Twilight’s Edward Cullen, Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow, and DC Comics’ Wonder Woman: Favorite TV Characters Become Tonner Dolls, Kingston, NY
As it enters its third decade, Kingston’s Tonner Dolls continues to design high-end collectible dolls and action figures
American dream: Fashion-designer-turned-dollmaker Robert Tonner creates pint-sized collectible dolls, such as this Captain America figure, in Kingston
Photographs courtesy Tonner Doll Company, Inc. Photography by Storm Photo, Inc., Kingston, NY. ©Tonner Doll Company, Inc. All rights reserved
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Robert Tonner was a highly successful designer of women’s fashions when he left that industry in 1991 to found Kingston-based Tonner Doll Company, where he designs collectible dolls and pop-culture action figures.
“This is like fashion design except we also design the person,” Tonner says. So does that make the job harder or simpler? “It’s easier when it comes to fitting,” he jokes. “Dolls don’t complain.”
During the past 20 years, Tonner and company have designed a stylish army of hundreds of porcelain/vinyl dolls: everything from vintage-era Betsy McCall, Goldilocks, and the Wizard of Oz gang to Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and Dr. Who. The limited-production figures typically range from $50 to $200. Yes, these are designed for collectors, not toddlers.
A stunning version of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman
The company’s latest coup is landing the rights to design and market figures based on classic Marvel comic characters, such as the X-Men’s Jean Grey and Storm, and the recently released World War II-era Captain America (who made his movie debut this summer). Tonner is highly regarded for its quarter-scale figures with movable joints, hand-painted facial features, and rooted hair. The company is the Hulk of the realistic action-figure world; each year it holds a massive doll-centric convention with workshops, panels, celebrities and the unveiling of new figures. Tonner expanded its legacy in 2002 with the purchase of Effanbee Doll Company, one of America’s oldest doll makers.
Tonner sculpts his dolls’ faces and makes use of the same fine fabrics and feathers used in high-fashion wear. But even after two decades of designing dolls — two of which have been chosen for the Museum of Decorative Arts collection at the Louvre — he says the hardest thing is simply deciding which figures to make. “We work with the best studios out there, and they have a lot of properties, so the hardest thing is trying to figure what works for us and what works in a collectible character or doll figure.”
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