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Troll Dolls: From Wood Carvings To Bestselling Toys

Fads | November 21, 2021

Christmas trolls. Source: (damworld.dk).

Although most people tend to think of troll dolls as the rather colorful, somewhat creepy dolls which emerged in the 1960s, they are connected to Scandinavia mythology. The designer of the dolls, Thomas Dam, drew on the nature of the mythological beings, while exaggerating the features of the dolls so that they weren’t scary, but rather, some would say, adorable. 

He started carving figurines. Source: (Goodluck Troll).

From A Baker To A Sculptor

After World War II, Thomas Dam lost his livelihood. He had been a baker in Gjøl, Denmark, until the local flour factory closed, which left him looking for a new livelihood. To make ends meet, he shoveled snow, and while he wasn’t working, in the early morning or late at night, he sat by the fire and pondered a plan. To help him think, he carved pieces of wood. These carvings were often of funny creatures which he created to amuse his children. His wife convinced him to sell the figurines, so he took as many as he could carry to Aalborg, the nearest city. He planned to sell them door to door. His sales were successful, as he managed to sell them all.

Thomas Dam with his creations, a goodluck troll and a goodluck animal. Source: (Pinterest/Goodluck Troll)

Getting Noticed In A Christmas Display

From these humble beginnings, Dam became a working sculptor and started to find larger commissions, not only in Denmark, but beyond its borders. In 1956, he created a sculpture of Santa Claus for a department store, but once he finished, he noted that it wasn’t visible from the street, leading him to create a window display to accompany it. In the display, he sculpted Christmas elves, which were similar to the troll dolls he eventually created. However, these trolls were more like bobbleheads. He had dismantled a mattress, hiding the springs in the trolls’ bodies. The trolls were attached to a piece of wood that was lifted and dropped by a mechanism, causing the springs in each troll to bounce. 

The Goodluck animals. Source: (Pinterest).

The Expansion Begins

After the Christmas display, the demand for sales increased, but Dam struggled to keep up with the requests. Because they were handmade and had expensive springs, they were costly to produce, so Dam switched to creating rubber which was molded in reusable casts. He created a new company, Dam Things, changed the bodies to rubber stuffed with wood shavings, and opened a factory in Gjøl in 1959. In 1961, he started using a production process called rotational molding, which was more efficient, and began creating the trolls from PVC. The trolls were marketed as good luck trolls, and he expanded the line to include good luck animals.

The prehistoric troll home. Source: (Pinterest).

Troll Accessories And A White House Appearance

The trolls began to sell around the world, and more factories opened up globally. The prices for the dolls ranged from 65 cents to $5.95, but, of course, there were more expensive add-ons. These included clothes, accessories, a village playset, and a “prehistoric model home furnished in true Troll décor.” Trolls even made it into the White House, as Lady Bird Johnson reportedly had one. A troll named Dammit accompanied Betty Miller on her solo trans-Pacific flight. The skyrocketing sales actually drove Dam Things to buy Iceland’s entire sheepskin harvest to create the trolls’ hair, which was dyed and glued on top of the trolls’ heads. Eventually, they shifted to synthetic hair. 

Source: (Pinterest).

Copycat Trolls

During the height of the trolls’ popularity, Americans as a whole spent more than $100,00 per month on the figures. Dam Things had only licensed one company to sell the official Dam trolls, and unfortunately, competitors exploited the U.S. copyright law and started to produce similar dolls. The 1970s brought a decline in enthusiasm for the trolls, and sales started to decline. However, nostalgia brought them back; in 1983, Steven and Eva Stark debuted the Norfin line of trolls at the New York Toy Fair. The Norfin trolls were officially licensed Dam trolls and had a range of facial expressions. 

Trolls movie (2016).

Movie Stars

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, as the popularity of the trolls began to climb once again, the copyright issue was still not resolved, and competitors, including Russ Berrie, began to create copycats; incidentally, much of Russ Berrie’s success as a company stemmed from the sale of troll dolls. In 1994, the Uruguay Round Amendment Act brought an end to copyright infringement, and two years later, Dam Things had restored its copyright privileges. In 1995, the troll doll had its first film appearance in Toy Story. Then, in 2013, troll enthusiasm rose once again, after DreamWorks acquired the licensing rights to create the film Trolls

Tags: Thomas Dam | Troll dolls

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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.