So you’ve made it this far in my blog, and now you say to me, “Hey, Tommy – how can I collect dolls, too?” Well, puddings…let’s lighten things up a bit, and get down to the basic nitty-gritty of doll collecting. Even if you’ve been collecting for years, chances are likely you’ve been doing it all wrong – so sayeth me. I used to read About.com’s doll collecting information, articles and guides – and I recall how hysterically funny some of it was when it came to the collecting advice – I nearly wet my pants! So pull up a chair and let Tommy bully his way into your head with his insufferable know-it-all tidbits on life and dolls…
One of the things of which I took great pride back in the day was the Tonner Doll Collector’s Guide. You can see the current version here – but older versions here, here and here will give you a better glimpse into what it was really about – hurry, before they discover it’s still out there and pull it. It really hasn’t changed much; and well…this has been around since 2010, when I left the company – so that should give you some insight. Anyhoo…allow me to present the 30 Cardinal Rules of Doll Collecting:
1. Get a Mental and Physical Checkup – You heard me – as with any new regimen, you’ll need to make sure that you are physically up to the challenge. But more importantly, get a mental check-up, too. You’ll want a professional to advise if you are mentally sound to enter the world of doll collecting. You’ll want to go over your obsessive-compulsive tendencies, your addictive personality vulnerabilities, your highly emotional attachment psychoses – well, anything that might indicate you are an otherwise stable and responsible human being. We got plenty of crazy people in the doll world already, thank you very much, and we don’t need more of you.
2. Know Your Financial Limitations – Collect only what you can afford. Understand that you’ve just pissed your money away on a doll, get over it…and don’t expect to get that money back…ever. By observing your financial limitations, you are able to focus on dolls within a certain range, and admire those that are out of it. Some of those dolls might come into your range, and think how fabulous that would be! There is also the possibility that you can sell some of your dolls to pool the funds needed to buy that very, very special doll just within your reach. This may sound like such an imposition, but it really isn’t. If you can’t find a doll you like within your affordability, then you don’t need to be collecting dolls. Try matchbooks instead.
3. Know Your Dolls. I covered much of this here, but if you want to be a part of our little enclave, you’d better damn well be able to identify – at the very least – the dolls you collect. You don’t have to know about anything else except the dolls you actually own. If you collect resin ball-jointed dolls, and you don’t know what ‘face up‘ is, take cover – those folks will smack you clean into next week (they don’t mess around, those BJD people). This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people haven’t a single clue as to what they own, or the influences of its make, style or model. No…I am not kidding. Why do they even collect dolls? Mostly these folks are seeking other types of attention from a larger group, or they are trying to compensate for having a very small penis…who knows? It’s definitely not because they love dolls. So when that little dolly in the window winks your way, stop for a second and try to learn a little more about her – your appreciation of ownership will exponentially increase with your enlightenment. Doll Blogs help with enlightenment, too – here are the best.
4. Know What Buyer’s Remorse Is. I know many people who see the announcement of a new doll as the one single reason to continue living the next six months it takes for that doll to actually ship to its customers. They wait – they anticipate its arrival with an eagerness not seen since the Donner Party found California. They dream about opening the box – they ask all kinds of really annoying questions online like, “Do you think she’ll be pretty?” They build up this vision that takes on a more religious flavor than that of a simple hobby. We all know them. And we all know what happens next. The box is opened, the thrill is gone, the doll goes on a shelf (maybe)…and they either turn their attention to the next anticipated doll in a vicious cycle that never ends…or worse, they bitch about it.
The hair is wrong, the dress is cheap, there’s a wonky eye, there’s three lashes on the right eye and four on the left, the color is substandard, the doll smells of chemicals, she’s got a big head (and it was measured), on and on and on. The cycle comes to an end when said collector then tries to sell the doll (sometimes at a premium if it’s a special event edition) – “we just didn’t bond,” would be the excuse offered. We know it was really more than that. You built up such an expectation in your psychotic mental state that you plopped a few hundreds dollars down on a doll without even really seeing it, and your husband saw the Visa bill, saying he would drop your ass clean into the gutter if you bought another one. Yup…now that’s more like it. You would save yourself and all of us the anguish if you just clocked in a little therapy, and understood buyer’s remorse. The guilt that follows the anti-climatic opening of the box should be pretty clear, if nothing else. And don’t be one of these people that buy a doll, open it…and sell it instantly – we know who you are, too…and although it may not be buyer’s remorse per se…there’s no question there’s some messed-up shit running around in your brain.
