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Confessions of a Doll Show Virgin
My Day at the National Barbie Convention Salesroom

By Bethany M. Sefchick

Standing in line, I could feel the excitement. The crowd of people began somewhere on the Mezzanine level above and snaked around and down through the lobby until it was out the hotel door and down the block.

Having only been to one small doll sale a few years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I was used to buying dolls on-line though dealers or eBay, when I felt like being brave. A few times I had found dolls at antique stores so that I could look in person before I bought. But for me, this was to be a whole new experience and I had no idea what to really expect.

People of every age, race and sex shifted impatiently, waiting for the line to move forward in a crush of people when the doors finally opened. Like me, those lucky enough to reach the Mezzanine were able to look in the souvenir room and pick up a t-shirt or a special beanie bear or even some note cards or a pin while waiting for the main event to begin.

Finally, the crowd began to move and the excitement grew. Cash was exchanged for a bright pink hand stamp that was checked at the door. Then, before I knew it, I was in! And, oh what a sight to behold waited beyond those ballroom doors!

There were Barbies everywhere and a throng of people in a mad rush to buy with cash in hand!

Boxes of newer dolls were stacked from floor to ceiling and tables were lined with vintage and mod era dolls and fashions! Every square inch of the room was occupied by something that was related to Barbie or a few other select fashion dolls. It was too much to take in all at once, and my mind began reeling. I stood there, frozen for a few moments, before the rational part of my mind took over and I began to browse the room in a logical way.

I picked the right side of the room to begin my assault, since that seemed to have the fewest people. Large doll boxes and display cases surrounded me on all sides, leaving me in awe, while others rummaged through sliding drawers full of hard to find accessories and shoes. Even a drawer full of spikes! The most beautiful vintage cases I had ever seen lined the floor of one vendor while Marl showed off her impressively full row of #1s and Bild Lilis.

Linda Dean of Classic Pink was passing out bags of candy and doll-sized clothes hangers while people at the Joshard table pointed out the intricate sewing on their artist dolls. One table sold Barbie-sized replicas of vintage cases and hatboxes, while another was holding a buy-one-get-one-at-half-price sale on some stunning hand crafted fashions.

NRFB Japanese side-part, high color American Girls were side by side with Twiggys displaying a hint of mod fade. Platinum swirls and dressed box dolls sporting every fashion imaginable looked stunning when displayed with a mint Austin-Healey or a partially assembled Fashion Shop. And BMAA award winning dolls stood side by side with Gene, all for sale and all for a price.

I would stop to gaze at a Julia Simply Wow giftset for a moment before a thickly rooted titian bubble or a white ginger caught my eye. The more wonderful dolls and fashions that I saw, the more I knew that I was not seeing everything and couldn't even hope to. There was just too much to be believed.

People whizzed around me as I worked the room, finally stopping at Joe Blitman's table long enough for some conversation over a fixer-upper Tutti and a chance to hold the vintage Sorbonne fashion in my hands for one brief moment. I moved on, flitting from table to table, trying to remember where I had seen certain items of interest while searching the stacks of vintage and mod clothes for the elusive Yellow Mellow fashion.

Chatting with people that I had only talked to via the Internet before, I made my way, eventually to the second and smaller room. More artist dolls and stacks of modern ones greeted my eyes. Less vintage here, but still impressive. I made my way through the crush of people, trying to take it all in, stopping every few inches to inspect the newest treasure that I had found.

Dealers, eager to make a sale, talked non-stop about the virtues of any given doll and offered better deals than the marked price, in many cases knowing full well, that the dealer at the next table down was undercutting prices. And I bought. More than I thought I would. The deals were just too great to be believed in many cases and the opportunity to great to pass by.

Time had literally flown by as noon approached, and at this point, my arms were full of purchases. Taking a breather in the lobby area, I passed off most of my bags to my "package carrier" (a.k.a. my father) so that he could take them to the car. The only bag I would not relinquish was the one with the little Tutti I had bought from Joe's as I could not bear to let her out of my sight.

Back into the main ballroom I went, looking to buy some of the items that I had passed on earlier in the day. A living Skipper found her way into my bags, as did a Bay School Spirit Barbie,'94 Happy Holidays doll and some of the many shoes that Linda Dean was selling from her perfectly sorted drawers.

This trip around was completely different from the first, though. Same dealers and same items but my eyes came to rest on different dolls or fashions or accessories. And it was just as wonderful and thrilling as it had been the first time around.

Eventually in the afternoon, I ran out of time, money and energy. I knew that I still had not seen every item out for sale, but I also realized that even if I had days, I probably never would. There was just too much. I had been able to find all of the items on my want list and several that weren't, all at prices around or cheaper than what I had hoped.

More importantly, however, I gained something just as valuable to me as the dolls and clothes that I had bought. I had gained experience. Not just in show shopping, but in doll shopping in general. I saw with my own eyes what truly mint vintage looks like, and how even the rattiest looking of dolls can be turned into beauties with some love and care.

