One of my earliest encounters with a doll artist was when I was asked to tag along to a showing of Robert Tonner’s American Model dolls. All of the 19-inch vinyl beauties were decked out in haute couture costumes, and they appeared as if they should be strutting and sashaying down a high-profile fashion runway. The man of the hour, Robert Tonner, was on hand and I had the opportunity to say hello and shake his hand. I hadn’t begun working for DOLLS magazine yet; I was in the process of being considered for a job opening; I truly believed that even if I didn’t get the position (which I did, lucky me!), this was a night to remember. Over the years and my connection to the world of dolls, Robert Tonner and Tonner Doll, his eponymous company, were always at the forefront of innovation and beauty. This year, 2019, marks the end of an era. The Tonner Doll Company is no more.
On New Year’s Eve, 2018, the Tonner Doll website, doll hospital, phone number, and e-mails were all shuttered. Yes, Tonner Doll has closed up shop and has receded into a remembrance of the doll world’s glorious, ever-expanding days. According to Robert, it was not an easy decision to make. He wrote to me and other collectors and friends about this difficult business move: “I was lucky enough to start Tonner Doll at a point when it seemed that everyone was collecting, making, buying, or selling dolls. At the same time, the Far East was willing and eager to produce whatever we wanted at a price that couldn’t be beat. High demand and inexpensive, quality production led to the golden age of the collectible dolls and the great success for Tonner Doll.”
Reviewing the business model that had guided Tonner from the early 1990s to present day, Robert realized that it was no longer sustainable, according to his calculations. “I could go on and on about the changes in the collectible doll industry, but in short, the business model is not viable any longer. It’s often said that the only thing you can count on is change. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.” So, after nearly 30 years as a powerhouse, Tonner Doll is now the stuff of legend. But what will take its place? Does this mean an early retirement for Robert, or is he once more figuring out a new way to remain relevant and to reflect current trends?
Tonner Doll will cease to be, and in its place, Tonner will be creating and guiding the direction of Phyn & Aero. One of the first orders of business for Phyn & Aero will be Tonner and colleagues surveying the current financial landscape and factoring in “new ways of doing business.” Having worked for 28 years in the collectible world, Robert has forged solid business relationships and partnerships. “Through Phyn and Aero, I’ll be working with our favorite retailers to create unique and exclusive dolls. I will continue to design for and attend events throughout the year, such as Dollology, Shaker Doll Club, Doll Circle, and UFDC, to name a few.”
In spring 2019, Phyn & Aero will unveil a new Ellowyne doll, one of Tonner’s most popular creations, and he will also conjure up new characters and new storylines. In fact, Robert has a new doll that will be debuting in February named Rayne and the character will be sure to cause a stir. According to Robert, who will not show off the doll until a later date, “This new character of Rayne will have unique — and I mean unique — accessories. I will continue to develop new product, and we’ll be doing small batch, design-driven products.”
Beyond the scope of Phyn & Aero, Robert Tonner will also be lending his keen eye and talents to outside companies. “I just did a huge amount of work for FAO, and that was both a challenge and a delight. I think it’s going to be a very busy and very exciting 2019,” Robert shared. Tonner turns to one of his favorite authors, Jenna Evans Welch, and her work “Love & Gelato,” to express his hopes and sentiments: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
Reviewing his decades as a mover and shaker in the doll world, Robert Tonner is, of course, moved by all he has witnessed, created, participated in, and was challenged by. The years have been golden, grand ones for him: “I want you to know how deeply I’ve appreciated our journey together — and here’s to a bright, exciting, shiny, new future.”
Robert Tonner is not riding into the sunset. Though Tonner Doll has faded away, the bright lights of its earlier creations will continue to sparkle and shine in all of our collective memories. The Tonner Doll releases were always exciting and inspirational ones. They meant the world to the world of doll enthusiasts. “I have had the honor to meet, work with, and befriend some of the most wonderful people there are — doll collectors, doll lovers, and doll retailers,” Robert wrote. On behalf of all the people whose paths have crossed Tonner’s, I want to say that the feeling is beyond mutual. It has been marvelous.”
Now for 2019, Robert Tonner’s new business details are 845-802-5552 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the new Phyn & Aero website, too.