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Dollars and Dolls: Making dolls and a living is the American dream, and beyond.

marthastewart_newEvery so often, I’ll meet someone who will be tickled pink that I work with dolls. After answering the obligatory North Pole and Santa’s Workshop questions—I telecommute, I explain, so I don’t need to check in with the reindeer on a daily basis, and yes, Rudolph’s nose IS that shiny—I explain how the world of dolls is actually quite huge, innovative, constantly re-inventing itself, and can be quite profitable.

When the issue of capital is raised, so are the eyebrows.

For lots of people, dolls are either manufactured toys that come to market through some mysterious means, or they are hobbies and crafts with a decidedly female twist. With the exception of the big titans of toys—Mattel, Hasbro, and Jakks—most people don’t consider how toys are created, who designs them, who distributes them, and who sells them. They are a business, but they are so often relegated to something “fun and frivolous,” “quirky and peculiar.”

It’s almost as if the men and women who toil as independent doll artists are regarded as Martha Stewart wannabes: they’re seen as sitting atop a pile of embroidered pillows, sampling bonbons, and knitting and crocheting for the fun of it.

Quite the contrary, Messieurs and Mesdames. Doll making is hard, and it has a proud history of uplifting successful purveyors from poverty to wealth. Take that, Adam Smith! (Sorry, I’m caught up in all the 2012 pre-election tailgating.)

It’s undeniably true, however, that doll designing does have the power to change lives: not just by spreading happiness to the children and adults who get the finished products, but by physically lifting its participants from one tax bracket to the other. And that notion of beingjanefondadollmaker_NEW independent and self-actualizing should be applauded.

Many, many years ago, a TV movie called “The Dollmaker” showed how an uneducated but enterprising woman was able to save her family during depression days. Unschooled and seemingly without hope, she uses her finesse with an ax, her talent as a whittler, and her mother-bear survival skills to keep her family fed and alive. They manage to have their home saved and their bellies filled because of the power of a doll. Starring Jane Fonda as the homespun woman with grit and gumption, the movie celebrated feminism and liberation. Equal parts “Norma Rae” and “The Grapes of Wrath,” it was a slice of history with a side dish of sentimentality. (Lots of slow-motion shots of wood being split apart and needles being threaded.)

Interestingly, the economic salvation of a family via doll crafting is the basis of one of America’s most beloved doll figures: Madame Beatrice Alexander.

MadameAlexanderanddolls_newBorn to immigrants in New York City, Beatrice (she named herself that, because it sounded more regal, and also gave herself the “madame” moniker) and her sisters fashioned replicas of Red Cross nurses to sell during World War I. These cloth dolls became a sensation, and helped to fill the family’s coffers, and set her on the path of becoming a female entrepreneur during a time when most women were relegated to domestic drudgery. Dolls helped Alexander to achieve legendary status as a doll designer, businesswoman, factory owner, and living American legend. Quite the feat! (And the Red Cross nurse, who helped to launch it all, has popped up over the decades in the Alexander lineup.)

Today, the spirit of freedom through doll making is alive and well; and it has recently been highlighted in Vietnam.

A very touching story came to light about a 22-year-old student who received a paper doll as a gift when she was 17 and decided she would try her hand at fashioning one. Fast-forward five years, and 5,000 dolls later, and she is the proud owner of a burgeoning cottage industry. She is elevating her family from dire financial straits through her doll determination.nguyenthuyduongmakesdolls

The young woman, Nguyen Thuy Duong, creates an exotic spin on the traditional paper doll, and sells these for an attractive $3 to $10 a pop. Currently assisted by her family, she dreams of opening up the business to centers where handicapped people can learn how to make the dolls as well, and will give them monetary hope and personal satisfaction.

paperdollsfromVietnamShopping at her local Hang Ma Street, and also importing items from Japan, she is determined to create dolls that capture every nuance of life. She wants to make paper dolls that reflect brides on their nuptial days, girls starting their first day at school, jazzy teenagers looking contemporary and chic, and historically accurate dolls in sweeping costumes with windswept hair.

Beyond that, she wants to make sure that her life and the life of her family and community are improved.

