Have you heard? Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls are back thanks to two sisters from the foothills of Northern California. Claudette Buehler and Delene Budd bought the company after seeing it listed on EBay.
Most collectors know the history of these precious dolls. In 1936, Nancy Ann Abbott started costuming bisque baby dolls imported from Japan. She worked from her San Francisco apartment and sold the dressed dolls in her book lending shop. There she met her future business partner Allen “Les” Rowland.
In February 1937, Nancy Ann and Les formed Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls, with Nancy Ann handling production and Les managing finances and promotion. In 1945, the company name changed to Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls because so many of the dolls were titled after nursery rhymes and storybook characters.
By 1942, the company was grossing $1 million a year, and by the 1950s, the company was producing 12,000 dolls a day. If you were a little girl growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, you probably owned a Nancy Ann Storybook Doll.
Nancy Ann Abbott, also known as the “doll lady,” battled cancer before passing away in 1964. And with Les’ health failing, the company lacked leadership driving it into bankruptcy in 1965. The company was later bought by Mr. Albert Bourla and varieties of dolls were produced by the company over the next several decades.
Both, Claudette and Delene are collectors of the early Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls and enjoy the challenge of finding that one special doll. One of there favorite sources for locating dolls is EBay. It was during a doll search that Claudette found the company listing on EBay. She immediately called her sister.
“I went online looking for a doll and found the company! I quickly called Delene,” Claudette said. “Her first words were, ‘it’s not a doll, it’s a company!’ “I told her to read the listing and I would call her back. I immediately called on the listing and left every phone number connected to me. By the time Delene called me back, I had the ball rolling. Delene is the more conservative one while I love a challenge, and between the two of us, I thought it would be a perfect venture. I told her I wouldn’t do it without her.”
The two sisters bought the company in June 2003 from Mr. Bourla. “When we met with Mr. Bourla we felt as if we were being interviewed,” Claudette explains. “While he shared with us his years of owning the company, he was very much interested in our intent. We told him that we had a ‘passion’ for the original dolls and loved the history behind the company. Mr. Bourla sold the company to us because of our ‘passion.’ He wanted someone who would take care for the company and the dolls for years to come.”
Deciding on the company’s comeback was discussed for months before taking any initial steps. “The storybook dolls changed a lot over the years,” Claudette continues. Nancy Ann initially bought generic bisque baby dolls from Japan, dressed them, and as the company grew Nancy Ann started producing her own dolls. Over the years, the dolls changed from bisque jointed dolls to dolls with frozen legs and then to jointed dolls made of plastic. Dolls produced during the Bourla era also varied from the original line.”
“Because so many people enjoy collecting the original dolls, we wanted to preserve that part of the company, so we decided to produce a ‘New’ Nancy Ann Storybook Doll with traits from the original dolls, but with more updated features for today’s collectors,” adds Delene. “Our toughest critics are people like ourselves, the fans of the traditional Nancy Ann’s. And they should be. The Nancy Ann fans are the ones who have maintained the high level of interest in these dolls, and we knew how important it would be to have our work approved by them. Therefore, we have worked hard to produce a detailed and jointed doll with a real mohair wig. We wanted to maintain her youthful look, like that of a 5-year-old, and her pudgy tummy, like the doll once had.”
After many months of searching, they asked renowned doll artist, Dianna Effner, to design a new sculpt in the tradition of Nancy Ann, and they asked doll costumer Londie Phillips, to design the costumes. “Both Dianna and Londie are talented artists and enthusiastic supporters of what we are doing,” says Claudette. “Delene and I spent hours and hours searching doll sculpts and the artists behind them before deciding on Dianna. We love her work. She has such a wonderful way of capturing a specific look and that was exactly what we needed to master a ‘New’ generation of Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls.” “And Londie is every bit as excited about this venture as we are,” adds Delene. “She lives here in California, so we get together often to work on designs, which is great fun. Londie is amazing with her sense of style, color and knowledge of materials. And she has brought back wonderful little things from the past, like the pantaloons and hair accessories for all dolls.”
Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls present their first new editions, ‘Commemorative Doll’ #1, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ #2, ‘Little Bo Beep’ #3 and ‘Forget-Me-Knot’ #4. Upcoming designs include ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘I Saw a Ship A-Sailing,’ ‘Sugarplum Fairy,’ ‘Roses are Red, Violets are Blue,’ and more. All designs are limited editions.
The ‘New’ Nancy Ann Storybook Doll is made of fine porcelain and fully jointed (her head can be posed to resemble the downward position of many of the original dolls). She has painted features, is 6 ¼ inches tall and has a mohair wig styled in her original set. All costumes are created from the finest fabrics and trims. “In order to maintain the highest level of quality, we hand select all of our fabrics and trims and provide them to the manufacturer for production,” explains Claudette.
In addition to the ‘New’ Nancy Ann Storybook Dolls, the company is also producing single and five shelf doll cabinets that will soon be available. “We are constantly thinking of the future of the company,” says Delene. “One of our future plans is to re-introduce another company favorite, Muffie. And we would like to do a series of play dolls too.” “We feel very fortunate to own this special company,” adds Claudette. “We have a huge admiration for what Nancy Ann Abbott began so many years ago and it is our goal to move this company forward in the years to come--producing dolls to be enjoyed by Nancy Ann fans of all ages”
The Tradition Continues….
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