We are doll collectors – we usually will refer to our passion in the vernacular – or ‘doll‘. But what does this mean, exactly? In my opinion, the very nature of the doll is what can classify it, and set one apart from another. When you add the design style, country of origin, even the material, they can fall into genres or niches, depending of whether you read DOLLS Magazine, Fashion Doll Quarterly, or DOLL NEWS. The collective of a certain type of doll generates camraderie, but also exclusiveness. Quite honestly, it can also spawn a deviant group of snobs, as well as a joyous group of whimsical spirits infectious with positive energy.
Don’t look at me, you pick which you’d rather be around…
Nevertheless, the type of doll defined in modern guides and reference pages sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In a cosmos of individuals, we find ourselves defined by what makes us unique, often finding it really make us alike. Yes, yes…I know ‘wooden doll’ collectors that collect both child and adult type dolls made of wood, but is it proper to segregate this collector into one specific world? When you boil it all down and simmer with a healthy dose of humility, this is basically what you get. Oh and by the way, I’m listening to this while writing – around 0:31 is what I feel like when I play with my dolls…
Types of Dolls (Remember, this is a commentary, not a reference guide):
Antique– All antiques are alike because of one simple fact – they’re really old. This alone commands serious respect, in my opinion. You don’t play with antiques – you care for and/or restore them, you put them in museums for all to see, you put an unbelievable price tag on them because of rarity and watch everyone on Antiques Roadshow go incontinent over its rarity and condition. It doesn’t matter if an antique doll is a child or an adult – whether it’s made of cloth, bisque or wood – what inbred royal family member cherished it during electroshock therapy – if it’s an antique, it can only be classified by how rare it is. Now antiques can be a joy for all, but a fair few snobby witches infiltrating such highly reputable organizations as The United Federation of Doll Clubs won’t have any of that. Rubbish, I say – begone before someone throws a house on you.
There are also many other noble culturists in that and other fine groups that make it a mission to edify and share lost worlds of precious dolls that are antique, and who do not dry heave each time the discussion or sight of a modern – plastic – doll is broached. Discover a couple of my favorites here and here. A final note on antiques – no one seems to really understand what age actually defines an antique – 50, 75 or 100 years – all the more reason to lump them into one category. I don’t know what magic there is in something crossing the 100-year mark other than it being really old, and a nice round number. They all have some exception which separates vintage and antique. Be that as it may, one hundred years from now, it’s my opinion that what is identified as an antique today, will still be an antique then – trust.
Art– The art doll can be either child, adult or even non-human, but it’s not a doll typically played with, be certain of that. If you’re ever in doubt, ask yourself this one question: does everyone just stand around and look at it in some mystified stupor? Yep…it’s one of those.
Au contraire mon chéri, don’t think I discount the art doll because of this. You can’t play with many art dolls because of significant factors such as fragility, rarity or expense – but some actually can be dressed and re-dressed…you just won’t do it as often as you would one fabricated from more durable materials in much larger quantities. Art dolls can be grouped into one singular category because they are made by a creator, singly or in teams. They won’t look alike, you can be 100% on that – to see what I mean, check these folks out here. But collectors of art dolls will refer to them as such – it’s art, a sculpture, a creation – not merely a doll. Lighten up, Warhol, it’s still a doll.
Child– Any doll referred to as a ‘child doll‘ is almost exclusively referring to one subjected to the whimsy of play. Like so many of the other cross-overs you’ll see in doll types, a child doll can be an art doll, or even a fashion doll; however, by my definition, a child doll represents a human that is not an infant. In the gray unknown of toddlers and teens, I say make a choice – teens fall more into the realm of adult than child, so children take on more of a defined pre-pubescent age. After all, Barbie was a teen age fashion queen – so pretty certain that teens are off-limits in child doll arenas.
