Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book-Featured Dolls by Tonner - Part 1

This blog series is devoted to dolls by Robert Tonner, manufactured for the high-end play line as well as for the discriminating collector.  In addition to being Tonner dolls, each has been featured in at least one doll book I have authored:  The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls (Hobby House Press, 2003), Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion (2008), and/or The Doll Blogs:  When Dolls Speak, I Listen (2010 eBook; 2011 paperback).   For ease of reading, future references to these titles will be shown as follows:  Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3.  While writing this series, I realized subtle parallels between some Tonner dolls and events in my early life.  I also realized that Tonner has manufactured enough dark skinned dolls and other dolls of color to fill the pages of a doll book.

First-issue Magic Attic Keisha, sculpted by Robert Tonner for Georgetown Collection (I restyled Keisha's hair to mimic the style I often wore as a child, up to age 10, when it was not in two side braids).
First dolls first, Magic Attic Keisha, initially sold by Georgetown in 1995, is my first Robert Tonner-sculpted doll.  I was and still am thoroughly impressed with the essence of little girl innocence captured by Tonner in Keisha's three-dimensional vinyl doll form.  I especially love the texture of Keisha's hair, which I describe as being similar to "warm combed" African American hair in an effort to loosen its natural coil.  Keisha's Kanekalon wig achieves this effect beautifully.

Dolls often allow their owners to relive positive past events.  Keisha does this for me.  After age 10 or so, I spent countless Saturday mornings either seated in a kitchen chair near the stove as my mother "ran a warm straightening comb through my hair," or at a beauty salon where Mrs. Idella "Dell" Weddington did this professionally.  Usually the latter occurred on an every-two-week basis.  I recall begging my mother to allow me to have my hair straightened for the first time; finally, after much resistance, she relented.   After a warm comb was "run through it," my hair was quite similar in texture to Magic Attic Keisha's.

The first and second editions of Magic Attic Keisha are described and valued on page 77 in Book 1. Keisha #1 makes a cameo appearance in Book 2 on page 397.  Keisha #4 , the doll with naturally curly hair, the way I wear mine now, appears on page 366 in Book 2 and page 189 in Book 3.


Tonner's Penny is stylishly dressed in faux leather ensemble.
Tonner's Penny is a J. C. Penney-exclusive doll from the Penny and Friends collection.  Penny is also featured in Book 1, page 96, having entered my collection in the year 2000 or 2001.   It is quite obvious that Penny and Keisha are doll-artist related. Their head sculpts are rather similar.  While Keisha stands 17 inches (43.18 cm), Penny is 19 inches (48.46 cm).

Penny is stylishly dressed in a fashionable red faux leather vest, matching skirt, white T-shirt, and black knee-length faux leather boots.  I can imagine myself pulling off a fashion like hers in junior high school when I became self-"fashion conscious."  My days as a fashionista were short lived, but I do enjoy seeing the latest fashion trends on others who enjoy them, and I always enjoy seeing dolls dressed in fashions reflective of current styles.  The fashions worn by Tonner's dolls, play line or artist, rarely disappoint.


Basic Esmé, Boston Bound, and Cover Girl Esmé are featured in Book 2.
Svelte, 16-inch (40.64 cm) Basic Esmé from 1999 is my first Tonner fashion doll.  She, along with Boston Bound and Cover Girl Esmé are featured in Book 1, page 62, where each doll is fully described and valued.  The Esmé photographs of these three dolls used in Book 1 were courtesy of Melodie Anderson.

Esmé's story (from the Tonner Archives) reads:  "In a rare relaxed moment, Tyler [Wentworth, fashion designer/owner of Wentworth House of Style] went into a bookstore to browse. After making her selections, she noticed an incredibly beautiful young woman working behind the counter. Tyler introduced herself to the young woman and found out her name was Esmé. She was a pre-med student who was at first very skeptical about Tyler's suggestion that she model in the upcoming fashion show. Although she had been approached to model before, she never took it seriously. But having heard of Tyler and the House of Wentworth, she thought she would give it a try. After a lengthy conversation with the Chase Modeling Agency, Esmé was booked for her first show - The Tyler Wentworth Collection."

Because of my height and slender build, as a high school student, at approximately age 15 or 16, my mother took me to the Kim Dawson Agency.  She and others were convinced that I would be a perfect model.  On that 1960s fall day, an agency associate watched me stiffly (I'm sure) walked down the runway wearing a navy blue bodysuit with a wide-belted, hip-hugger, bias plaid skirt of red and navy wool fabric.  Navy blue opaque tights and navy blue leather loafers with chunky heels and gold-metal, square-decoration on the vamp completed my look.  Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, the associate did not agree with how perfect a model I would make.  Not a model nor pre-med student, I did choose a career as an allied health professional.

I do own and still enjoy Basic Esmé (illustrated on page 369 of  Book 2).  In addition, two other Esmé dolls have entered the collection:  Ready to Wear (RTW) Esme and Ultra Basic Esmé.  The trio was featured  here when I authored the Dolls Magazine blog, "Dolls in Black:  Chronicles and Perspectives."  Ready to Wear and Basic Esmé are redressed on pages 133 and 369 of  Book 2.  In Book 3, the three dolls managed to frequently "blog" their experiences as dolls in my collection on pages 14, 49, 202, 263-264, 267, and 269-270.


Three of Tonner's original dark skinned American Models:  Shonda, Carol, and Colette Bride
Additional photographs courtesy of Melodie Anderson included in Book 1, page 68, illustrate Tonner's lovely, first dark skinned 19in/48.46cm American Models (AM) Shonda, Carol, and Colette Bride from 1995, 1997, and 1998, respectively.

Jasmine from Tonner's first American Models Collection
After having coveted Melodie's lovely and quite elaborately dressed American Models, I later added AM Jasmine from 1999 to my collection.  The glamorous Jasmine is fully featured on page 135 in Book 2. 


As the index shows, dolls by Robert Tonner made several appearances in Book 2. These dolls will be discussed in part 2 of this blog series. In addition to the Esmé's mentioned here, other dolls that "blogged" their experiences in Book 3 will be included in part 3 of this series.




  1. Interesting how dolls give us the opportunity to relive our experiences -- and sometimes change them for the better!


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