I was too young for a Blythe doll when they were first released in 1972, but I was aware of them. I suppose I saw ads on telly and they advertised in comic books. Made by Kenner, Blythe had a huge, over-sized head and a mechanism that allowed her eyes to change colour with the pull of a string. They were only produced for a year, but it’s safe to say they made a lasting impression, and not just on me.
Fast forward four decades and Kenner has been absorbed by Hasbro, who licenced Takara Tomy to produce a New Edition of dolls, Ashton Drake Galleries to make a range of reproductions, and even produced mini dolls in their own Littlest Pet Shop series.
The vintage Kenner dolls are very expensive on the secondary market and even the newer Takara Tomy dolls are out of my price range and are only sold in the Asian market anyway, so my first Blythe dolls were the Hasbro, Blythe Loves Littlest Pet Shop dolls in 2011. These little 11cm versions have the bigger head like the original dolls, without the eye change mechanism, but they were widely available here in Australia, were affordable, and above all, cute. I couldn’t resist ‘Fabulously Vintage’ with her retro inspired fashion and ‘Sightseeing Cute’ with a British punk vibe. Of course, these little dolls rekindled my interest in the full sized (approx. 29cm) Blythe versions, but I still couldn’t find a doll I could afford, except for dolls sold as ‘factory’ dolls on online auction sites. And here lies the dilemma.
Just what are these factory dolls? I had one collector get quite abusive when I asked for information on these dolls, saying that they were stolen or pirated and buying them was tantamount to criminal behaviour, but a lot of Blythe collectors and especially customisers buy these dolls. I also find these dolls more interesting than the boxed Blythe dolls. They are sold with some really interesting hair colours and styles, and often have an articulated body, something that other Blythe dolls lack, unless they are customised. I’ve also found that there are some sellers that have been listing and selling these dolls for years and they openly list the doll’s markings and often state that the dolls aren’t perfect, perhaps indicating that they are factory seconds. Now surely, if these were stolen, pirated or otherwise dodgy dolls, Hasbro/Takara Tomy could have the listings removed and prosecute the sellers, as Mattel has done in the past. I tend to believe the theory that these dolls are factory seconds sold by the owner companies, who allow their resale. I know Mattel does this, with strict conditions on the resale. But I’m not sure, so I do still have some reservations about these dolls.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with one of these factory Blythe dolls and took the plunge and bought her. She has gorgeous red/black hair styled in a curly bob. They, of course, are sold nude or with a clone fashion, so I pieced together a fashion for my girl, a Re-ment blouse, Barbie skirt and tights and boots from eBay. Deciding on your dolls fashion style is part of the fun of factory dolls. Blythe looked a bit lonely, so after much searching, I found a factory Middie Blythe (approx. 20cm) doll to act as her little sister. Again, she is fully articulated, something that most boxed dolls are not. She has extremely long, pinkish/red hair and I haven’t quite decided how to style it yet. For now, I’ve just plaited it. I was also surprised at just how tiny her body is. The only thing I had to fit her was a Pippa doll fashion, until I made her an outfit to match her big sister’s.
I’m still not sure if buying these factory dolls is encouraging dodgy dealings or breaching a company’s ownership/copyright, but I know I love my Blythe dolls so I certainly hope not.