In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I went through my 10-year archive of dolly pics and selected a variety of my girls in green. Some of these beauties have moved on, but most have stayed with me and continue to bring me joy. I hope they bring a smile to your face as you celebrate today with kisses to your loved ones and a nice frothy mug of green beer.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that Robert Tonner’s dolls hold a special place in my heart. I discovered Tonner’s dolls in 2003, when Tyler Wentworth and her world reigned supreme in Robert’s offerings. I was primarily enticed by the dolls’ uber-realistic, beautiful faces. They were so full of personality, and each one was distinct from the others. I loved that Robert injected racial diversity in his collections, regularly adding gorgeous African-American, Asian, and Hispanic characters into the mix. Today, I have hundreds of dolls from Tyler’s world in my collection, and they remain first in my heart.
But, of course, doll lines have short shelf lives in the world of high-end fashion dolls, and Tyler and her world were gradually phased out as collectors’ tastes changed. Tonner went on to create other doll lines. Cami, Re-imagination, DeeAnna, Antoinette, and Deja Vu took their turns in the spotlight, and many were gorgeous dolls. But while I purchased several of these dolls, none grabbed my attention like Tyler and Sydney once did. Back in those days, it was difficult for me to winnow down the list of dolls I wanted to purchase in each subsequent line unveiling. Like many collectors, I’d count down the days until Tonner’s latest unveiling, quickly emailing my dealer my wish list in hopes of getting to her first before my favorites sold out. But with Tonner’s subsequent lines, there were usually only a couple that stood out to me, and they rarely sold out.
It could be that I’m romanticizing my early collecting days, and the Wentworth family is a source of wistful nostalgia. It could be that I’ve matured as a collector, and I am now choosier with what I add to my collection. After all, I have to be out of necessity. My collection is bursting at the seams of my many doll cabinets.
At any rate, the point of all this rambling is to say that Robert Tonner just released a collection that has captured my imagination more than any other line since Miss Wentworth entered the scene. Her name is Miette, and she is far from a fashion doll. Miette’s back story casts her in the role of a character in the fictional, fairy tale-esque French village of “Faire Croire.” As described on Tonner’s website:
“Once upon a time, in a far off corner of a very southern part of France, lies a tiny village called, Faire Croire. Don’t bother to look on any map, you’ll never find it. It’s a lovely village where the people enjoy a life of beauty and peace. Every house in the village is a different color and has window boxes filled with flowers of all kinds. The moss covered thatched roofs slant in all angles. There are no locks on any doors or windows. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with fragrant flowers growing in beautiful pots adorned in jewels. The air is always thick with the scent of freshly baked pain au chocolat. It seems like a place you would hear about in a fairy tale. Although Faire Croire is well over 500 years old, no one knows it’s there. But, Faire Croire does have a quality, something sinister that hangs over the heads of all the villagers. Something like a dark cloud. Could that feeling be coming from the castle on the hill?
How could a village be over 500 years old with no one except the people that live there knowing of its existence? Miette, the lovely daughter of the Mayor of Faire Croire, intends to find out.”
I love Tonner’s quirky back stories, and I hope he expands on this one. Miette’s aesthetic is full of pastel colors, ruffles, and eyelet fabric. Her face is open and innocent, her lips ever-so-slightly parted as if she might speak. She reminds me a great deal of one of my other favorite sculpts of Robert’s, Euphemia, one of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters. But while Euphemia is pouty and cross, Miette is sweet and tender.
It seems that I am not the only collector enchanted by Miette. She was just released yesterday, and the status of many dolls has gone from “in stock” to “coming soon,” which I assume means they have sold out of much of their first shipment. While I’m delighted for Tonner Doll, as I can’t remember this happening for some time, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to place my order today. I’m going to start out with a raven basic, and if she is as lovely as her pictures, I’ll likely add a dressed doll. If money were no object, my wish list would consist of the Raven Basic, Dainty Miette, Fanciful, and Enchanting Miette.
I wish Tonner the best with this new line, and I’m looking forward to adding Miette to my dolly world. Who knows, perhaps she will fill the empty place in my heart that Tyler left when she exited the scene.
I’m no photographer, but, through the miracle of digital photography, I’ve found that if you take enough photos, there’s bound to be a few that don’t turn out that bad. Those of us of a certain age will recall taking our film rolls to the local drug store, waiting a few days for development, and then going back to pick up our pictures to discover what those photographs looked like. Most often, mine looked like crap. Out of a couple dozen pictures taken during a summer vacation, two or three weren’t blurry. Now, of course, we have the luxury of deleting the crappy photos before sharing them with others and we don’t have to pay for our prints sight unseen. With the dawn of cheap digital photography, everyone has become an amateur photographer. The younger set tends to document every moment of their lives–whether notable or not. Women of my age are most likely to photograph our children. My five-year-old is one of the most documented little boys around. The number of his childhood pictures will dwarf the number that my mother took of me.
And then there is the doll collecting set. We love to take and share images of our dolls. Mostly, I believe, because there are so few of us, and we rely on the Internet to bring us into contact with one another. Online, we can share pictures of our latest discoveries and learn about new dolls and upcoming artists. Some of today’s doll photography is an art in and of itself. Nearly every day I come across some new doll imagery online that leaves me scratching my head, thinking, how did she do that?
