The purpose of this guide is to provide background and buying advice about Princess Diana dolls. These dolls started as a collectible item at the time of her engagement, during which time members of the public fell in love with Diana. After the wedding, dolls popped up on both sides of the Atlantic. Info is difficult to find without referring to anecdotal recollections of doll collectors or old doll magazines. They aren't generally featured in collector price guides because most were mass-produced manufactured dolls or very small editions of fewer than 100 dolls. There is one book on Diana collectibles; it was sold as a price guide, but is a vanity publication by a collector showing off his goodies.
The original 1982 Goldberger dolls were done in two versions; one, a wedding model & the other, an evening gown version wearing a silver, one-shoulder quasi copy of Diana's Hachi gown. Both were marked 'HRH Diana, Princess of Wales'; the wedding dolls were packaged both separately and as a double doll boxed set. The 2 companion Charles dolls came in his wedding naval uniform or in a red Grenadier Guards uniform with a bearskin shako. The boxed wedding couple set is more rare.
During the 1980's, celebrity collectibles got the occasional write up in magazines, but weren't a significant part of the market and Royal Family dolls were more of a touristy after-thought for those passing through the British Isles, sort of the English version of buying a toy Statue of Liberty in New York City.
Makers like Nisbet and Danbury Mint created sentimental souvenirs for a romantic public who wanted to believe in fairy tales during the early days of the marriage continuing through to the "Dynasty Di" era. These included items like the original 18" Danbury Mint porcelain Princess Diana Bride Doll and the 15" vinyl Nisbet My Princess series.
Nisbet continued their tradition of marking special Royal occasions with 8" costume dolls, recreating the Royal Weddings of Charles and Diana as well as that of Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, then recording the various happy additions to the family. But with the demise of the Nisbet factory in a fire, the manufacture of Princess Diana Dolls seemed to disappear in a similar cloud of smoke in 1987. Unfortunately, Diana's fairy tale marriage met a similar fate just about the same time.
In the late 80's, Danbury Mint took this idea one step further and created a 14" vinyl doll with clothing collection of 27 replicas of outfits Diana actually wore, complete with accessories. Lenci, a very old Italian doll company, created "Diana," a 1930 design by Lenci's founder in felt about 15" tall, and which eerily resembled Diana, complete with her trademark "flicked back" hairdo dressed in a pink felt dress studded with flowers. A 22" version was presented to Diana as she and Charles departed Italy on a 1985 visit.
A handful of doll artists created stylized portraits (like Paul Crees of Crees & Coe) in wax or fun novelties (like Jan Shackleford) in fabric. Mary Ellen and Charles Gilkey did several limited edition dolls with child-like faces dressed in easily recognized adaptations of Diana's early wardrobe. Blenheim Military Models even did a tiny metal 1½" figurine of Diana and Charles, she in the infamous strapless black taffeta Emmanuel gown and Charles in a red uniform.
During the period when Diana's marital unhappiness became openly apparent to the public (1991-1992,) the Diana doll phenomenon seemed to die down. Occasionally, paper doll artists such as Ralph Hodgdon and Tom Tierney published pages or folios. In 1995 BlueBird Toys released a boxed set paper wardrobe with a cardboard standup doll, but no significant pieces seemed to emerge at this time.
Then Diana sold 79 of her fabulous designer dresses at a charity auction in New York in 1997. The doll industry woke up and got busy. Two companies bid on and won one gown each--the Franklin Mint snagging the pearl encrusted silk cream crepe "Elvis" gown and the Great American Doll Company (aka GADCO) winning a gorgeous robin's egg blue sequin and net French embroidered lace silk chiffon gown. The two companies raced to the drawing board immediately.
Tragically, Diana's accident just over two months later created a sudden surge of dolls in all shapes, sizes and materials glutted the internet, as well as newspaper ads, magazines and the Home Shopping Channel. As the public tried to understand the cause of her death, collectibles companies and doll artists scrambled for ideas.
It became an exciting time for doll collectors and the beginning of a big Princess Diana doll boom with a lot of controversy. Several large manufacturers had announced projects in major doll publications as well as in mainstream publications like Parade Magazine. These were well-known companies in the collectibles and doll industry, such as the Danbury Mint, the Franklin Mint, Ashton Drake Galleries and GADCO. Many of them published ads with Diana's face photoshopped over the doll photos, most likely because the prototypes weren't ready by the magazine's print deadline.
