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Dawn Dolls: Tiny Doll Stars of the 1970s
Just over 6 inches tall, they steal the hearts of 1970s children and collectors today 
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In 1971, two 10 year old girls and their younger sisters spent most of the summer trapped in a miniature world.  The world had tiny, fashionable dolls with extensive, glittery wardrobes. Cars, furniture, fashion model stages, poodles, phones--all the accoutrements of this tiny world were set up daily in the back yards of these girls.  Often, they were so engrossed in play that they wouldn't hear their mothers calling them to come in for dinner, or bedtime.

The dolls were Dawn and her friends--Angie, Dale, Gloria, Longlocks, Jessica, Gary and company. The girls were me and my best-friend Janie and our sisters, Michele and Annie.  Sure, we'd played with Barbie for years, but these dolls were SO wonderful, and so available, and (most important to our mothers) rather inexpensive, which definitely helped our acquisition of the entire "world" of Dawn.  So, that summer, our Barbies stayed in their cases and Dawn was queen.

A crash-course in the history of Dawn  

Topper Toys introduced Dawn dolls in 1970.  The first dolls released were Dawn (blonde doll and the namesake to the line) and her friends Angie (black hair) Gloria (red hair) and Dale (black hair and African American). All the dolls were just over 6" in height.   The initial line included 44 lovely outfits, packaged the same way that Barbie outfits had been packaged in the 1960s--sewn to a card so that each piece of the outfit could be seen at once.  Besides outfits, play sets produced included Dawn cars, fashion stages, sofa-and-phone sets, apartment furniture, beauty parlors and more.  Outfts included long, luxurious gowns and short, sassy mini dresses.

The second wave of Dawn dolls included three male dolls (Gary, Ron and Van) plus Jessica (short blonde hair) and Longlocks (VERY long brown hair).  "Dancing" dolls were also released--this version of the dolls allowed you to move the arm and have the head and waist "twist" so the dolls appeared to dance.  The "Dance Party" gift set included Kevin and Fancy Feet, two characters not sold separately.  

Another version of the dolls were the "Head to Toe" dolls which came with short hair and three wigs. Dawn, Angie and Longlocks were available as "Head to Toe" dolls.  These dolls seem to have been inspired by the Crissy line of dolls with hair that "grew" from the top of their head that were very popular during the early 1970s.  A slightly odd version of the dolls are the "Flower Fantasy" dolls.  these dolls included the dolls standing in the middle of a plastic flower pot.  They weren't produced in great numbers, so mint-in-box Flower Fantasy dolls are highly sought-after by collectors today. 

Finally, the last release of the dolls were the "Model Agency" and "Majorette" lines in 1972.  The Model Agency line included Dinah, Denise, Melanie, Daphne and Maureen.  The Majorette line introduced Connie, April and Kip.  The Majorette dolls could spin a small baton that glowed in the dark.  I never owned one of these dolls in the 1970s--my friends and I had moved on to other interests by the time that the 1972 dolls came out--we were young teens by then. 

Why was Dawn so popular?

The dolls quickly caught on with little girls.  They were advertised on television very effectively, much like Barbie was in the 1960s.  And, the dolls were easy for retailers to display--because of their small size, a Dawn display including dolls, cases and clothes took up very little space.  This made Dawn available even in stores with only a little room for toys (such as the small "five and dime" near my home in New York that carried the entire line--this store had never carried the entire Barbie line). The relatively inexpensive price of the dolls and outfits made them attractive to mothers.  Plus, at this time, Barbie was floundering--suffering from an identity crisis as well as corporate profitability woes.  The quality of Barbie went down and so did her popularity, allowing smart, small (and cheap!) little Dawn a foothold in the minds of doll-loving girls.

Once Dawn and friends had that foothold, it was easy to maintain.  The tiny size of the dolls was charming--the shoes were not even 1/2" long.  Little girls could fit several dolls, an entire wardrobe plus accessories in a case less than 1 foot long and 2 inches deep!

Finally, if you were just starting to play with dolls in the early 1970s, Barbie was--well--the doll your older sister played with.  The "cool" dolls in the early 1970s were definitely Dawn and friends (on the small side) and Crissy and friends, the dolls with the growing hair (on the large side).

Why was the reign of Dawn so short-lived?

Dawn was doomed by two factors--the instability of Topper Toys, which went bankrupt in 1973, and Topper's inability to "innovate" such a small doll.  It was hard to change Dawn OR its fashions enough to keep girls interested.  The tiny fashions, after 3 years on the market, started to look suspiciously alike, with only changes in fabric and not enough changes in basic styling.  Also, once different hair colors and "gimmick" versions of the dolls had been made, Topper seemed to run out of ideas to keep the dolls new and fresh  (unlike Barbie, who regained her footing in the 1980s and has been endlessly re-invented again and again ever since).

Dawn today:  Collecting Vintage Dawn and Reproductions

Today, a vintage Dawn collection can be put together easily and inexpensively.  The current 15th Blue Book of dolls lists the value of most mint Dawn dolls from $30 to $40, with mint-in-box dolls valued at $65 to $75.  Mint-in-box outfits are valued at $40 to $60.  And, many, many loose outfits and loose dolls in excellent condition can be obtained very inexpensively at eBay and other online auction sites, were entire cases of Dawn items can be picked up for under $50.  And, unlike Barbie, Dawn items are common at garage sales, were they can be purchased for only a few dollars.  The dolls are cheap not because they are undesirable to collectors (MANY 70s collectors covet Dawn and her world) but because the dolls and outfits were produced in huge quantities--some doll historians believe that more Dawn dolls were produced than Barbie dolls during the early 1970s.

Besides the vintage dolls, Dawn collectors can now buy reproductions of the vintage Dawn and friends from Checkerboard Toys.  A 25th anniversary Dawn doll can be had for $24.99.  Reproductions of Gloria, Angie and Dale are also $24.99.  Vintage "style" outfits (not actual reproductions) are $9.99.  Soon there will also be a line of new Dawn dolls aimed at little girls. There is no reason that Dawn cannot capture the hearts of today's generation.  In fact, while taking photographs for this article, my 6 year old pleaded to be able to play with my childhood Dawn dolls, clothes and case (which I still have for some reason--although my mother gave away my Barbie dolls, she kept the Dawn dolls and case while I was at college!).  My daughter was fascinated by the little dolls and their shiny clothes, and the tiny box of Dawn accessories.  I told her that I couldn't let her play with them because they were to precious to me.  But, we sat on the floor together for an hour looking at the dolls and clothing together, changing outfits, and searching through piles of little shoes for just the right ones.  Just like old times.  

 

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

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