5. Leave Your Ugly Perfectionist At Home. Nothing is perfect. If you cannot accept that (and with a good understanding of this), I am certain doll-collecting isn’t for you. In fact, I’m pretty sure you have all kinds of other issues in your life. Do not…I repeat…do NOT run your mouth off online saying how quality control is lacking or standards have plunged into the toilet – this may actually be true, but I can assure you that doll manufacturers bust ass 24/7 to make sure each and every product that ships to its customers does so in its best possible condition within reason. There are so many ways to cut costs, and cutting quality control is like cutting off your testes because you don’t like the way your pants fit. However, understand that you cannot have 100% quality control in any production process – something will always get through…always. Your best way to combat quality control issues is to tell the doll maker – not each other. Otherwise, they don’t have a clue anything is wrong, and they have better things to do than sit around reading online bulletin boards looking for your rant. If they do take time to read online, it’s because there’s trashy gossip, or because a flame war has erupted at a competitor’s expense. Don’t let your ego get puffed up because you think we were actually reading your post.
6. Join An Online Community. Wait…did I just say that? Yes…yes I did. And there’s a very good reason why – most of the people you find online are actually nice, enthusiastic, helpful and genuine people. And…it’s a THRILL to see them in person at a doll event! Going online gives you a way to reach out to people across the planet and play together in perfect harmony – but without buying them a Coke. Take some time to learn the etiquette of online forums, and other simple things like how to share images to get the most from your dolly play. Do not talk about your kids, illnesses, Jesus…or any thing that is not doll-related…period. I have little patience for things like that. You want prayers? Go to church…or better yet, Facebook. But every time someone posts a very personal story in a doll collecting forum, it’s like a virtual fart in middle of the room – you can’t deny it came from you, and it will stop any conversation dead in its tracks. If you want to develop the gluten in your online friendships with personal connections for richer and poorer, sickness and health, until death do you part…there are plenty of great websites for that. Doll collecting forums are for doll collecting discussions…end of story.
7. Learn How To Play With Your Dolls. I cover this a length here – ‘Play’ means just about anything that isn’t ‘display‘. It also means learning to care for your dolls. Buy a couple of old, nude dolls and learn how to reset hair…enhance face paint using colored pencils (it’s removable!)… separate molded fingers with a razor blade and try your hand at making miniature gloves with actual fingers! Oh boy…this is what makes doll collecting fun! Mix and match the clothing and accessories from other dolls…get a doll that is bald and go pee-your-pants-crazy playing with wigs! Collect miniature accessories, and stage little rooms for the girls! Have a fashion show with friends! Host your own talk show using your various dolls as guests and make up scandalous stories (we all remember The Esme Show, right?). Become very familiar with Twin Pines of Maine. Waste hours and hours re-rooting a doll head with shocking pink saran while watching a Thorn Birds marathon! I think you get the point.
8. Have A Working Understanding Of The Doll Business. If nothing else, know that it is a business – I cannot emphasize this enough. Doll manufacturers do listen to their collectors…but they also will largely do whatever the hell they want to increase its bottom line. They are in the business of making you think they listen and act on your suggestions. But what you think is a great idea may not sit well with Jason Wu’s ideals…or it simply may not be practical. If you knew more about how the doll businesses actually operated, you’d not be asking for half the shit you do. You didn’t like Tyler’s ‘puppet’ knees joints – but no one was going to drop $10,000 to mold new legs. Whoever approved the virtually nonfunctional jointing on Gene Marshall to add bending legs and elbows should have been fired – but the money had already been spent, and no one was going to scrap it. And the person (or persons) that came up with Alexandra Fairchild Ford should have their own level of hell built and customized just for them. But again…an investment had been made…and the only way out of that God-forsaken harpy hole was to sell as many dolls from those molds as possible, despite it being – quite possibly – one of the most serious crimes against dolls.
