In 1974, we moved from Sigman Street in Southern California to London Lane in Colorado Springs. A year or so later, a little girl with a case full of Topper Dawn Dolls appeared in the house next door. Her parents were divorced and she’d come to visit her dad for the summer.
One day, we met in the space between our houses. It was a cool dirt pathway canopied by the walls and the eaves of our split-level homes. There in the Colorado shade we traded dolls like baseball cards: my Malibu Barbie, Skipper, Ken and Francie for her Dawn, Glori, Angie and Dale. I was delighted with the swap as I had never before seen the 6 1/2 inch dolls with the long, rooted eye lashes and tiny painted lips.
Alas, my collection of Dawn Dolls was as short lived as my new friend’s visit with her dad. The next day, she knocked on the door and said she had to have her dolls back. She was returning to Denver to be with her mom. But, she let me keep a Dawn and I parted with Malibu Skipper.
Desperately Seeking Dawn
Over the next few years, every time we visited a variety store like Wacker’s, the Ben Franklin Store, TG&Y or K-Mart, I scanned the shelves for Dawn Dolls. I never found one until 1979, when I pulled a ragged Dawn from a bin at a Salvation Army or Goodwill store in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She had green discoloration around her knees (common with these dolls) and some of her eyelashes were torn out, but I was thrilled with my long-awaited find.
Dawn: The Barbie for Generation Jones
In the late 1990s and into the early Ots (the first decade of the 21st Century), the advent of eBay catapulted Topper Dawn back into the consciousness of the youngest Baby Boomers and the oldest Gen Xers. There’s a name for this mini generation subset and it’s Generation Jones. The years typically cited for Gen Jones are 1954 to 1967; people too young to remember Woodstock.
Generation Jones girls — some Boomers, some Xers — were the target market for Dawn dolls. Their brief lifespan began in 1970 and ended in 1973 when toymaker Topper Toys (formerly Deluxe Reading) went out of business. According to the website, Who’s That Doll, Topper Toys ran into financial trouble around 1973. There were rumors about embezzlement and fraud, which led to a federal investigation. Topper Toys was ordered into bankruptcy and all assets were liquidated. Toys not yet shipped were sold to other toy manufacturers.
The Stone Age of Web Design
eBay, which was launched in 1995, fueled a passionate group of Topper Dawn Doll collectors. I bought a few Dawn Dolls via the online auction site, but most of the time I was outbid by serious collectors. I always wanted the majorette/baton twirling Topper doll, Kip, which remains highly collectible.
During the initial phase of web-inspired Dawn nostalgia, several websites celebrating the dolls were created. Many remain “open” to visitors, but are no longer updated. Visiting them all in quick succession is like a stroll through the Stone Age of web design. The sites boast bright blue, yellow and hot pink backgrounds, frames, wide margins and an enthusiastic use of Comic Sans.
One web mistress went as far as to create magazine covers, detailed biographies and dioramas (Dawnoramas) for the dolls. She wrote about Angie:
“Angie (Angela) was born in Hong Kong and grew up in California. Her mother was an actress and her father an high profile international businessman. The family traveled a great deal, exposing Angie and her sister, Andie, to a wide variety of cultures. Angie speaks five languages…” She followed up each bio with a disclaimer: “These bios apply to the Dawn dolls who live with me–your dolls may have different stories.”
Dawn Makes A Comeback
In 2000, a company called Checkerboard Toys out of Oak Park, Illinois, bought the rights to Topper Dawn. The CEO, Sharon John, had been a fan of Dawn Dolls as a child. She’d previously served as a Vice President at V-Tech Toys and Mattel and spearheaded the brand’s comeback. (Today, she serves as President of Stride Rite.) A 30th Anniversary Dawn Doll was created with 20,000 released in December 2000. I bought one for my daughter Juliette. The following May, commemorative issues of Angie, Glori and Dale were released along with new fashions. I bought these, too.
During Dawn’s brief comeback, several versions of the dolls and her friends were created including Tee-Time; Go ‘n Glow, Karma Kool and Gypsy Hip. Not all were mass produced, but some prototypes were released. As the author of the site That 70s Doll explained, “…each version attempted to appeal to the imaginations of a generation of girls who were much more worldly than their mothers were at their age.”
Angie: Pretty in Pink
Interestingly, among the versions never released was a Pretty In Pink Dawn. It featured Dawn wearing a strapless pink ball gown with matching detached sleeves. I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a bit of a nod to the John Hughes, Generation X classic Pretty In Pink.