Fashion– The mother load, the big kahuna, the sparkle that eats glitter for breakfast…oh, what the hell – the only dolls that really matter. No, really – there’s a reason I say that. If all the non-fashion dolls went away, you’d still be inundated with the likes of Barbie and her brood, but if all the fashion dolls went away, there’d be virtual silence, as dolls would quietly become chaste art with little or no resistance. Why? It’s kinda hard to poke sexually tense objectification mores toward miniature representations of children, babies or the lot, which is of course, what largely drives the fashion doll notoriety – pretty much thanks to Barbie.
By one definition, “A fashion doll is a doll that is created to not only display and wear clothing, but generally also a doll which has additional clothing and accessories available separately.” It is interesting that the author does not refer to male or female, but generally to teens or young adults. Doll makers, sculptors, designers, artists all seem to have his/her own twist on what makes a fashion doll. But it is rather simple: a fashion doll is a doll with fashions. Don’t over think it or put it into separate categories. You could have a sculpture of J. Edgar Hoover, but if he had fashions, say, his mother’s dress – he ceases to be anything except a fashion doll.
Now, fashion dolls come in all varieties, shapes, genders, sizes and materials…but they share (sometimes literally) a wardrobe. The relevance of grouping them into their own category is largely because of the people who collect fashion dolls, and the similar traits they share during the endless pursuit of that insatiably sizzling, jaw-dropping ensemble, and the character who wears it.
Fashion doll collectors are also impeccably infamous for the methods they will go to obtain and/or create the perfect fashion doll. In fact, most fashion dolls appearing in the years since Barbie wouldn’t even exist unless someone was trying to replicate or improve upon our First Fashion Lady of Pink. Inspirations have been drawn from previous fashion precursors such as Cissy and Miss Revlon, but Barbie chewed them into shreds of sad rags along with her generation, and she spit them into the past where they romantically dwell as visions of a ‘golden age of fashion‘. Amateurs. Barbie was worth over $2Billion in 2002…we don’t even need to speculate what that means today.
Despite the common thread uniting our fashion doll brothers and sisters across the planet, let us also make a point to the imperative: fashion dolls are not equal. You might think that’s a silly point to make, but it’s a mind-numbing irritant fashion doll collectors are reminded of frequently. Read all about the various types of fashion dolls – click here.
When I worked at Tonner, we set up a dedicated fashion boutique in New York’s famed FAO Schwarz entirely devoted to Tonner’s then-muse, Tyler Wentworth. This was a 16-inch fashion doll – she had loads of clothing and accessories – her clothes were made from imported silks, embroidered Italian laces, tailored cashmere, and custom-knit miniature sweaters – yes…real sweaters made for her tiny frame. Dressed in all her glory, you’re looking at roughly $200. And yet, the simpletons that graced Fifth Avenue would top the escalator, marvel at the ‘Big’ Piano, turn the corner while yawning over Madame Alexander’s Doll Factory, and behold Tyler in all her glory – then smirk, “Look, it’s a big Barbie for $200!” Morons…
Fashion dolls are not all created equally – and you’ll find many will take to criticizing their own kind in favor of his/her ideal of fashion doll-dom glory. It’s just a little cannibalistic, if you ask me…but a necessary evil, nevertheless. Some of the criticism is actually warranted, as interesting observations amongst collectors assist to educate our community, but it’s all fun and games until someone loses and eye over it – and the flaming ensues. Yes, Ma’am…you’ll get all kinds of ‘Freedom of Speech‘ diatribes within these microcosms of villainy and hatred, and the on-lookers who can’t avoid a good, nasty fight. Hell, and I get run down for being a ‘cheerleader‘? Now who’s the amateur? In a world brought to its knees by stunning examples of fashionable artistry, and we still fail to have manners – it’s a crazy world out there.
Action Figure– I have so very, very much to say about action figures – but suffice it to say for right now, they are dolls. Typically what separates an action figure from a fashion doll, or any other doll for that matter, is that some or all of the doll’s clothing is molded permanently to the doll. But that doesn’t stop customizers…ah, wait…I get ahead of myself.
Cultural– I’m going to bend on this one – dolls grouped by a cultural heritage such as Native American dolls, Russian or Japanese dolls do belong in a special group – they hide in between the fine lines of art doll, child doll, fashion doll or action figure…but it is their culture that unites them into a unique phylum. But don’t be fooled, just because a doll is depicted under a cultural theme, doesn’t instantly make it a cultural doll – case in point.
