Monday, June 20, 2011

Doll Collecting 101: The Secondary Market for Dolls

I used to try to warn people that dolls would not be a good retirement plan, but did they listen? NO!

If you track Ebay and Amazon as well as Nashville flea market and estate sales regularly for dolls, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice most modern dolls are not holding their prices on the secondary market right now.  While many factors contribute to this, including the current economy and continuing unemployment, one of the major factors contributing to low doll prices is the incredible, massive over-inflation during the height of doll collecting mania in the mid-to-late 1990s. However, since the late 1990s dolls have not only declined in value, but the majority of modern dolls have declined up to 75% of their original retail price.

One only has to track Ebay sales to note that dolls which have a starting bid near or over their original retail price consistently DO NOT SELL. Dolls with a low starting price may or may not sell at a low price on Ebay. While bargain-priced dolls often do well on both Ebay and Amazon, higher-priced dolls on Amazon sit there, sometimes for a year or more, waiting for an uneducated, uninformed buyer to purchase them.

Barbie Dolls
I have been tracking Barbie doll trends since 1995 when I was a staff writer for the largest doll collector's publication in the world at the time -- "Barbie Bazaar Magazine." I also was a contributing writer for "Millers Fashion Doll Magazine" and a price guide contributor to "Whites Guide to Collecting Figures." The reason I no longer write for these magazines is they all went out of business due to dropping prices and declining interest in doll collecting following the Barbie doll frenzy of 1995.

Barbie Mania
When one pristine Number One Barbie doll from 1959 sold for tens of thousands of dollars in the mid 1990s, interest in the hobby sky rocketed. Suddenly Barbie dolls were in high demand with collectors, and stores couldn't keep the nicer dolls on their shelves. A secondary market developed where dealers could sell Barbie dolls at flea markets, on Ebay and even in stores for double, triple, even quadruple the doll's original value -- sometimes within weeks or even days of the doll hitting the shelves. People began stockpiling boxed dolls in closets and basements as "investments."

Doll Mania
New fashion dolls were introduced during the Barbie mania days to capitolize on Barbie's popularity: Gene, Tyler, Fashion Royalty, Daisy and Willow, Eve, Alex, Lollipop Girls, Bratz and more. Many of these dolls are no longer being produced, because after a few years of frenzied sales, sales dropped off. Even with limited editions, some dolls did not sell. The doll mania days were over.
Now people are stuck with closets, basements and storage units full of "investment" Barbie dolls and other dolls that no one wants to buy. This is one reason prices are so low on the secondary market. People are cleaning out those rooms full of hoarded "investment" dolls, and they are flooding Ebay, estate sales and yard sales all over the country.

Doll Collecting Still Popular
The good news is, this is not the death knell for the doll collecting industry. Many people still collect dolls, and Nashville hosts several doll collecting clubs including the Belle Meade Plantation Belles Doll Club, but gone are the days when you can stick them back in your closet and assume they will be worth more -- or even as much -- as when you bought them, unless you have the time and space to store them for several decades. Historically, Nashville has never commanded the higher doll prices seen in cities like New York, L.A., and Miami, and as reported in Doll Collecting 101: Books and price guides, the prices found in price guides are almost always terribly over-inflated since price guides usually depend upon dealers for their prices... and dealers clearly have a vested interest in selling dolls for high prices.

Doll Pricing Advice
People ask me for advice on selling their doll collections all the time. My advice is always this. Check several Ebay sales and doll show sales -- not listings or quoted rices -- but the actual sale prices, and see what the dolls you want to sell are really bringing. Chances are, unless it is a true vintage doll from the early 1970s or earlier, the price will be much less than what the doll sold for at retail.

The Bottom Line
If you need the cash or the space right now, be prepared to sell any dolls made from 1980 onward for a lot less than what you paid for them.

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