Why Dawn Dolls Were So Popular During the 1970s

These Dolls Gave Barbie Fierce Competition

A example of a Dawn Doll
RomitaGirl67 / Flickr / Creative Commons

If you grew up during the 1970s, there's a good chance that you played with Dawn dolls or knew someone who did. With this review of the toys, review what made these dolls so unique and why collectors seek them out today.

History of the Dawn Doll 

Topper Toys introduced Dawn dolls in 1970. The first dolls released were Dawn (blonde doll and the namesake to the line) and her friends Angie (black hair) Gloria (red hair) and Dale (black hair and African American). All the dolls were just over 6 inches tall. The initial line included 44 lovely outfits packaged the same way that Barbie outfits had been packaged in the 1960s--sewn to a card so that each piece of the outfit could be seen at once. 

In addition to outfits, playsets produced included Dawn cars, fashion stages, sofa-and-phone sets, apartment furniture and beauty parlors. Outfits included long, luxurious gowns and short, sassy mini dresses.

Other Versions of the Doll

The second wave of Dawn dolls included three male dolls (Gary, Ron, and Van) plus Jessica (short blonde hair) and Longlocks (very long brown hair). "Dancing" dolls were also released--this version of the dolls allowed you to move the arm and have the head and waist "twist" so the dolls appeared to dance. The "Dance Party" gift set included Kevin and Fancy Feet, two characters not sold separately.  

Another version of the dolls were the "Head to Toe" dolls which came with short hair and three wigs. Dawn, Angie, and Longlocks were available as "Head to Toe" dolls. These dolls were likely inspired by the Crissy line of dolls with hair that "grew" from the tops of their heads. 

A slightly odd version of the dolls is the "Flower Fantasy" dolls. These dolls included the dolls standing in the middle of a plastic flower pot. They weren't produced in great numbers, so mint-in-box Flower Fantasy dolls are highly sought-after by collectors today. 

Finally, the last release of the dolls were the "Model Agency" and "Majorette" lines in 1972. The Model Agency line included Dinah, Denise, Melanie, Daphne, and Maureen. The Majorette line introduced Connie, April, and Kip. The Majorette dolls could spin a small baton that glowed in the dark. 

Why Was Dawn So Popular?

The dolls quickly caught on with little girls. They were advertised on television very effectively, much like Barbie was in the 1960s. And the dolls were easy for retailers to display. This made Dawn available even in stores with little room for toys.

The relatively inexpensive price of the dolls and outfits made them attractive to mothers. Plus, at this time, Barbie was floundering--suffering from an identity crisis as well as corporate profitability woes. The quality of Barbie went down and so did her popularity, giving smart, small (and cheap!) little Dawn a foothold in the minds of doll-loving girls.

Once Dawn and friends had that foothold, it was easy to maintain. The tiny size of the dolls was charming--the shoes were not even a half-inch long. Little girls could fit several dolls, an entire wardrobe and accessories in a case less than a foot long and two inches deep!

Finally, if you were just starting to play with dolls in the early 1970s, Barbie was, well, the doll your older sister played with. The "cool" dolls in the early 1970s were definitely Dawn and friends (on the small side) and Crissy and friends, the dolls with the growing hair (on the large side).

Why Was Dawn's Popularity Short-Lived?

Dawn was doomed by two factors: the instability of Topper Toys, which went bankrupt in 1973, and Topper's inability to "innovate" such a small doll. It was hard to change Dawn or its fashions enough to keep girls interested. The tiny fashions, after three years on the market, started to look suspiciously alike, with only changes in fabric and not enough changes in basic styling. Also, once different hair colors and "gimmick" versions of the dolls had been made, Topper seemed to run out of ideas to keep the dolls new and fresh (unlike Barbie, who regained her footing in the 1980s and has been endlessly re-invented ever since).

Collecting Vintage Dawn and Reproductions

Today, a vintage Dawn collection can be put together easily and inexpensively. They can be purchased online for as little as $10 to a few hundred dollars, depending on their condition. Dawn items are common at garage sales, where they can be purchased for only a few dollars. The dolls are cheap not because they are undesirable to collectors (many '70s collectors covet Dawn and her world) but because the dolls and outfits were produced in huge quantities. Some doll historians believe that more Dawn dolls were produced than Barbie dolls during the early 1970s.

Checkerboard Toys reissued the dolls in 2000, and Toy O Rama did in 2004. Both manufacturers shut off production soon afterward, however.