Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ethics Concerns About Reselling Dolls


A topic that comes up frequently in the doll collecting world is the topic of “flipping” dolls. It seems like every time a beautiful new Doll ships to homes, a few end up on eBay, and at inflated prices. We live in a free market (thankfully), and this happens with every single type of limited edition doll out there in the market, so why is it such a polarizing topic in the doll community? It’s no surprise that it happens, but each time it does, it causes disagreements and hurt feelings between collectors. This is a question that has been weighing on my heart for awhile now, and so I wanted to address it here on my blog.

First things first, I want to define a few things I will be referring to throughout this post:

Company Produced Limited Edition Dolls
— Dolls produced by a major company in a limited run. Think the Disney LE Designer Dolls, or the Mattel American Girl Dolls of the Year.

A set of Disney LE dolls that I no longer have

Artist Produced Limited Edition Dolls — think Little Darlings, or ball jointed Doll artists such as Nikki Britt.

My Lana Dobbs painted Little Darling

Flipping — purchasing a doll with the sole intent of reselling it for profit.

Time Value of Money — the concept that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. This is a critical financial concept that I will refer to later.

I will not be casting any stones today, because I am not without sin. Let me explain. I have been actively in this hobby since I was about 11 years old. I joined eBay in the year 2000 at the ripe old age of 17 just so I could buy a Bubblecut Barbie (I had desperately wanted one for years). By 18, I was actively selling on eBay. Not loads of items, but items here and there. Not typical for your Clemson college student, but I had friends who would go with me to the local flea market on Saturday mornings — when there weren’t football games, of course — to look for things to sell and/or keep for my personal collection. Ahhh, memories. It made me enough money to allow me to buy a few dolls here and there, and a couple of fancy meals at the Outback, hah!

Fast forward now to around 2008. My methods of making extra money on the side to help fund my collecting passion had graduated. Not only was I combing Craigslist daily for any deals I could find to resell, but each year, I would buy a couple of American Girls of the Year, along with a few of their accessories. My sole intent was to sell them at Christmas when desperate parents realized they were too late and Mattel was sold out. This is the definition of flipping, and I did it year after year. I got quite a few nasty messages about it back then, and might get a few from this post. Did I feel bad about it then? No. Do I feel bad about it now? Absolutely not. There was an entire year of endless supply of dolls and accessories available, that could be purchased at any time. The numbers were not limited, the availability window was limited. This type of market also helped Mattel, and other owners of the doll. The next year, those who missed out would be sure to jump in early, driving Mattel’s profits up, and other doll owners would have a doll that would hold its value, provided it wasn’t too banged up from playtime. When I try to think about if anyone was hurt by my actions, it’s hard to come up with someone. The parents who bought my dolls last minute were always so grateful they were able to get the doll, it actually made me feel good. And from a financial perspective, the money I had invested in January had earned interest, just like an investment in a stock or bond. If I had sold the doll at the same price I paid for it, I would have actually lost money, because I could have had that money invested in T-bills, or my savings account, etc, and it would have earned interest. This is the basic concept of time value of money (I am a CPA and work in the finance field so if you have more questions about this, I’m ready to nerd out, just send me a message).

An AG GOTY that I sold.

That’s all well and good, because those were company produced dolls. But what about artist produced limited edition dolls? Here’s where it gets a bit trickier where ethics are concerned, in my opinion. Let’s examine the phenomenon of the Little Darling dolls. If you’re not familiar with them, the dolls are produced in a factory, but then hand painted by well-known artists, bringing each doll to life through the magic of their paint brushes. Each doll takes days to complete, and so the wait time to receive one, if you can even get on an artists’ wait list, is well over a year (I waited two and a half years for one of mine). What the artists discovered is that some people were immediately upon receipt of the doll, putting them up for sale on eBay for $900-1000, and they were indeed selling at that price because of the long wait time. By comparison, the dolls were, at that time, around $400 directly from an artist. Before addressing who this practice hurts, let’s address what a person’s motivations for doing this are. The first and obvious motivation is that a person is placing the order with the intention of flipping upon receipt of the doll. But could there be other reasons? A year or longer is quite some time to wait for a doll. We collectors can be fickle. By the time the Doll arrived, maybe the seller had decided on collecting an entirely different type of doll, or perhaps their financial situation changed and the value that the doll held would best be applied somewhere else in their life. Who knows?

