By Kathy Witt, McClatchy-Tribune
Dolls … retire?! You read that right. Just like people, dolls hang up their careers if you can call a lifetime spent as a professional, albeit cute and huggable, best friend a career and transition into their golden years. But what does retirement look like for dolls? Is it endless tea parties or time spent gathering dust?
Mostly the former, thankfully. In the case of the retiring dolls at BabyLand General Hospital, home of the beloved Cabbage Patch Kids, newborn, preemie and Lullaby editions and BabyLand Exclusives, retirees move into the doll equivalent of a retirement home. That is, they are preserved in perpetuity in playful museum-like vignettes where they romp with other retirees, play the xylophone and other musical instruments, dress up like cowboys and ride their tricycles.
At BabyLand’s recently opened Southern-style manse in the Appalachian foothills in Cleveland, Ga., visitors find glass cases lining the walls en route to the nursery and holding retired Kids. The retirees are dressed in decade-appropriate attire and loosely arranged by the era in which they made their debut, dating back to 1977, a year after then 21-year-old Xavier Roberts soft-sculpted “Little People,” the forerunner of what would become the Cabbage Patch Kids. With 120 million adopted to date, the Kids are one of the most popular and highly collected dolls in history.
The displays include each Kid’s original adoption fee and current value. “Benjie,” No. 45 from the Helen Blue edition, cost $150 to adopt back in the early 1980s, but is worth a whopping $15,000 today.
“For collectors, the most treasured ones include those from the Helen Blue edition,” says Wilma Arrington, a collector in Georgia who has been amassing the soft sculptures since 1984.
Also from the Helen Blue edition are pals “Willie” and “Jason Daniel” whose original adoption fees were $55 and $100 respectively. Cherubic baby faces aside, these retirees are living out their sunset years at BabyLand, spending their days just paling around in a protected environment they are, after all, worth $15,000 each.
That may leave you gasping and perhaps even cursing yourself for not keeping your own hand-sculpted wunderkind from back in the day but $15,000 is actually at the low end of the value scale. Some of the Kids, according to BabyLand’s director of corporate communications Margaret McLean, can re-adopt for as much as $50,000.
“You must remember these Little People have the uniqueness of a work of art,” she says. “Once you look at these babies, you see they have very distinct personalities.”
Out with the old?
For the historical character dolls at American Girl (formerly the Pleasant Company and now a division of Mattel) retirement, according to Karen Harper, store manager at the American Girl Boutique and Bistro in Alpharetta, Ga., equals opportunity opportunity for new character dolls and eras, for the collectors who accumulate them and the little girls who adore them and love learning about American history through them.
This year, the character Felicity Merriman and her colonial sidekick Elizabeth are retiring and will be ushered into the American Girl Archives. What this means is that, once the Felicity dolls, her garments and accessories are gone, they will no longer be available for purchase through any American Girl channels, including online and in stores. The books based on the retired dolls, however, will always be available.
Meet the Kids and Girls in person
There is still time to buy American Girls’ Felicity and Elizabeth dolls, as well as the 2010 Appalachian Christmas Edition that will be introduced by BabyLand on Nov. 20. In both cases, purchases are most fun made in person.
At BabyLand General, located in its ginormous 70,000-sqare foot complex, visitors find lots of babies waiting to be adopted, including the “hand-stitched to birth” soft-sculpture original Cabbage Patch Kids and the Lullaby babies who pop up from the Cabbage Patch with their arms outstretched. Prospective adoptive parents ready to pony up between $200 and $350 may witness the birth of their baby at the Cabbage Patch which spreads out beneath the hand-painted Magic Crystal Tree.
Also at BabyLand is a retail store filled with vinyl or vinyl and soft sculpture combination toys in a variety of sizes delivered from the “Far Eastern Cabbage Patch” and with adoption fees ranging from $10.99 to $49.99.
The 12,000-square foot American Girl Boutique and Bistro in Alpharetta is located about 50 miles south of BabyLand General and is one of nine stores located across the country. Here, young girls can browse to their heart’s content among the shelves of historical and contemporary dolls, racks of historical and contemporary clothing including a rotating selection of doll outfits, accessories and Dress Like Your Doll clothing and stacks of award-winning books.
Prices for the historical character dolls range from $95 to $118, depending on whether books or accessories are selected. With her retirement looming, Felicity is leaving the shop at a brisk clip, but customers are limited to three each of any of the dolls.
“The collectors will get them, but we try and keep the dream open for little girls who want a Felicity, too,” says Harper. “And they decide by coming into the store and seeing which ones they like.”
There is a Bistro for dining on grown-up cuisine like Grilled Pacific King Salmon as well as favorites including pizza and where vinyl girls can sit right beside their real-life counterparts in the company’s trademark “treat seats.” At the Doll Hair Salon, girls can treat their doll to a new hair-do, pierced ears or facial. For special occasions, girls can choose one of several American Girl-themed celebrations: Doll Spa Party, Doll Beach Party, Doll Fashion Designer Party for girls eight and up and a Friendship Fun Party for girls five and up.
In the circle of life of the doll world, these dolls the babies, kids and historical characters are made to be held and hugged even into retirement.