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Cabbage Patch Kids: A Dark Tale Of A Doll

Fads | November 29, 2021

Source: (Tumblr).

In 1978, the Little People were registered as collectibles with the United States Copyright office as the “The Little People”. These soft-bodied dolls were originally sold by Xavier Roberts. Roberts had discovered Martha Nelson Thomas’s Doll Babies when he was a 21-year-old art student. Nelson made each of her dolls by hand as she did not want them to be mass produced. 

Some of the originals. Source: (historybyday/Yahoo).

When Roberts "Discovered" The Dolls

Thomas’s dolls, which she hand-stitched, creating every doll with a unique expression, came with birth certificates and adoption papers, as well as a personal note, tucked in the doll’s clothing to share information about the doll’s personality. She sold the Doll Babies at local arts and craft shows and markets, although she claimed that the purchasers were adopting the dolls. In 1976, Roberts first saw the dolls at a state fair. He first bought her dolls to resell for a profit at his own store, and when Thomas confronted him about it and refused to sell any additional dolls to him, he changed tactics. 

They each came with adoption papers. Source: (Yello80s.com).

Mass Production

Roberts took the idea and modified the look of the dolls, as well as the birth certificates and adoption papers so that he could get the copyright. He told customers that the dolls were not for sale; instead, they could adopt them. As part of his marketing scheme, he gave each doll a unique name. Once the “parents” adopted the doll and filled out the required paperwork, an official adoption certificate was sent. He looked to a manufacturing company in Hong Kong to mass-produce the dolls. Thomas sued him, eventually settling out of court in 1985. She was more upset about what he did than the money she lost from sales. 

Babyland General. Source: (onlyinyourstate).

The Hospital Where They Were "Born"

At first, the Little People were sold at arts and crafts shows, and then at Babyland General Hospital. The “hospital” was actually an old medical clinic in Cleveland, Georgia, converted into a toy store/souvenir shop and “doll hospital.” The employees dressed as doctors and nurses and took care of the dolls as if they were real babies. Adoption prices for the original dolls ranged from sixty to a thousand dollars. Roberts was also careful about making sure that each doll had his signature stamped into the material to dissuade copycats.

BunnnyBees became part of the legend. Source: (Reddit).

Giving The Cabbage Patch Kids A Backstory

Robert Schlaifer, a designer and licensing agent, approached Roberts to inquire about licensing Little People in 1981 but had two problems with the name: it was boring, and Fischer Price already owned it for toys. Hence, he invented “Cabbage Patch Kids,” and along with his wife, wrote the Legend of the Cabbage Patch Kids. According to the legend, BunnyBees flew around using their bunny ears and pollinating the cabbages using magical crystals. At Roberts’ insistence on being a character in the legend, he was a ten-year-old boy who discovered the Cabbage Patch and then saved them by finding them homes. 

Source: (viralmemories).

The Doll Led To A Craze

When Coleco took over the production of the doll in 1982, they changed the doll’s design, giving it a soft body and a plastic head. They also gave it cuter features and changed the proportions so that dolls were closer to a toddler’s proportions (Roberts’ originals had been obese). The dolls were significantly less expensive than Roberts’ originals, ranging from $18-$28, and sales of the dolls skyrocketed. The demand for the dolls was so high that Coleco canceled their advertising. They broke records, selling 3.2 million dolls, and riots in stores broke out in 1983. One store manager had to defend himself using a baseball bat. People were so crazed for the dolls that resellers sprang up. People could buy a doll at the retail price and then double their money reselling it. 

Other merchandise. Source: (Pinterest).

The Company Fell But The Dolls Remained

By 1984, they had released a line of Cabbage Patch branded items, including clothing and bedding. That year, they had record sales of 2 trillion dollars. Sales climbed until 1986; Coleco over-shipped and ran into legal trouble with Schlaifer and Roberts when he introduced “Furskins Bears.” Coleco started to make questionable acquisitions, and, by 1988, had gone out of business. Since then, the license has transferred to several different companies, starting with Hasbro. In 2010, Babyland General changed locations. Although sales are significantly less than they were in the late 1980s, the dolls are still being produced, and you can purchase dolls with vinyl heads, or, if you have a bit more money to spend, you can invest in a doll with a hand-stitched face, akin to Thomas’s original dolls.

Tags: adopt a doll | Cabbage Patch dolls | doll hospital | Xavier Roberts

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.