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Limited Edition Dolls
Godsend For Collectors OR Irritating Nuisance?
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Ashton Drake
Barbie Collectibles

This week, several of the limited dolls introduced at Toy Fair 2001 started to sell out at the dealer level*, including several Tyler Wentworth dolls and the Barbie Fashion Model Collection.  For collectors who want to add these dolls to their collections, this has caused some panic, and a quick search for dealers who still had an allotment of these dolls left to sell.

The sell-out of these dolls (and, the likely sell-out of other extremely limited fashion dolls this year) has created quite a stir on the Internet, with collectors in two camps--those that love limited editions and those that hate them.  

What Is A Collectible?

To understand WHY dolls are sold in limited editions, the nature of a collectible, ANY collectible, must first be considered.  The hallmark of almost any collectible is scarcity.  Vintage and antique items are collectible because no more can be produced--by their nature, as vintage and antique items age, there are less and less of them--their numbers get decimated by decay, destruction and disposal.  Therefore, such collectibles are naturally "limited."  This ever-increasing scarcity makes vintage and antique collectibles tend to increase in value over time.  This is something that almost ALL collectors want--collectibles which increase in value.  

The Danger Of Unlimited Editions

Modern collectible dolls, however, are still in production.  By their nature, therefore, unless limited, there COULD be an endless supply of these dolls--at least until a doll manufacturer decides to discontinue production of a doll and "retire" it.  Such dolls rarely go up in value, because of ample supply and also because of the incredibly liquid collectibles market which collectors have now, thanks to eBay and other online auction houses and internet discounting.  Generally, therefore, modern collectible dolls that are released in great numbers in fact often DECREASE in value, and are often found selling well under the original retail cost of the doll  

To many collectors, NOTHING is more upsetting than paying $100 for a doll and seeing it 6 months later on eBay for $50.  For MANY modern dolls that have been overproduced in the last few years....certain 1990s collectible Barbies, certain Gene dolls, certain 1980s to 1990s Madame Alexander dolls and many, many others (I used these 3 examples because they are so widely known) this is exactly what has happened.

Enter Limited Editions

So, enter the concept of limited editions.  Last year, Mattel created several strong categories of limited dolls, including their "Limited Editions" such as the Fashion Models which are 35,000 or less (this may seem like a great number of dolls compared to the numbers of the editions of other dolls discussed in this article, but Barbie is SO widely collected that the numbers are not out of synch with demand).  Ashton Drake limited almost all Gene dolls to 5,000 last year (a policy which they have abandoned in 2001--and possibly NOT such a good idea as we'll discuss shortly).  Tyler Wentworth, Alexandra Fairchild Ford and several other high-end fashion dolls are extremely limited in 2001--usually from 1,000 to 3,000 dolls or outfits for each design.  And, of course, Artist doll companies have LONG understood the value of limiting editions on dolls and continue to do so.

MOST collectors believe that limited editions are a positive thing.   First, because it helps protect the value of their dolls.  Supply and demand only work to increase the value of a collectible doll when supply is outstripped by demand.  If a doll manufacturer continues and continues to manufacture a doll until every collector that wants one has one, the market is over saturated, and it will be a LONG time, if ever, for demand to develop for that doll on the secondary market.  One example of this phenomena (I could chose MANY) would be the Red Venus Gene doll.  Now, I understand Ashton Drake's rationale of wanting to have ONE of the original three dolls available to new Gene collectors for as long as possible.  BUT...for those collectors who initially supported Gene and bought one way back in 1995 or 1996 is this fair?  It would have been healthy for Gene as a collectible to have discontinued the Red Venus doll in, say 1996 (and not 2001), and letting demand grow--if new collectors wanted one, they could have gotten it on the secondary market (just like, say a #2 Vintage Barbie, or, for that matter, the Premiere Gene which WAS retired after the first year).   Instead, Red Venus dolls sell on eBay for under $50--WELL under original retail. 

For the first few years of Gene production, Ashton Drake would produce a particular doll or outfit for several years, effectively flooding the market.  The strategy of MANY collectors (myself included) was to wait until a doll or outfit was retired, and then decide if I still wanted it, and THEN purchase it.  Then, finally, in 2000, almost all Genes and Gene outfits were limited to 5,000 or less.  Some collectors hated this--they disliked pressure to buy the dolls that they wanted--they were afraid if they waited to purchase they'd miss out, so   MANY collectors placed the first pre-orders on Gene items that they had placed in years!  For some reason, this year the limited edtion policy was discontinued, and Gene has, for the most part, gone back to open editions.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen SMALLER editions for Gene dolls, not larger, as even many of last year's Gene dolls and outfits have not completely sold our or appreciably increased in value. 

Limited Editions in 2001

This year, Gene is competing with other larg fashion dolls such as Tyler and Alex and Eve that are VERY limited.  This MAY hurt the Gene line, since most collectors have been very concerned with making sure they get some of the very limited dolls in the other lines, and have placed pre-orders for them, but yet many have not placed  pre-orders on Gene.  Another factor is that ALL of the dolls in the Fashion Dolls category have been rising in price--if  you are going to spend over $100 on a doll, do you want one that might be sold at retail for 4 or 5 years, or do you want a doll that you KNOW will only have 1,000 or 2,000 produced?  MOST collectors not only want a doll that will rise in value--they ALSO want a doll that is a bit exclusive as well. 

Other Side Of The Coin

Some collectors don't care about their dolls rising in value, OR having something exclusive--they just want their doll!!  These collectors regard their dolls more as playthings, and they simply want to be assured that they can get the dolls they want with minimal stress.  In fact, this type of collector LOVES overproduction, because that generally means they can find the dolls they want, eventually, at deep discount.  This type of collector hates limited editions.  It was this type of collector, in fact, that Mattel responded to in the mid 1990s  when they increased production so drastically--this type of collector was very vocal and very unhappy when many Barbie dolls were impossible to find in 1994, and who could blame Mattel for trying to make all their collectors happy?   Now, for Mattel and for many other doll manufacturers, the pendulum has swung back in favor of limited editions.  Only time will tell if this will be a successful stratety, and if it can restore some of the "cachet" to modern fashion doll collecting in 2001.   

*Selling out at "the dealer level" means that dealers can place no further orders for a particular doll with the manufacturer of that doll.  SO, if you want one of the "sold out at the dealer level" Midnight Garden Tyler Wentworth dolls, you need to find a dealer that has unsold allotment of that doll and place a "pre-order"** for the doll.  Note that "selling out" at the dealer level does NOT mean that you will not be able to find the dolls at retail, especially for a large edition of dolls such as the Barbie Fashion Models (35,000 each). In fact, you can buy the Fashion Model dolls from MANY retailers who have ordered more than their pre-orders, plus very large retailers such a FAO Schwarz.  You WILL find it hard to find very limited dolls like the 1,000 Midnight Garden Tylers at retail once they have sold out "at the dealer level."

 **To  "pre-order" a doll means to order a doll, usually in the beginning of the year after a doll has been announced, before the doll has been delivered to dealers.  Many dealers require a deposit  for pre-orders.  ALSO note that a collector can pre-order a doll but still not receive the doll if the dealer, for some reason, does not receive the full allotment of dolls ordered. 

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Denise Van Patten--your Guide to Dolls
Article, Graphics Copyright © 2001 Denise Van Patten

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