So who does this practice hurt? You might be immediately thinking, “it hurts the artists, of course!” Well, maybe not as much as you think. I feel certain that it’s hurtful to an artist when they see a doll they just shipped a week ago show up on eBay. But I can tell you one thing, the artists aren’t selling their dolls for $400 anymore, and they’re not having any trouble selling them. In 2014, I bought two Little Darlings from Helen Skinner for $400 each, and just this past year, I bought one from her for $800. She just got double what she used to get for the same amount of work, and I was happy to pay her for it, because I know the doll is worth that and even more.

My first Helen Skinner LD, costing $400

My third Helen Skinner LD, costing $800

The fact that the dolls are worth so much on the secondary market actually really helps the artists. Now you’re thinking, “well then, it hurts other collectors!”, to which I say, yes and no. Yes it hurts other collectors because artists’ waitlists may be clogged up with folks who are just buying to flip, and so not only is your wait time longer, you may not even be able to get on a list (despite my best efforts since 2014 I have never been able to get on Dianna Effner’s list). The no side is this: every other collector who has a Little Darling now has a doll that is very special, highly coveted, and has increased in value. I have a cabinet full of Little Darlings that I got at the original price that have now doubled in value. My investment has grown, and so my net worth has too. All because other collectors see so much value in them. While I have no intention of ever selling them, it’s nice to know that if I had a medical emergency, or I lost my job, I have an option.

I also want to talk about ball jointed dolls, specifically Nikki Britt’s dolls, as I am an administrator of the Facebook group for her dolls, and that’s where the latest discussion of this cropped up in my collecting circle. I feel like the same sort of examples applied above to little Darlings also apply to Nikki’s dolls. When Nikki spends time, energy, and effort working on dolls only to see them sold a few weeks later, I’m sure that’s hurtful. It’s hurtful to other collectors because she could have been working on that doll for someone who would have loved it forever. But at the same time, her popularity has increased, she is selling more dolls, and she is able to command higher prices for her dolls than previously. We know that the dolls are special and worth that cost, so we happily pay it. I personally bought my Pepper Annie for around 3 times the retail cost. Do I feel bad about it? No. Am I upset at the collector who sold me the doll? Absolutely not. I was grateful for the opportunity to own the doll, and still am.

My Pepper Annie full-set, for whom I'm forever grateful to have.

And now Nikki, because of transactions like these, is able to sell her dolls in the first place for that amount of money, and I know my dolls are increasing in value, and that makes me feel good. If her dolls suddenly started selling for pennies on the original dollar in the secondary market, would people still clamor for them? Probably not, because there wouldn’t be any urgency there to order when available. I have seen this happen to other artists and it makes me sad, but it’s a basic principle of economics.

So how do I feel about it? I think company produced dolls versus artist produced dolls are a completely different situation. With the artist produced dolls, I'm honestly a little torn. I, of course, would prefer people not to waste artists’ time if their intention is flipping. If something terrible happened to me and I had to sell all of my dolls right now, what would I do? I would likely sell them for market value, because I know my intentions of my original purchases (of course if market value were less than what I paid, I wouldn’t have an option).

