long-time rivals, my husband demurred, refusing to share our day with my beloved vinyl works of art. This, of course, got my hackles up, and we ended up nearly divorcing before getting married in the first place.

After we dug in our respective heels, intense negotiations followed. The upshot was a compromise in which we agreed to one dolly bride and groom to be placed on the gift table at our reception. It wasn’t what I originally had in mind, but I had been told that marriage was all about compromise, so I was willing to be the bigger person just this once.

After much long-distance preparation for a Colorado wedding, the Big Day arrived. The ceremony was lovey, if unconventional, and our guests entered the reception hall in fine spirits. The doll display generally drew smiles, particularly from the groom’s guests, many of whom had not been told of his now-wife’s obsession. But we were legally hitched at that point, so it was too late for them to talk him out of his obvious mistake.

Since many guests were the parents of young children whom they had made someone else’s problem for the evening, the dancing carried on until late, and the alcohol continue to flow. When I took the occasional break from the dance floor, I noticed that my wedding dolls were frequently changing positions, and it pissed me off a bit that my guests were taking liberties with them. But being a new bride made me temporarily indulgent of such behavior, and I so dismissed my concerns as petty.

When the festivities finally came to an end, and my new husband, our parents, and I were clearing the hall of decorations and gifts, I went to gather my vinyl bride and groom. To my dismay, I found them laying down, the bride’s gown hitched up around her neck, in what is traditionally referred to as the”69” position.

Part of me felt violated. A larger part burst into loud laughter.

About a month later, my husband and I developed the photos from the disposable cameras we gave our guests so they could snap pictures during the reception. (This was a common practice in the pre-digital Dark Ages.) Among the photos, we found picture after picture of my poor dolly bride and groom in nearly every sex position imaginable. Apparently, my dolls were more of a hit than I had realized. And our friends were much more immature than I had given them credit for.

Looking back, I am now grateful that my husband prevented me from placing my dolls on each reception table. It would have been a veritable dolly orgy.

(Editor’s note: Today’s post is dedicated to my husband of eight years. It’s been a crazy ride, and I think we’re stronger for it. I love you, Shawn. We have an exciting road ahead. Just keep swimming.)