9. Know How A Doll Is Made. When I was writing the Tonner Collector’s Guide, my main mission was to give people the information they craved that may help them to make informed decisions about doll purchases. Besides, I was sick and tired of stupid people being so amazingly misinformed about the products of which they spent thousands of dollars annually. You can lead a horse to water, so the saying goes. I never understood why people would not want to know everything they could about such a highly personal hobby? Why did Tyler have a hole in the back of her head? Why does this outfit cost so much? Why does staining occur? Why does resin turn yellow? Why are people so stupid? Mysteries of the universe, you’d think. Nevertheless, the one that ultimately burned my knickers each and every time was when someone would refer to the face painting being screened. Zut alors!!! I know the term ‘screened’ became somewhat synonymous with face painting, but to refer to hand-painting as screening not only was insulting to the sweet little Chinese ladies who actually painted the faces, but it’s a glaring omission in the understanding of how much a doll costs. And now that labor isn’t cheap in China anymore like it was in the late 90’s, you’d think folks would want to know a little more about the costs associated with a doll’s manufacture if they were to offer intelligent commentary on the subject. Funny…that people complain about a doll being over-priced, or not holding its value, when they lack the fundamental understanding of factory production economics.
10. Learn How To Speak Doll Magazine-ese. Doll publications will offer you no gossip or critical reviews of dolls because they would fail without the advertising dollars. Advertising buys editorial coverage, so reading about Robert Tonner’s acquisition of Wilde Imagination (which had me laughing my ass off), or another pretty picture of Gregg Ortiz suggestively posing with his dolls is about as useful to the doll collector as balanced reporting is to FOX News. When reading doll magazines, learn to read between the lines. Here are a few good examples that should serve as your Rosetta Stone:
“…find a new muse…” = “redemption for the last collection”
“…invoked cutting edge fashion design…” = “knocked it off from the last Alexander McQueen collection”
“…employed the latest manufacturing techniques…” = “Cut costs by using fabrics requiring little finishing”
“…experienced production challenges…” = “didn’t pay the factory”
“…evolution in design ideals…” = “purchased the wrong fabric during production”
“…make collectors part of the process…” = “Distract the bastards so I can get some work done”
“…branching into new concepts…” = “lacking focus”
“…inspiring other collections…” = “ripped off by Ashton-Drake”
“…nothing like Barbie…” = “exactly like Barbie”
“…our exclusive look…” = “another publication pissed them off”
“…Madame would be thrilled…” = “Madame would spin in her grave”
You’ll be speaking doll magazine-ese in no time…
11. Put On Your Big Girl Panties. Your feelings will get hurt – you’ll fall down and go boom – you’ll lose stuff – you’ll break really, really expensive things – you’ll upset someone else at his/her expense – not all people will like you – you might not get a valentine in your box – you got rocks on Halloween. Put on your big girl panties and march right into the middle of it all with the biggest fucking smile on your face. The rewards are worth it.
12. Travel. I know this isn’t practical for all, but if you can – you really need to go to at least one doll event or convention each year. Seeing people and dolls in person, dressing up, sharing your treasures – getting those treasured exclusives and the attached memories – it’s all worth getting felt up by TSA and cramming your rear end into a plane seat designed for Twiggy. If you decide to make travel a part of your dolly repertoire, know as much as you can about where you are going, what you will need, and how you will ship that shit back home. Put some money into it, too…nothing is worse than sharing a room with three other doll collectors who snore while sleeping and fart when brushing teeth.
Get involved, meet people and don’t just park your ass in the hotel lobby feeling it literal to have ‘dinner on your own‘ – it’s your own fault you haven’t made any friends at a doll convention (unless you’re at a Madame Alexander Convention – drink heavily if that’s the case). Finally, go in a day early and/or stay a day after the event is over – add some of the local flavor to your trip – and since most conventions seem to be out by the airport hotels, you’ll need that extra time just to see anything of value.
13. Rotate Your Collection. Some people just don’t have the space others do…so they resort to rotation of their collectibles by themes, seasons or sub-collections. This also gets you in the habit or regularly touching your dolls, examining them for any wear or repair needs, and reducing environmental concerns such as exposure to light, lingering aromas from cooking, scented candles, or people who fart while brushing teeth.
14. Recycle Your Collection. Perhaps the most emotional part of collecting is knowing when the inevitable time has come to say goodbye. As long as the doll is going to another loving collector, then it will be OK. Learning to sell items within your collection helps to bring cash flow for a new doll, and it helps to manage your space and keep you off TV shows like Hoarders.
