Today we are pleased to share a guest post with you from our friend, Nonna at Mommy’s Doll Club. She is all about dolls, and shares free doll clothing patterns, and crafts for your 18 inch dolls on her site. Please enjoy Nonna’s…
Aside from American Girl, there is one doll manufacturer that produces the lion’s share of 18 inch dolls. No, it’s not Battat and Our Generation; it’s a company called Lotus Onda based in Hong Kong (that’s China, where most of the world’s dolls are made). Their dolls have been sold under various brands in various locations (including Lillian Vernon catalogs and grocery stores). Here are some of the collections cataloged in Dollation:
Any favorites? You’ll see that both relative newcomers espari as well as veteran alternates to American Girl, Journey Girls are here as well as some non-US distributions including Canada’s Newberry line, England’s My London Girl and Germany’s Modern Girl line. Defunct brands are also represented by Laura Ashley and the Jewish heritage play line, gali girls. That’s one big family and it’s not finished yet.
What do we know about Lotus dolls? They’re all intended as direct competition for American Girl dolls. Pleasant Company first released dolls in 1986 based off of a German Götz doll design. It was a good design with high play and collectable value. The first dolls from Lotus were not as successful in competing with the quality of American Girl at this time.
Exact dates are not available for most of the doll lines produced by Lotus before 2000. Collectors weren’t aware of what the market was doing and the little girls receiving the dolls really didn’t care about what would become their history. The biggest competition American Girl had at this time were the Magic Attic Club dolls released in 1994 (although Madame Alexander was also multi-branding at this time with lines sold at Kmart, Toys R Us, Walmart and elsewhere). Magic Attic Club or MAC dolls dominated the market through nearly 2004 when price increases impacted consumer’s desire for other alternatives to American Girl. (By 2007 MAC was done).
Lotus’ Laura Ashley dolls were sold at Toys R Us alongside Madame Alexander’s Mia Bella dolls. Both lines originally sold for around $20 pricing all competition away. The quality was not the same as American Girl but no one expected it to be for $20. The Laura Ashley name provided credential and style to this new line marketed to young girls. They were soft-bodied dolls slightly slimmer than AG.
There were only four dolls in the lineup (one was darker skinned) as well as some furniture. The clothing was the stand out feature of these dolls as was the pretty face sculpt.
Another soft bodied Lotus doll line was the gali girls. Sharing the body type with Laura Ashley dolls, gali girls were marketed specifically towards Jewish girls and came with story books. Their major difference was the face mold.
Also defunct is the New York Doll Collection. At least ten dolls were offered in this line, all white with the same face sculpt. One even sported an early version of an outfit we have seen on Newberry dolls, My Sweet Lil Girl and Today’s Girl. This doll had a product code of 402451.
The gali girls were introduced in 2004, Laura Ashley in 2001 with the NYDC somewhere around there (they did not have a store front so it is difficult to accurately date their distribution/manufacture). In 2007, another version of the soft-bodied Lotus doll began appearing called My Sibling (My Pal came along in 2009). These dolls share the face molds with the previous soft-bodied Lotus dolls (that were not Laura Ashley). The My Sibling line introduced stories of dolls with disabilities that children encounter in one another. The stories are created by Loretta Boronat who touts the line as made in the USA except for the dolls (who she says cannot be made in the US. She is correct that most dolls are made in China regardless of manufacturer).
I don’t have a year of introduction for Today’s Girl dolls either but I know they were around when my kids got their first dolls around 2000. My London Girl was not introduced until 2011 but their original offerings as well as Today’s Girl were very much in line with the earlier Lotus dolls.
Today’s Girl, sold by Constructive Playthings, is the first to use the Asian facemold on their Leah doll.
My Sweet Lil Girl is the remaining traditional soft-bodied doll listed in Dollation. This brand appeared in 2015 at US Kmarts. The two dolls offered were nearly identical to Sears Canada’s Newberry dolls.
Does she remind you of? Many consumers felt she look like the Toys R Us exclusive brand, Journey Girls’ Meredith. In the US, TRU does not credit JG dolls to Lotus but they do or have on the Australian, Canadian and UK sites.
Released in 2010, Journey Girls were unique because they have a chest plate that is the same colored vinyl as the head and limbs. This feature is commonly found in Madame Alexander dolls. Remember those Madame Alexander Mia Bella dolls that were around when TRU was selling the Lotus Laura Ashley dolls? Journey Girls are likely a response to those sale points. Up until recently, I would have argued that these are the best quality Lotus dolls. They don’t come with books (like AG) but they have evolved to have tourist destinations per each release. This year, the Journey Girls went to NYC. The original line had four dolls (one is retired); there are now 8 in the lineup with a rotating addition of a holiday doll (since 2013).
In 2014, Barnes and Noble began selling a Lotus line called espari. Like the Journey Girls, espari dolls feature a vinyl chest plate.
The above photo shows two basic styles of Lotus bodies. The dolls with the chest plate are slimmer than the soft bodied dolls. They also stand alone much better and have more stable heads/necks. For this reason, they are superior for posing. As previously noted, Leah and Mirelle share the Lotus Asian face mold showing how variations in coloring make for completely new appearances. (Newberry’s Lily also shares this mold with a very light skin tone).
Two more lines appeared in 2015. The Modern Girl available only from Müller in Germany and the Just Like Me dolls from Justice in the US. The Modern Girl line appears to have the chest plate body type but none of them are shown without a top so this author cannot be sure. (My guess is based on how they stand). Just Like Me dolls appear to have a soft body. Both have face sculpts similar to the more recent Lotus dolls but unique to their brands.
The newest face sculpt from Lotus is the 2016 NYC Journey Girl Ilee. She also comes in a fair skinned, blonde version with ice blue eyes.
Lotus has made great strides in quality based on consumer demands. I think we will continue to see more exciting dolls from Lotus.
(Note: there are a few other rumored doll lines suspected of being Lotus. No unconfirmed lines have been included in this article).