Creativity, accountability, and capitalism come to Vietnam: and in this one little home, on this one little street, in this one little town, the future is in the hands of a beautifully crafted doll.

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Love the article. Dolls are timeless. My love for dolls inspired me to create Cozy Doll Display Baskets and many doll collectors love them. Dolls inpsire us all and make us smile, remembering our childhood days. Sandee www.cozydolldisplaybaskets.com
Decorative Treasures , June 19, 2012 | url
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These are wonderfully touching examples of what strong-willed and talented individuals can do to be successful. It's truly an inspiring article.
Laura Prier , February 11, 2012 | url
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Excellent article! I would love to find out more about the paper dolls. Very informative. I wonder if The Dollmaker was based on Madame Alexander?
Basia , January 27, 2012 | url
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Thank you for this wonderful post!
Christine , January 27, 2012 | url
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It is scary that America's depression days can ring familiar in contemporary America. I think a lot of people are going to be turning to their hidden talents to raise a family and to make an income. God bless them if they can make dolls. smilies/smiley.gif
BJ , January 23, 2012
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I like this blog. In these times this is a very challenging time when all sorts of ideas need to be expanded.
Maureen Mayall , January 23, 2012 | url

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Latest Articles from News & Notes

2015 DOLLS Awards Industry's Choice winners announced

The 2015 DOLLS Awards of Excellence Industry’s Choice winners (DAEs, also called the Diamond Awards) were announced at the International Doll & Teddy Bear Show in Asheville, N.C., June 6. The Industry's Choice winners will go on to become the nominee's in the Public's Choice voting, set to begin in late June.

Without further ado, here are the winners of this year's Industry's Choice Diamond Awards!

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Jones Publishing Lifetime Achievement Award Winners

The Jones Publishing Lifetime Achievement Award is bestowed upon one recipient per year. This award was created in 2002 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the teddy bear, with the first recipient being Steiff, a German-based plush toy company known for its high quality and prices.

The Lifetime Achievement recipient must be or have been involved in some aspect of the doll and/or teddy bear field for a minimum of 25 years. The recipient may be an individual, partnership, corporation, company, author, artist, marketer, historian or any other industry professional. Lifetime Achievement Award nominations may be made by previous recipients or members of the LAA committee.

To qualify as a nominee, entrants must meet the following criteria:

  • Been active in the doll or bear field a minimum of 25 years.
  • Maintained or increased the quality of reputation and product or service provided since inception.
  • Served the industry with integrity, honesty, reliability
  • Received a majority of the votes from previous recipients.

The Lifetime Achievement Award has been presented to the following individuals and companies since its inception:

2002 Steiff
2003 Hildegard Gunzel
2004 Alexander Doll Company
2005 R. John Wright
2006 Wendy Lawton
2007 Virginia Turner
2008 Toy Shoppe
2010 Helen Kish
2012 Maggie Iacono
2013 Heidi Plusczok
2014 Jack Johnston
2015 Kaye Wiggs

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BLACKALL ASSOCIATES INC. 
ANNOUNCING Winner of the Summer Heat Photo Contest

August 8, 2014 - Blackall Associates Inc. is proud to announce the winner of its Summer Heat Photo Contest. The contest drew entries from around the world. Masterpiece Doll collectors sent in a special photo showing how their Masterpiece Dolls were enjoying the summer heat. 

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i have very old magazines need to sell them before something happens to them
margie , December 20, 2014
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i really like all the barbie balack dress, can i ask question can i buy this, because its all out in the market now here in the philippines, can you help me please im a big fan of thiss dolls
mark christian paul l. carigma , December 16, 2014 | url

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The Chicago Toy Show

You haven’t seen a toy show until you’ve seen this one. Six buildings! Over six hundred exhibitors! Exclusively toys and dolls and children’s playthings on display everywhere! This is the show everyone always says they intend to visit, and now is the time to do just that. Collectors say the Chicago Toy Show really is the largest in the entire world. They are correct. Collectors say they find toys at this show that are never seen anywhere else. Correct again.

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Konnichiwa and Grüezi - 150 years of Japan and Switzerland

19 April 2014 – 5 October 2014

A special exhibition will take place at the Toy Worlds Museum Basle to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Japanese-Swiss diplomacy and friendship.

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