Within a few months of announcing its "Diana, Princess of Wales Porcelain Portrait Doll" in the Elvis gown, the Franklin Mint expanded the porcelain portrait to a series of 6, released the People's Princess vinyl portrait wardrobe doll and announced the first set of outfits for a wardrobe collection. By the first anniversary of Diana's death, the limited edition vinyl "Princess of Hearts" was dangled in front of collectors, wearing a sexy red cocktail dress. The porcelain series later added another 4 dolls, a special millennium limited edition doll in a blue cocktail dress, then in 2002 started a ground-breaking new portrait series based on photos of Diana: in her wedding gown, seated on a cushion hugging her knees, and sitting on a chair.
In 1997, Ashton Drake advertised a porcelain "Travolta gown" doll which later became a series of five 18" dolls called the "Portraits of Diana," most of which wore gowns by Victor Edelstein. The list price of each doll was $132.99, with the exception of one special "Retailer's Exclusive" limited edition of 5,000 dolls called "Royal Portrait," which was priced at $159. The gowns were mostly very well done, but the dolls' poor faces, sculpted by Tomas Tomescu, were bug-eyed, chubby-faced, chipmunk-toothed horrors that made many collectors cancel or return them to the company. The dolls were released about 6 months apart between 1998 and 1999.
Ashton Drake tried to get back into the game by creating a limited edition series of 14" porcelain dolls called "Diana: Her World in Fashion," wearing gowns based on Diana's gowns, but with odd changes to the gown colors, sleeveless gowns with cap sleeves and the same awful face sculpt as the previous 18 inch series. Frankly, it was a huge mess and they dropped the ball in a bigger way. A planned wedding doll advertised in a glossy brochure and a magazine ad was scrubbed.
GADCO initially jumped into the fray with their "Diana As An Eleven Year Old Girl" doll, available in two versions (one in a blue coat, one in an identical red coat,) which were priced in the $500+ range. The doll was sculpted by Bruno Rossellini and was supposedly based on a sketch of Diana by the artist Alicandro when she was eleven. The doll looks more like a six year old and the hair is too long.
During the summer of 1998, GADCO promised collectors a Princess Diana fashion doll and took out a slick full-page ad in glossy national doll magazines. The doll shown in the ad was gorgeous, wearing the eggshell blue gown GADCO won at the Christie's Auction. GADCO promised phone customers that the doll "would knock their socks off." At closer look, the ad was a cartoon drawing and collectors should have taken this as an omen. Although the outfit and accessories are GORGEOUS, if any socks were indeed knocked off, it was from shock at the garish face paint on this doll.
A number of companies played it safe by resurrecting previous doll products. The Danbury Mint re-released its wedding and wardrobe dolls from the 1980's, making the bride doll a smaller size and reducing the wardrobe dresses by a third. Lenci did a limited reissue of its 1985 Diana in felt and the Goldberger wedding doll was remarketed as the "Royal Britannia Collection" doll.
Australian doll artist Gwen McNeill collaborated with Collectible Concepts as well as 3 of Diana's dress designers to bring a set of 4 dressed dolls to Home Shopping Club viewers. At 28" tall, these were big girls and their original prices ranged up to about $359. One of the gowns was available on a dress form for a mere $159. Two were by Christina Stambolian (green velvet column gown and the "Divorce Dress,") one by Zandra Rhodes (Hand Painted Pink Beaded Dinner Dress,) and the last by Bellville-Sassoon (the "Figaro" cocktail dress.) Unfortunately, the doll's body is less than attractive.
For the crafty minded, Donna RuBert created a Diana head mould and gown patterns to go with her "Shay Sweet Sixteen" doll kit. Another big girl of 28", this doll kit was advertised wearing Diana's pink satin bow bedecked gown with the tiny bolero jacket and a hideous tiara that looked like a New Year's party hat.
Other companies sold novelty style 11½" dolls, such as Way Out Toys with the 8 play quality "Royal Diana" series, Street Players with the "Queen of Our Hearts" series--3 slightly better quality Barbie-ish dolls and Manley Toy Quest with a small production run of a Princess Diana Bride doll, which never made it into full production. (Manley Toy Quest is best known for their Britney Spears doll and their Diana bride has very Britney-like eye makeup.)
Having already been a Diana doll collector for 15 years, I was ectatic in 1998 because up to that time finding them was difficult, especially finding attractive ones. I scoured local shows, checked magazines, and hassled doll shop owners, but the internet proved to be a key step in finding more, although then, there wasn't much on the web about Diana or Diana dolls.
