This article first appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of The Toy Book.
Doll collecting may be as old as the industry itself, but the newest generation of collectors is armed with video cameras, vlogs, and thousands of YouTube subscribers. They call themselves doll hunters.
Doll hunting is a reinvented, pumped-up version of collecting all of the dolls from a specific doll line, or a variety of dolls from different lines and sharing the action on social media. Doll hunters are known for their vast collection of dolls, but the collecting itself is more intense when you have tons of doll enthusiasts waiting to see your next score. This is especially true if you have the privilege of being dubbed The Doll Hunters, who are also known as Mommy and Gracie, (and sometimes Daddy).
Meet The Doll Hunters
Melissa Hunter and her daughter Gracie started the Mommy and Gracie Show on YouTube in June of 2012, never expecting that only three years later their channel would garner more than 500,000 subscribers, and that their first “Doll Hunters” episode would hit 1.5 million views.
While doll hunting has become a huge trend among bloggers and vloggers, Mommy and Gracie are the original Doll Hunters, a name that has defined them for years.
“Somewhere in that first month when we started making videos, Gracie came up with the idea that we should take our camera phone with us when we go hunting for dolls,” says Hunter. “We called ourselves ‘The Doll Hunters’ right away.”
Imitation Is the Highest Form of Flattery
When the Mommy and Gracie Show first launched, the goal was simple: for the mother-daughter duo to have fun together while filming video reviews of the dolls they already loved and collected. While other channels had posted toy review videos on YouTube, they became the first to film themselves going store-to-store in search of dolls.
“Over the course of the next year or so, it became a trend that caught on on YouTube, which we were not upset about—we were actually really excited,” says Hunter. “All of the [videos] were fun for us to do and were never done with any calculated intention.”
As doll hunting gained popularity and other channels started making their own versions, vloggers began to refer to their own hunts as toy hunting. “Everybody else called it toy hunting, which is very nice that they respect that The Doll Hunters are people,” says Hunter.
Mommy and Gracie began frequenting Toys “R” Us, Target, and Wal-Mart locations all over their home state of New Jersey in search of Mattel‘s Monster High dolls. But in their videos, they also began collecting My Little Pony Equestria Girls from Hasbro; American Girl, Ever After High, and Barbie dolls from Mattel; and more.
While Melissa and Gracie Hunter love Monster High dolls, they are not biased to one brand, and neither are many other doll hunters. Jason Robert Keef, aka The Dude with Dolls, who runs his channel, Jay Squared, also posts videos of toy and doll reviews and toy hunts. Keef can be found searching for Cabbage Patch Kids, Disney’s Descendants dolls, Lalaloopsy, Barbie, Disney Frozen, and various doll play sets.
With these videos, doll and toy hunters are giving manufacturers an extensive amount of free publicity, as well as providing feedback about what they really like from certain lines and what they would like to see more of.
“Fans are very vocal about wanting new dolls based on fan-favorite characters or featuring certain characteristics,” says Samantha Lomow, senior vice president, Hasbro Brands. “We frequently receive inquiries from consumers and fans looking for specific characters or dolls that we used to carry so they can add them to their collections.”
Rare and Exclusive Dolls
“When a particular doll style or character is no longer being produced, then it might become labeled as rare,” says Lomow. “An exclusive doll is one that is produced in limited quantities for a particular occasion.”
When it comes to getting and keeping specific dolls in stock, Toys “R” Us says it is thankful for the increased speed of information so that it can see the types of dolls that its customers are most excited about. And, as a mass retailer, the company is able to work with manufacturers to bring in merchandise to satisfy customer demand.
While doll hunting is a trial and error experience, Hunter explains that doll hunting does get hard when there are long periods of time when they cannot find anything. “We’re still having a good time because for us it’s just about going out and being goofy and doing it, but sometimes I worry that people are bored,” says Hunter. “We get more views on videos where we find stuff.”
Hunting and Failing
Making it on YouTube is no easy feat, but enthusiasm and humor definitely help. Melissa Hunter believes the reason fans enjoy watching doll hunt videos so much is because, “it feels like [the fans are] going shopping with Gracie,” she says. “They feel like they’re going with us and that they’re sharing this experience of hunting and failing. We don’t just post when we find stuff; we post when we don’t, too. And recently, we were in such a dry spell. It was so depressing.”
The Doll Hunters once wanted to find a doll so badly that they got into their car and drove up to Canada in search of 13 Wishes dolls from the Monster High line, because they couldn’t find them in New Jersey. “We drove to Canada for dolls,” says Hunter. “We scored the doll and had the best waffle we ever had in our lives.”
Future Doll Hunters
“Super fans of particular brands have been around almost as long as the brands themselves,” says Lomow. “We’re glad to see that our most enthusiastic collectors are being recognized for their dedication in the space.”
Only time will tell whether toy and doll hunters will still be posting their videos on YouTube in the coming years, but as Hunter says, “the content is interesting to children, and I don’t think that will be going away.”