The best thing, I learned, however, is that for all of the on-line dealers and the web auctions sites, there is still no substitute for buying in person. There is just no comparison.

My View
(and shopping tips, too!)

By Bethany M. Sefchick

First, let me say that I admit it. I live in a doll show deprived area. Not many doll shows to be had in central Pennsylvania, let alone good doll shows. But all that aside, I really thought that I was more than prepared for the sales room at the National Barbie Convention in Pittsburgh in August.

I had read my books, and studied up on my fashions and accessories. I read my price guide and perused the back issues of Barbie Bazaar and Millers. I knew what I was looking for and I had my list made up. I was ready. Or so I thought.

Turns out, I was only half ready, as the show was well beyond what I could ever possibly have imagined. There were more choices in those two rooms than I had ever imagined possible, not to mention the fact that rooms were huge beyond my imagination.

Next time, I'll know better.

Next time? Will there be a next time? I really hope so. I gained so much knowledge and experience from that one show that I can't wait for my next opportunity to examine first hand the incredible amount and quality of merchandise available at a show like that. Only when that day comes, I'll be much better prepared.

For some collectors who live in remote or show-less locations, the Internet is the best source for dolls, outside of the local doll shop, if there is one, or Target, Toys R Us or Wal Mart. Some buy from fellow collectors who are also on-line instead of large dealers, which can often led to much more satisfactory deals. For other collectors, shows are a way of life. They went to one last weekend and they'll go to another one in a few weeks.

So for the show circuit newbie, as I was, let me offer you a few tips from someone who's been there. Call it Bethany's Top 10, if you like. I've skipped some of the obvious ones to hit on some that are crucial to a good shopping day. Some may sound like the patented doll magazine tips, but having lived through it, I can now sort out the good tips from the ones that are merely promotional.

1. Study up! It's easier and more fun if you go into a show knowing what you're looking for and what to expect. You should know the target price you want to pay and how likely you are to find it in good condition for that price. Also, If you know your #3s from your #2s or even your American Girls from your Swirls, you're less likely to be ripped off or taken advantage of

2. Make a list. If you go into a show knowing what you want to look for, you're less likely to be overwhelmed by all of the choices available. This doesn't mean you won't have a moment of panic or stand in awe once you get to the door. It just means that you have a plan and it will be easier to get your bearings once inside

3. Get a good night's sleep. Hard to do if you're a conventioneer yourself, but then, you had a few days to look at the sales room. If it's a one day sale or the open sales day at a national convention, sleep is a must. You snooze, you lose.

4. Eat Breakfast. If you get to the sales room and you're stomach is rumbling, you're more likely to miss out on good deals. You can't shop when you're hungry.

5. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes! This may sound like a no-brainer, but unless you're Corazon Yellen, you don't need to dress to impress. And even then , that's debatable. Look neat but casual. You can't shop or bargain if your skirt is riding up your butt or your pants are too tight and everything's hanging out all over.

6. Take as small a purse as possible. For guys, well, this shouldn't apply to you, but maybe in some cases it does. For women, if your normal purse is a huge shoulder bag or sack, a smaller purse or mini-backpack like teenagers use might be a good idea. It's easier to carry, lighter, and less bulky to fight with in crowded rooms.

7. Bring a helper or shop with a friend. This isn't always possible and sometimes it means paying for their admission, too. However, if you go with a friend or just have someone to help you carry bags, it's worth a lot of time and trouble. The other person can take a trip back to the car with your treasures and theirs, if you don't feel like taking a break. This also helps if you buy big, high priced items such as cases that could possibly be crushed in the crowd.

8. If you see a great sale, don't wait for a better one! Better known as shop smart! Sometimes you'll see an item that's terrifically priced. If it's the opportunity of a lifetime, don't pass it by thinking that the next table down is trying to compete and will have it cheaper. That's not necessarily the case, even though some magazine articles would have you believe otherwise. Too many people missed a sale on the first Hallmark holiday ornament thinking that another table would have it cheaper. Consequently, if it's way overpriced, then by all means pass it by and look for a better price.

9. Take a break every few hours! Nothing will tire you out quicker than a hard day of doll shopping and pushing your way through a crowd. If you don't take a break, you'll be exhausted by noon and unable to last the day.

10. If possible, take a little more money than items on your list. Easier said than done, right? But consider this. It's inevitable. You will go to a show and find a buy too good to pass up that's not on your list. It might be a doll on clearance that you've lusted after, or a vintage case that someone is tired of carrying around for a bargain basement price. If you have an extra $50 put aside that's not earmarked for anything in particular, you can buy that piece and not feel guilty or overspend.

Well, that's it. Ten tips from a former doll show virgin. Take them for what they are, as not everyone's experiences are the same. These just reflect what I learned in one hectic day in August. But keep in mind that once you go to a show, you never go back.