15. Learn To Throw Stuff Away. Just let it go…you’ll have forgotten it by the next day, anyway.
16. Embrace Dust. Lynn Johnston once told me while we were watching gay cowboys line dancing at Hoedowns in Atlanta (I’m not making this up): “In addition to native Canadian art I collect – I also collect dust. It’s reliable.”
17. Ask Questions Directly to the Manufacturer. Don’t ask that ‘doll expert’ know-it-all on your favorite online forum…get off your lazy rump, and email or call the company. They do want to know what your questions are, and I can’t think of anyone better qualified than the people who actually make the dolls to answer even the most mundane questions. It’s what they call customer service. As THE person (no, it wasn’t Miss Nancy) who answered most of those emails at Tonner, I can assure you that they are answered promptly by most manufacturers. If you don’t get a response, assume the company didn’t get it for one technological reason or another. It’s not in any company’s best interests to ignore customer queries. That being said, you may not like the answer you get, which is usually because they cannot tell you what you want to hear (and there are many reasons that can come to pass). You still have your big girl panties on, right?
18. Don’t Be Shy. Life’s too short, and there’s too much competition for folks’ attention – shout, shine and glow like its your last day on earth. As it relates to dolls, this has to do mostly with being around other doll collectors. I can tell you a few things bout being an attention whore, so show a little restraint, too.
19. Take Pictures Of Your Dolls. Unless you are blind, this is also a no-brainer. What better way to enjoy and share in your dolly play than to take photos of your treasures and have a bragging folder on Pinterest, Facebook or Flickr for all the world to see? Hell, many of you do it for your children and/or pets – and I’d rather see your dolls, quite frankly. And if you are worried about ‘Big Brother’ on the internet, get over it…the NSA already knows everything about you already, so why not give them a good show?
20. Document Your Collection. Not only for insurance purposes, but also if you plan to rotate your collection at any time, a quick and handy inventory reference will save you loads of time. And don’t just take one photo of your doll…take all kinds of images of the doll, clothing, accessories – with digital photos being so easy these days…you can’t get enough of them.
21. Understand A Retailer’s Return Policy Before You Buy Anything. I’ve seen so many online flame wars rage over one’s ignorance of a retailer’s return policy when it is clearly written on the retail website. Yes, some retailers can be assholes, but this type of ignorance just makes you look stupid.
22. Assume Nothing. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask as many questions as you can until you have a clear understanding of the answer. This is also a good life lesson.
23. Have Realistic Expectations. How many of us know situations where you would answer, “Well, what did you expect?” We’ve already covered perfection, so that one’s out. As a man who made a living making those dolls look as dreamy and other-worldly as I possibly could, believe me when I tell you that romancing the product isn’t unique to the doll industry. This also comes from knowing your dolls, and the companies that make them. Some are notorious for substituting materials during production and surprising collectors when the dolls are shipped. Sometimes there’s an attempt to re-photograph the doll and inform your customers of the change – but honestly, not much priority is placed on that practice. Which brings me to…
24. Do Not Trust Prototype Images. How gullible are you? I don’t care if the doll is made by Jesus Christ, himself…if you don’t have a factory-ready image, and you don’t have the luxury of seeing a doll in person – don’t be seduced by prototype images, ever. Integrity and Mattel have the best practices when it comes to prototypes matching production dolls; and truth be known, there is very little reason a company cannot photograph it’s production sample if they’ve planned it into their product rollout timing. But many just don’t think it’s important…which is a shame, really – because collectors think it’s very important.
Really…it’s bad enough to project revenues based on the probability of a product looking like its original design, but how much of that is steeped in reality? I’ve heard some collectors cry foul when receiving a much-anticipated doll, only to find it’s vastly different from the prototype images used to sell the doll. False Advertising! Bait & Switch! You know the phrases, even though there are disclaimers that it is a prototype, and it may vary during production. So who’s the fool here? It doesn’t matter that no one promised anything – only that they will do their best. In a product that is so highly designed, involving a great deal of human hand skills, you’re pissed off because your bubble got burst. Well, Glinda…I’ve got news for you – yes it’s true that some companies are better than others when it comes to this very sensitive subject, but it all boils down to human involvement – and I’m really sorry they couldn’t rise to your unrealistic expectations (especially since they never promised to). So your best solution is to wait and see it in person if it’s that bloody important to you. Save yourself the drama, anguish and anti-psychotic medications, sweetie.
