When Limited Editions Aren't So Limited
If you use the textbook definition of the term "limited edition," then as long as a doll was only in production until a certain number was made or during a specific time frame, the doll is limited. But can it really be considered "limited" when several thousand were made?
Technically, it's an accurate description: even if production is 10,000 or 100,000, it's a limited edition, because they only made that many. But I have to laugh a little when I see something that's supposedly limited with that kind of number attached to it. A quantity on that large a production scale rivals the annual run of some open editions, sometimes enough to make the doll or so-called limited item fairly commonplace.
Once again, like a few of our recent blog topics, this harkens back to a time before the Internet made collectibles accessible to the point where what used to be a rare find is now easily spotted online by hundreds of millions of Internet consumers all over the world. Back in the dark ages of computing and dial-up modems, and long before, you would have to travel, possibly hundreds if not thousands of miles just to find one doll that might have been limited to 1,000. But today, if 1,000 are made, there's probably anywhere from a dozen to 900 listed online, available through retail stores, Internet wholesalers, or private resale.
Some limiteds are so obviously limitless in supply that these dolls seem to have lost any value they might have held when people had to drive into a major city to go to a special store in the hopes they would have a specific doll that no one else carried - and that store might have only received one or two of that doll. Now, even if only one store in every state has one of that doll each, that's 50 of that limited doll that you could probably find at their online shops or on the secondhand market for a fraction of the price and without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home. With the consumer superhighway, you could be on your way home from your local doll store, and buy a doll that you couldn't find there from another doll store a thousand miles away.
While limited editions that numbered in the hundreds can still be quite rare, depending on how long ago they were made and what the rate of resale may be, many modern dolls that were limited to the thousands are usually just a simple Google search away. Although, much more factors into the doll's worth than it's edition, including the number of years since the doll stopped being made - dolls that date back a decade or more are most likely going to be even more limited than their edition suggests based on the number that are estimated to survive. Modern dolls with high edition counts hardly make sense to me, however, since they are likely to turn up everywhere, especially with the usual suspects, Amazon and eBay. Still, we see some companies that haven't scaled back their supply to increase demand in the Internet sales era.
There are Barbie dolls that were made at the turn of the millenium with edition numbers in the thousands that sellers can't even give away on eBay. Marie Osmond dolls are changing with the times (switching it up from porcelain Adora Belle dolls to ball-jointed vinyl Adora Belles, for instance), but the editions still vary wildly between the hundreds and thousands. If the doll is very popular, you might still have difficulty finding one in a larger edition, but some resellers buy several of a single item when it's brand new for the sole purpose of selling for a profit later. And later could be while the doll is still on pre-order in some cases, and in others, it could be when the edition is sold out; so then they release their stockpile to the Internet market just after it has run dry and collectors are watching for any signs of water.
One doll maker who does generally well by his edition size is Robert Tonner. The fashion, concept, and Hollywood dolls that Tonner makes often sell out within the same year due to well-scaled production. While you'll still find some of Tonner's dolls on the resale market after his official site has sold out of them (this is for a few reasons, one of which being the would-be resale profiteers listed above), they retain their value well because once they disappear from the secondhand market, they're less likely to resurface frequently, if at all.
Asian ball-jointed dolls, or ABJDs, have become plentiful in the last five years. ABJDs that captivated me years ago when I first started collecting them are still available, and companies that I can hardly begin to keep up with are springing up all the time making more models and some more inexpensive than the older and bigger companies. But these are generally open-edition dolls. When an ABJD is limited, that term still has serious meaning. Dream of Doll made many of their limiteds in 2005 and 2006 with numbers in the teens - a few of their most coveted sculpts were limited to only 14 dolls, and since then, others of their extremely exclusive limiteds have numbered only one or two. Extraordinarily rare doesn't quite communicate the odds of finding one of these dolls on the secondhand market, nevermind one perfectly in tact or complete with fullset. Another ABJD company, Soom, creates monthly fantasy dolls that are not only breathtaking, but with each being produced only for one month, they're among the most prized pieces of many collections, since they are definitely limited even though they aren't too scarce. And of course, the original mainstream Japanese ABJD company Volks continues to produce limiteds that are the Holy Grail to some in the ABJD community.
Limiteds don't have to be impossible to find to have value, and dolls in unlimited production can be worth more to you than any limited or numbered edition piece in your collection. I just think that if you're going to make an edition of 10,000 dolls, you should know it won't really be viewed as "limited" in this day and age. Technically, on paper, the word "limited" is appropriate, but in concept, as far as post-distribution is concerned, it's not necessarily true.
We welcome feedback on this article! Feel free to email us at email@example.com, or call to speak with our in-store doll blogger Mary at 1-800-648-3655.