After the trustees of Diana's estate and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund filed a lawsuit against the Franklin Mint in 1998, the deluge of dolls began to dry up as doll makers worried that they would be next in the firing line. First, there was concern that the Fund would prevail and whatever items they made would be banned by the courts; then there was the worry that public opinion would turn from wanting remembrances of the People's Princess to remembering which companies were accused of being "Like vultures feeding on the dead" by the Princess's family.
In the meantime, Diana doll collectors clamored for more products, letting the attorneys for famous faces settle the dispute. We collectors sat in the background occasionally glancing up from our most recent purchase to check on whether our hobby was going to be outlawed.
The Mint won the suit, then filed a retaliatory one against the Fund for wrongful prosecution. Several more dolls have been issued since then, but the Mint's business operations have been scaled way back and the doll department seemed to have become scaled down to almost no activity for about 5 years. The Mint's victory didn't bring back the flurry of activity at other companies, if anything, it discouraged them from doing Diana projects. It's a true shame, because Mattel had two Barbie-as-Diana dolls on the drawing board which were truly beautiful tributes. The Mint was sold and has revived a bit, but time will tell.
Most of these antics seem to have left Diana fans unaffected and unfazed. We continue to collect, discuss and trade these items long after the lawyers have left for the golf course.
What is the best way for finding out information about Princess Diana dolls? Ask a longtime collector. Where can you find longtime collectors? Check out doll collecting groups on Yahoo or doll bulletin boards; there are several YahooGroups! devoted to Diana dolls and/or collectibles. Some are more doll oriented than others; some are fan-based and prefer to focus on Diana herself and some are more about the members and their personal interaction. With so much choice, you are certain to find a group that suits you and can assist you in your collecting. See my 'About Me' page for more info or to see links to my collection.
The questions I would ask a seller if I were considering purchasing a Diana doll (or pretty much any other doll) are:
1) What is the doll's condition? (cracks, crazing or chips? Porcelain dolls' shoes often crack.) Chew marks (pet/child origin)? Spots, stains or holes in the clothing? Fading from display? Has it been repaired at any point? Has the seller taken the gown off to inspect the body for repairs?
2) Has it ever been out of the box? Is the box included and what is its condition? (A box can indicate poor storage conditions like damp or extreme heat that may affect the doll with mold or disintegrate glue.) Is original paperwork included? (I want certificates of authenticity or story cards for sure and magazine or mail order advertising if available.)
3) If it has been out of the box, was it displayed? For how long and under what conditions (Dust free cabinet? Direct sunlight or under display lights? Out on a side table where curious, dirty hands/sticky fingers could touch her or knock her over?)
4) Is the seller the original owner? If not, do they know the provenance of the doll? (Inherited, a gift, bought at an estate sale or an antique mall.)
5) What sort of households has she lived in? (Smokers, children, pets? Smoking penetrates boxes and permeates clothing and hair--even dry cleaning won't necessarily remove the stink because it's on the outside of the porcelain and the hair as well as fabric, which must be handwashed to be cleaned.)
6) Are all the bits included? (Flowers, jewelry, accessories like purses and shoes, train.)
Above all, ask for photos. Photos of the box, doll, the gown.
By now, you may be asking what my credentials are. See my About Me page.
Although I do not mind performing identifications for collectors, I cannot provide valuations or appraisals. This is a professional service for which you will be charged. If you write & ask me for one, don't be surprised if your email makes me cranky or I ignore it. If you truly believe that you have a unique treasure, you should contact a reputable company with experience in the collectible about which you are enquiring for a true valuation. The appraiser should see your doll in person and should not produce a statement of value based on photographs. Above all, the appraiser should NOT be someone with a view towards purchasing your doll or in selling her for you; obviously, this is likely to skew their opinion out of self-interest.
If you have an item about which you have a question & it's NOT A VALUATION REQUEST, See my About Me page or write to me through eBay's "Contact a Member" link on my feedback page.
I do not mind discussing or identifying your dolls (or mine,) but please do not approach me asking for a valuation wrapped up in different language. (i.e., "What is fair value/market value/a good price/the going rate for such-and-such an item?" or "How much is it worth?" These are all ways of asking for an appraisal.) I don't mind providing facts like original price, but NOT what it might sell for now.