My own photos are amateurish at best, but once in a while the photography gods align around me and I take a pretty decent image. Prego, one of the doll boards that I frequent, adopted the theme of doll photography this week, asking members to post some of their favorite photos. I was inspired to dig into to my 10+ years of collected doll photos to locate some of my favorites.
Doubtless this will be a trip down memory lane for some of you more seasoned Tonner collectors. Looking back on the many, many images of dolls that I’ve taken throughout the years, I’m reminded of how much pleasure this hobby has given me, how much it continues to give, and how much more I’m sure it has in store.
First up, the Sydneys:
And a few more recent lucky shots…
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.
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.
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.
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.
News 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.
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.)
Once upon a time, the annual Tonner Convention was a big event that I shared with my mother and looked forward to for months. In the early 2000’s, we traveled to Orlando, Chicago, and beyond, soaking up the excitement of an event that only other overly enthusiastic doll fanatics can truly understand. We would typically tack on a couple days to our adventure to see the local sights. One of my favorite memories of my mom is going on a Segway tour of Chicago with her during a picture-perfect June day in 2007.
But of course, the only constant in life is change. Mom no longer recognizes either me or her beloved dolls, and I have not attended the annual Tonner Collectors Convention for five years. Besides my mother not being there, some of the luster of that event has faded for me. Tonner fashion dolls were much more in vogue then, and Tyler and Sydney reigned supreme. Those girls got me into serious collecting in the first place, and I’m one of the old-timers who look back with nostalgia on the early 2000’s as Tonner’s heyday in the fashion doll world. Being among the first to glimpse those coveted centerpiece and souvenir dolls of Tyler and the girls of the Chase Modeling Agency–some of the best dolls Tonner ever created, IMHO–made me and my mom giddy with excitement.
And those were the days of truly limited editions. Tonner only produced enough dolls for the collectors present–if that many–and there was real suspense over who would be lucky enough to “win” the very-limited centerpieces–which were always huge, over-the-top, and fabulous. (There was actually a time when “winning” was defined as getting the centerpiece for free. Such things actually happened in the doll world pre-recession.)
Today, Tonner makes available excess convention product to the general public a few days after the convention ends. Whether this is a good thing is subject to debate. For me, it’s a bad thing. It takes away a big reason I attended the conventions to begin with. Back in my day, we worked for those convention dolls. We paid for pricey airline tickets, stayed in expensive hotels, and emptied our wallets to ship our hauls back home. Those dolls represented one hell of an investment. And I cherished them all the more for it. And they accordingly fetched a pretty penny on the secondary market–which they should.
When you remove from the equation that giddy suspense of seeing and possessing some of the most deliciously exclusive fashion dolls of the day, you fundamentally change the nature of the event. If I can get the dolls without having to shell out for transportation, lodging, and meals, why go? Tonner knows this, and in response, I see the company making a bigger effort to make their conventions more about being there. They invest in entertainment; fun, interactive games; and silly activities. They may not have as many attendees as they once did, but those they do have seem to be having one hell of a good time (if the videos and photos that end up on Facebook are any example).
But for me, Tonner Con has lost its luster. While I can definitely appreciate their artistry, some of his new doll lines leave me cold. (She may have a great wardrobe, but the permanently stoned expression and jazz hands of Deja Vu just don’t do it for me.) My mom, of course, does not attend any longer, and neither do my closest doll friends–who have mostly moved on to resin FBJDs.
This year’s Tonner Con produced some gorgeous and original dolls that have stirred in me some of that original excitement I felt for my first Tonner dolls. There are four in particular that I think are major triumphs. The others are lovely too, just not to my personal taste. And Tonner gave us the most comprehensive convention coverage yet this year. His photographer documented each event blow-by-blow, releasing photos of each souvenir doll as it was revealed to convention-goers, along with descriptions, edition numbers, and prices. It was as close to being there as you could get without actually making the trip.
The biggest objects of my desire to come out of the convention is the Ellowyne group. They are straight out of an instruction manual on how to be the perfect 50s housewife and hostess. They scream “Lucy and Ethel.” Their outfits are well-thought-out, and the fabric combinations work to great effect. Their hairstyles are elaborate and period-accurate. I. Want. One. But I couldn’t possibly tell you which one I like best.
Vintage Tea Ellowyne
My second choice is no surprise. It uses the “Kit” sculpt, one of my favorites from the Chase Modeling line. She wears an adorable “rockabilly” themed square dance outfit. Love the execution. Love the hair. Love her.
Other dolls included another Rockabilly-themed fashion doll, several child dolls from the “Patsy” line, and Evangeline. The convention doll was a Marley Wentworth gift set, complete with two outfits and two wigs. It’s great to see Tonner offer a gift set again, and Marley’s black coat dress looks lovely and original. But I don’t think I will ever warm up to Marley’s stern expression. She just looks pissed off–nothing like the wholesome, healthy beauty that her sister had possessed in her early years. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Tyler wouldn’t survive in this world of harsh, eternally angry fashion dolls. Sybarites seem to have set the tone for the age of The Angry Fashion Doll, and now she is everywhere. Perhaps her face reflects the cynicism and frustration of a post-recession world. I don’t know. All I do know is that I miss her sister.
Marley’s angry predecessors:
What are YOU looking at?
So there you go–a convention review from someone who wasn’t even there.
Now excuse me while I wait for these new dollies to go on sale…