Doll Junk by Carmen Varriccho

Carmen Varricchio has created a great collection of ‘off brand’ 1970s and 1980s doll ‘treasures’. The book covers several doll sizes – from the Sunshine Family to Barbie to Crissy knockoffs – and the outfits made for them. Really, this is more about the outfits than the dolls and collecting them in their original packaging glory. If the book stumbles a bit, it’s that the collection isn’t organized well, the graphic design simple and often cluttered, nor are we given much on the history/provenance/details of the various items. It translates to great eye candy (and there are some really great doll clothes in there!) but perhaps missing some depth.

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The book breaks down as follows: short introduction (would have liked more!), smaller size dolls, Barbie-sized, and then larger sized.

The book is nearly fully composed of images (and there are many, yay!) – almost all being clothing in original packaging (and occasionally some of the dolls). Since nearly all ‘junk’ clothes are intended as cheap knockoffs, quite a few of the collections shown are international items – mostly European. There are a few US-based lines, mostly created for mail order catalogs by chains such as Montgomery Wards or JC Penneys. But the details on the items (original prices, current prices, scarcity, background, history, success of the line, etc.) was missing – occasionally there would be a comment or detail but not enough. Other great items, such as doll playsets of the same junk type, would have been another welcome addition (e.g., the 1970s Sears Airline Reservation play set for Barbie-sized dolls).

As well, I would have liked to learn more about how the author got into collecting these – what he found most difficult, what he loved the most, his own doll collecting history, even his image. The book really would have benefited from more time put into organization, display, and especially detail/history.

When looking at the fashions, one would think they’d be so cheap as to be bland and uninteresting – but there was so much diversity that even a non-doll-collecting historical fashion enthusiast would delight. From the fabrics to the ensembles, many of the clothes looked straight from fashion plates of the eras – items not worn in real life but great fun because of it! 1970s layered dresses in bright floral patterns to 1980s Jem and the Rockers type outfits taken to the 9th degree. There really is a lot to love here.

After seeing package of package, I began to realize something about the book. I think for a collector, being able to get NIB or MIP (New In Box or Mint in Package)are the holy grails and pride. But for those viewing the collection like myself, I kept wishing to see the clothes ON the dolls. Or dolls out of the restrictive package to see how they were actually played with or displayed. It made for a somewhat sterile presentation and it was difficult to imagine the clothes put together and on the doll (sort of like seeing a page of an exploded diagram of a machine and then trying to figure out what it looked liked in real life). There are so many great doll photographers out there and I would have loved to see a collaboration where the author took the clothes he had out of boxes/packages and put them on dioramas or sets. I never got a feel for the clothes or the dolls because of the packaged restriction.

So, although it was a great collection and the photographs were excellent, the lack of more detail (there is some but not enough), the haphazard organization (e.g., the barbie-sized section would jump back and forth between continents, years, etc. and it got confusing), and the lack of opened dolls/displays was a disappointment. I wanted more than just a loose cataloging of Varricchio’s collection. All the same, it’s well worth the time for vintage doll collectors just to drool over the great 1970s and 1980s fashions. I would love to see a next edition that makes the most of the fun playfulness of the eras (displays, dioramas, playsets,) as well as more information, better organization, and much more definition. Reviewed from an advance readers copy provided by the publisher.

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