Unfortunately, by 2003, the Dawn Doll brand failed to capture sufficient market share. Checkerboard Toys was in financial trouble and reorganized as Creatoyvity. This announcement appeared on the company’s website:
Dear Dawn fans and Collectors:
We regretfully announce our discontinuation of our manufacturing and distribution of Dawn and her friends groovy fashion dolls and cancellation of planned new products for fall 2003. We hope that during the last 3 years we have reminded a few of you of some of the simple joys of a generation ago. Effective immediately we are beginning our final clearance sale of all remaining Checkerboard Toys Dawn merchandise through our estore on this website.
We thank the thousands upon thousands of you who have supported Dawn, and us, during this episode in her history. We are currently discussing the possibility of continuing the Dawn tradition of fashion and fun with other manufacturers and will let you know the latest developments through this website when we have any.
Thank you again…
In 2004, the brand was briefly resuscitated by Toy-O-Rama. They repackaged dolls that were liquidated by Checkerboard. These versions were known as Fab Fashion Fun Dawn. I actually bought a couple of these online. They have streaks of blue and purple in their hair.
There have been so many versions of Dawn Dolls that in 2001, Hobby House Press issued an illustrated encyclopedia. Cattpig Press also issued a Dawn Doll identification guide that same year. These represent the most accurate and exhaustive Dawn Doll resources.
With that, I can tell you that the four original Dawn Dolls were Dawn, the head of the Dawn Model Agency, and her friends, Angie, Glori (one with bangs and one with a side part) and Dale (African American). Their boyfriends (more or less) were Gary, Van (also African American), Ron and Kevin (a dancer).
Other 6 1/2 inch dolls that were part of the Dawn Doll brand were three Majorettes, Kip, Connie and Dawn; Jessica, a stewardess; Longlocks; Happy Feet and Flower Fantasies. The latter were packaged in flower pots with plastic flowers.
Other dolls introduced as members of the modeling agency were Daphne, Denise, Dinah, Maureen and Melanie. To see pictures of each of these visit the Dawn Doll page on Who’s That Doll.
In 1972, the British toy company, Palitoy, created a 6 1/2 inch doll called Pippa that looked strikingly similar to Dawn dolls. In doll circles, she’s even referred to as Dawn’s British cousin.
Pippa outlived Dawn by seven years. The toymaker stopped offering the doll in 1980. Interestingly, that was about three years before the 1983 birth of Pippa Middleton. She’s the famous sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Pippa, the doll, also had many friends (Emma, Mandy, Tammie, Jasmine, Penny, Gail, etc.), clothes, an apartment and a car. I wonder if Princess Diana played with these dolls. She would have been around 10 or 11 when they debuted.
There is a lot of information and great pictures on the Pippa pages of Who’s That Doll. Many were captured from a website, Pippa’s Obituary, which no longer exists. It’s such a fabulous name for a web site of this nature, so I wanted to mention it.
Pippa in Mini Dresses
Pippa in Maxi Dresses
Pippa in Midi Dresses
Pippa in Pantsuits
Dawn Doll Convention
Believe it or not, there’s actually a Dawn Doll convention. This year marks the 14th annual event. It’s scheduled for late September in Hyannis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This is exactly why I never got into collecting these dolls even though I love them. I’d never be able to stop once I got started and eventually I’d be dragging my husband and kids to Dawn Doll conventions.
I found out about the event on DawnTalk, a forum. As crazy as hyper doll collecting sounds to non-doll collectors, there appears to be some fun people on this board. I caught a distinct blend of Gen-X irony and sarcasm in one conversation about an “oddity” Dawn doll with chopped hair and a weird eyebrow.
Oddity dolls refer to dolls of “Topper Heritage” that don’t look exactly like the original boxed dolls. The collectors on the forum joked that the doll, “Psycho Dawn” was possessed, or perhaps just quizzical or ebullient.
On another Dawn forum they joked about the male Topper Dawn doll, Gary, always being naked. “A pervert,” someone wrote. It’s good to know that these folks don’t take themselves entirely too seriously. Because it is a little weird to the onlooker. Grown ups collecting dolls and all. But, I have to say, there was something special about Dawn. While I was taking pictures of the dolls, Bridgy fell in love with them. “Little, tiny Barbies!” she exclaimed.
African American Dale
Generations and Toys
Neil Howe, the well-known historian, demographer and economist, defined in The Fourth Turning four repeating generational cycles:
Prophet, raised during post-crisis affluence (Baby Boomers)
Nomad, raised during times of cultural upheavals (Generation X)
Hero, raised protectively as children (Generation Y)
Artist, raised during a time of crisis (Generation Z)
Maybe toys run in generational cycles, too, and what appealed to Gen Xers in 1972, will appeal to the next generation of Nomads not yet born. Maybe that means there’s still hope for Dawn and all her friends to gain a lasting market share.
Finally, did I ever tell you the story about my Colorforms…
Links to Dawn Doll Sites
All photos by Jennifer | May distribute under the Creative Commons License with attribution and link: jenx67.com. Thanks!