Baby– Baby dolls are only those that include infants and toddlers, otherwise, they are a child doll. There’s no argument on this one except the ‘reborn‘ dolls – and those would be classified under customized below.
Fantasy– Fantasy dolls generally include non-human or human-hybrid depictions. What separates these dolls into their own phylum is the fact that they do not represent human beings. Some might say this is true of Barbie, but sweetie, let me tell you Barbara Millicent Roberts is a representation of a real human being even though she may not look like one. Hell, neither do half of the Real Housewives or Bruce Jenner, and yet you give them more license than Barbie?
Satire– Satire dolls are those that represent real people, some even human – but typically celebrities, politicians, or other fictitious characters like Uncle Sam or Sarah Palin. Some will incorrectly identify a celebrity doll as a fashion doll – no, no…that’s not right. Celebrity dolls are portraits of graven images that we are to worship like silly little gossip-driven pagans. I don’t care if they come with oodles of clothing, they probably represent the least human of all dolls. But, hey…they can be quite beautiful, too.
Customized– Some of the most interesting dolls out there are dolls customized by talented hands. But what they are unknowingly doing is changing the doll’s phylum. Any doll that has been customized, now stands in a category all alone for the world to behold.
Material-Based– This is an interesting subject – dolls based in a group solely on its material. Cloth, wood, china, plastic, vinyl – you get my point. But this is a myth – a myth that has been completely and irrevocably changed by the rise in the resin ball-jointed dolls. (See Below)
Red-heads– I was almost convinced that collecting dolls based on a hair color could actually result in a unique category. But alas, beyond my inner passion for those flaming gingers, they cannot be separated into their own group even if they can be amongst the most fabulous.
Three things that one cannot avoid in the doll collecting:
How Material Affects The Collector – The material from which a doll is made is singly one of the most impassioned subjects of praise and/or discontent amongst collectors. Whether it be cheap polystyrene that discolors over time, or toxic vinyls that discolor over time, or sun-sensitive resins that discolor over time – oh wait, I see a theme developing here. But it’s more than that…and there’s much to discuss when it comes to materials.
The Enigma of the Ball-Jointed Doll – Ball-jointing in dolls is not new, and as an early author of Tonner’s Collector Guides, I tried to find the most sensitive and politically correct words to explain this. But that is simply impossible. Ball-jointing is not new – it’s been around for centuries. The Japanese did not invent ball-jointed resin dolls. Can you really group a doll into its own phylum because of its jointing and place of origin? Apparently, you can do anything you want in the doll collecting arena, especially if you are well-versed in your subject and have actual readers – oh. Seriously though, the resin ball-jointed doll coming out of Asia is worthy of numerous discussions, and it is an amazing art form – but to group it into its own phylum, and conscientiously exclude other resin ball-jointed dolls because they are not made in Asia, do not have interchangeable parts, or they have painted eyes – well, methinks you step into the wild abandon of a cultural doll with a stubborn following. And yet with all that being said, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about them often imitated, but seldom captured by knock-off manufacturers. So I think I will remain cautiously open about the placement of the resin ball-jointed doll in its own phylum – however, it’s likely you’ll see me refer to them more because of their similarity to a fashion, child or fantasy doll. In the end, they’;re all BJD’s to me.
Toy v. Collectible – OK…get it and get it good – toys and collectibles are not the same thing. The mis-informed miscreant that wrote this Huffington Post article about ‘plus-sized Barbies’ obviously would rather equate dolls of varying scales, price points and intended audiences all under the order of Barbie – because Barbie is um…a doll? Let’s see how well Ms. Krupnick and Ms. Penn fare when they start writing articles about haute couture purchased in Walmart for Duck Dynasty fans who sip on champagne-flavored beer paired with instant mashed potatoes and then try to pitch it to Vogue or Bon Appétit Magazine. Hmmm…emote much?