To those of you who detest anyone selling for more than retail, remember the time value of money concept, and remember that the perceived special-ness of your collection is in large part due to the nature of the secondary market. To those of you who flip with the intention of flipping, remember that these artists are real people using hours of their time to make something special for you, and you’re turning around and making a few hundred bucks off of their hard work. It's unfortunate that there doesn't seem to be any middle ground between the two, but I think that's where I stand. Happily, contently, and guilt-free on the middle ground.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I know this has been a long post, but I wanted to get my feelings out there. Because I am both a collector and a financial professional, I see both sides of this argument, and it’s a tough one to address. I would love to know your feelings on the subject, feel free to leave me a comment or message me on Facebook if you’d like to chat.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Little Darling Doll Fun At MDCC 2017


I recently attended MDCC in Danvers, Massachusetts, and boy, I was not prepared for the level of excitement and fun that I was going to have there. Seriously. I've been to doll shows before, but never a convention. This event was absolutely incredible. With that being said, I encourage all of my readers to seriously consider going to MDCC if you ever have a chance. You won't regret it (not even all the money you've spent, LOL)!

At MDCC, there were two Little Darling events I attended: there was a dinner event (cost of $245), and the next day, a forum (free with registration) with the Little Darling artists. I want to talk about both of those here, to give you an idea of what they were like.

The Little Darling Doll dinner had a theme of "Cinderella." When you first walk into the banquet room (which is what I'll call it from here on out), you have to find a table. I was traveling with a friend, so we had to make sure to find a table with two empty seats, which wasn't difficult. Table hostesses would stand with fingers in the air, indicating how many empty seats they had left. Once we took our seats, we had a look at the table favor. From every event we attended, there small gifts/favors at each place when we sat down. The favor from the Cinderella dinner was a small, pewter colored carriage box, with a tiny glass (plastic) slipper inside. Very cute!

A few opening remarks were given by the master of ceremonies, Billie (not sure if that's her actual title, but she does a great job), and then dinner is served.

The first course was a delicious tomato soup and bread with butter.
The tomato soup, with a delicious piece of buttered toast (and I think I remember a hint of garlic)

The main course was a stuffed chicken with fresh veggies and potatoes:

Stuffed chicken with potatoes, carrots, and broccoli. 

The dessert looked so good I almost forgot to get a picture, but remembered before it was too late:
Cheesecake with raspberry sauce

As if all of that food wasn't exciting enough, the MAIN event began as everyone finished up their dessert. Out came Dianna Effner, dressed as the Fairy Godmother, to tell us more about the creation of the centerpiece dolls that were in the middle of our tables.
The centerpiece Cinderella, which retailed for $1,500

The dress that Center Cindy was wearing was a collaboration between Nelly and her sister Maritza. Cindy was painted by Dianna, and her "glass" slippers were made out of fabric from tea bags, glue, glitter, and beads. Dianna told an interesting story about how one day she was making tea with some pyramid-shaped tea bags by Lipton, and she noticed how the fabric of the teabag would be perfect for making glass slippers. She also that Lipton discontinued the tea line, but she was able to find something similar elsewhere. It reminded me of Harney and Sons tea, which I drink every morning. They come in a pyramid-shaped tea bag and are made of a shimmery, translucent fabric. The workmanship on the dress and the shoes was absolutely incredible. To think of the time that went into creating each doll is just incredible. 

You may be asking, how does one purchase a centerpiece doll if there aren't enough to go around to all of the attendees? In order to have a chance at purchasing the centerpiece, you write your name on a slip of paper and give it to the table hostess. She will then turn it in, and names are drawn lottery-style in order to purchase the doll. In this case, there were 4 dolls left over after the lottery, so everyone who entered was able to purchase. The lottery takes place at the end of the event, but I wanted to mention it here while discussing the centerpiece.

After Dianna's presentation, we received our event dolls and were able to open them. And the oooh's and aaah's followed.

                     Face Detail                                                                            Full Shot

Dress Detail

She is absolutely incredible. I have all 4 of the factory painted dolls from past events, and she is, in my opinion, the best. I believe all 4 were painted by Leannie at the factory in China, based on Dianna's model. I think Leannie's skills are improving, and the artists also said during the forum that they went back and touched up eyebrows and eyelashes because they weren't quite satisfied with them. The result is stunning! They also said that her apron was "soiled" -- their words not mine lol -- by using different colored stamps and inks and hand stamping each of the aprons. You can see how wonderful the result is for yourself. All in all, this event is WELL worth the $245. The food was incredible, and the doll herself is so beautiful. You won't find a better Little Darling for a better price.

