So...the question that doll collectors are asking is: what's in store for 2004?
Major Doll Companies
I think that the major doll manufacturers are doing everything in their power to help the doll industry and doll collecting grow stronger in 2004. Companies such as Madame Alexander and Mattel (Barbie dolls) continue to improve the costuming of their dolls, using fabrics, styles and scale that collectors are clamoring for. Companies such as Lee Middleton have recognized the importance of lower price points in the face of the difficult economy of the past few years, and this has enabled more collectors to actively collect. Companies such as the Tonner Doll Company continue to innovate and create new dolls that bring new and younger collectors into the collecting fold (actually, Barbie dolls and Tonner dolls seem to have wide appeal to women in their 20s and early 30s, which definitely helps bring younger collectors into doll collecting).
On the retailing front, retailers are starting to realize that they have to offer that certain something MORE if they want to stay in business--whether its personalized customer service, doll events, or reaching out into the community to help create more collectors--or, all three. To help doll retailers, some doll companies are starting to truly appreciate the importance of smaller doll retailers and have tried to implement programs and sales practices to help them stay in business. And, realizing the threat that eBay has posed to doll retailers, some doll companies have started to limit eBay sales to help protect their dealers.
On the doll show front, I hear more and more collectors bemoan the fact that there are fewer doll shows than in years past, and that these shows are not as well attended as they used to be, and, yes, that they MISS them. Well...realizing that there is a problem AND wanting a situation to turn around are the first steps in actually turning that situation around! One damper on doll shows has been the policy to keep children out of many shows. Thankfully, certain shows, such as IDEX, have realized that doll collecting needs to be a family affair, and they've opened their doors and doll events to members of all ages.
As far as dolls as art, there have never been more talented artists making dolls of exquisite beauty as there are today. Limited edition and one-of-a-kind doll artists are starting to be better known, and the public seems to be understanding that such dolls are, truly, ART. In another form of doll art, doll repaint and make-over artists are starting to achieve wider acceptance and wider followings for their work.
Antique and Vintage Dolls
For collectors of antique and vintage dolls, I think that antique and vintage dolls are starting to garner more respect from the general public--they aren't just seen as an old playthings, but as serious antiques. We can thank shows such as Antique Roadshow for this, as well as the auction houses that continue to present antique and vintage dolls in their best light to the hungry collecting public. We can also thank organizations such as the UFDC, and web sites (yes, including this one!) that spread information and education about older dolls to the general public.
Doll collectors will have to do their part, too--they need to escape the "Wal-Mart" mentality that pervades our society today that the lowest price is always the way to go. Sure, you may be able to get a collector doll today at below wholesale, but if enough collectors do this over time, will there be and doll shops, shows, or doll manufacturers left to create and sell any collectible dolls in the future?
The Look Ahead For 2004
All of this bodes well for re-energizing the world of doll collecting in 2004. I think that 2004 will bring many new collectors to dolls, and that the industry has, finally, settled into the changes wrought by eBay. I also think that the surviving doll companies are stronger, smarter, and better able to provide collectors with what they want. I'm eagerly awaiting the debut of the new doll lines at IDEX and Toy Fair 2004, and I'll be reporting much more on 2004 dolls and trends from those events.
Here's to a fun, exciting, successful and doll-filled 2004 for everyone!