25. Ignore Edition Sizes. This is one of the biggest lies perpetuated in the collectible industry – the edition size. And it’s one of the first questions asked if it’s not publicized, “What’s the edition size?” Who cares? It means nothing. Back in the days of the Franklin Mint, you would see edition sizes stated as ‘limited to forty-five firing days‘. What in the sweet name of Phyllis Diller does that mean? You don’t know how many are actually made. You don’t know how many molds are involved, you don’t know if a day is measured by 24 full hours…or if they are even consecutive days. Because you don’t know how many are actually made, the edition size is rendered irrelevant. And then came Gene Marshall, though not the first doll to be hand-numbered. Ooooo…I got number #5 of 5000! Meaningless bullshit. No single doll is crafted in such a way that #5 actually represents the 5th doll to be made. The doll body is assembled in one area, the head is painted and rooted in another. The costume is made in an entirely different production line – they all get tossed into one assembly row, and some poor bastard has to sit there and hand-number each doll and outfit to match, so Jenny Schmoe, waiting in the freezing cold line outside FAO Schwarz, will get that #5 doll.
But let’s take it one step further – even if it were true, I would rather have a larger number than a smaller one because kinks in production would have been discovered and corrected by #5000 – it’s simple learning curve theory – one I tried and tried to convince Tonner to adopt – particularly under Deming’s Total Quality theories as I studied, adopted and tought while working for the U.S. Navy (more than just a pretty face, mind you).
Nevertheless, with an edition size number, you think you know how many are being made – but it’s rarely the case. It’s a ploy collectibles companies use to make the collector think something is more popular than it really is, and you can thank companies like the Franklin Mint for perpetuating that big fat lie that has pretty much become an industry norm today. Some companies actually produce the true number published in an edition size – some companies don’t even bother with an actual number (like Mattel) – they just say, ‘limited edition’. But isn’t everything a limited edition? Because I don’t know of anything that has been in perpetual production since the beginning of time, do you – well, except maybe photons? So wise up, people…edition size is pointless unless its a one-of-a-kind – and it does not equate to rarity, which is something entirely different. Why, it’s as useless as…
26. Certificates Of Authenticity. Pointless. In a world so driven by being green, isn’t it funny when any company announces it’s going green, so they won’t be printing catalogs or using new materials in its packaging – this coming from an industry that makes plastic products? But they certainly don’t seem to mind enclosing registration cards, marketing materials, and certificates of authenticity into its packaging, now do they? If any company needs a piece of paper to authenticate its product, then it must be a pretty easy product to duplicate. Collectible dolls are thoroughly marked on the head and body to protect against design theft. You cannot trademark an original design. But things like molds and reproduced sculpture can be trademarked like a photograph print or book. It’s a waste of paper – and collectors should be insisting that companies do away with them all together. And don’t give me the art doll sob story…an artist should sign anything the artist makes if its to be authenticated, and that’s it. Remember that authentication really only comes into play if you wish to sell something later on…and dolls aren’t unique to that game.
27. Try To Not Be First. If you miss out, you miss out – there will always be another one, sooner than you think…and there’s always some poor schmuck who gets buyer’s remorse, and sells the doll before a spouse files for divorce or grabs a taser.
28. Take Dolls Out Of The Box. “Never Removed From Box”, “Mint in Box”…what’s the condition of the box…blah, blah, blah. Who cares? Rip that bitch right out of her confines and start posing her until you get light-headed over the giddiness caused by her beauty. Man up…you’re a doll collector, not a box collector! Now go play with that doll, dammit…and quit belly-aching over that box.
29. Admire, But Don’t Covet. It’s ugly and it’s rude. Besides, it makes you look desperate, and nobody wants to look the desperate one. Also, just think who they will turn to if that doll ever goes missing.
30. Do Not Become Friends With Marcia Friend. You will lose your life savings buying all the spectacular stuff she sells here. What? It’s not her fault you have no self-control.
OK…you are now ready to buy your first doll. Go forward and conquer, My Puddings.