During the forum, called "The Little Darling Doll Chat" the next afternoon, I learned lots of interesting things. Each artist addressed the fact that they are all behind, but they are also human, with grandchildren and families to spend time with. Life happens and each doll takes a long time to finish -- we've all seen the work and how beautiful it is -- and they just request that we be patient with them as we are waiting on our waiting lists.

They also addressed the issue of eBay auctions. They recognize that they happen and that there really isn't much they can do about it. Mainly, they feel bad for the real collectors out there who want a doll and are unable to get one, or are so desperate to get one quickly they pay the inflated price. They did say that they have blocked over 52 users on eBay who were obviously flipping dolls, and they also realized they were painting a lot of dolls that were being sent to Russia. They then found out that there was a Russian site where all of these dolls were being placed for sale for very inflated prices, so they were able to put a stop to that. They understand that some folks just want to buy a doll and they want to do it quickly, and because of supply and demand, the prices can get out of hand sometimes. They also understand that real collectors do have to sell their dolls sometimes, too. It was an interesting conversation because none of them seemed particularly upset about it, just that they felt bad for collectors who wanted to get dolls and maybe weren't getting them as quickly because of prospectors, or that they were having to spend so much money to get a doll.

I really have a new appreciation for these ladies and what they do. They are rock stars to all of us doll collectors, but they are just like us -- with families, other interests, and typical day to day things going on in their lives.

I hope you've enjoyed this post about the Little Darling activities at Modern Doll, and I hope I've convinced you to attend in the future :)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Amy by F & B Doll Studio


Welcome to 2017 everyone! I had a very eventful 2016, including taking the CPA exam (and passing the last section in December) that it's finally over, I hope to be able to spend more time with my dollies in 2017! 

This year for Christmas, my hubby surprised me with a new ball jointed doll. Her name is Amy, and she's by F & B Doll Studio. 
Here is the first pic I took of this sweet girl.

I had recently discovered F & B dolls through a doll group I'm a member of on Facebook. It's no surprise I hadn't heard of them before, as F & B just celebrated their 2 year anniversary this past October. In that time span, Amy is the first MSD they have created. 

Practicing her needlepoint.

When they started sharing pics of Amy during her pre-order, I casually mentioned to my husband how much I would like to have her. Or okay, maybe I tagged him in every single picture they posted of her, I can't really remember at the moment. At any rate, it was a huge surprise this Christmas when I actually received her! I really felt like a kid again, getting my American Girl Felicity on Christmas morning. It was a great feeling. Because she was a total surprise, I had not done any shopping for her in advance, so I found myself raiding my doll cabinets for outfits and wigs that she could wear. The outfit above is a Vidal Rojas dress, which actually suits her very well, and the fit is good. She is supposed to be able to wear Kaye Wiggs sized tops and dresses, but as I do not have any Kaye Wiggs dolls, I cannot confirm this. Her hips and bottom are a bit bigger, but I found that Journey Girls pants fit her quite well. I'm a huge Journey Girls clothing fan.

Looking a bit more modern.

In the above photo, she's wearing Journey Girls jeans, and a BFC ink shirt and boots. I think the fit is good, she might look better in something a little tighter. I spent some time last night making a legging pattern for her only to figure out I don't really have any stretchy fabric at the moment, so I will give that a shot sometime in the next couple of weeks. 

I was surprised at how quick the turn around time was for this doll, but as I discovered from reading F&B's Facebook page, it seems like the dolls are 100% manufactured in Russia. I can say that this doll has a very high quality resin and jointing. She is the easiest doll to pose of all the BJDs I own. I believe her joints were sueded before she arrived. I have never sueded joints before so I'm not sure exactly what it looks like when done, but it seems like there is a thin layer of silicon in each of the joints. I am so pleased with her quality, I am already planning to purchase the next doll they have up for pre-order. I'm really, really happy with the dolls beauty, flexibility, and quality, and I say, if you get the chance to make one of their dolls yours, go for it!