|The Magic Attic Club ~ Overview and History|
The Magic Attic Club is a group of girls who live in the same neighborhood and who discover a trunk full of clothes and a marvelous mirror in a neighbor's attic. When they put on the clothes and look into the mirror they are taken on magical adventures. The experiences the friends share aren't just fun and exciting -- they help the girls learn about themselves and to work out issues they face as they grow up.
The Magic Attic Club dolls define the standard for 18" all-vinyl play dolls in much the same way that American Girl dolls define the standard for 18" soft-body play dolls. Where the American Girl (AG) theme is history, the Magic Attic Club (MAC) theme is fantasy.
1994 The Magic Begins
The Magic Attic Club line was the brainchild of Gretchen Springer and Jeff McKinnon of Georgetown Collection, a doll company based in Maine. Up until then, the company's products were primarily affordable porcelain dolls. They had experimented with doll-and-book combinations with their "American Diary Dolls", 16" porcelain dolls sculpted by Linda Mason and accompanied by short, historical fiction novels.
At the time of the MAC dolls' introduction, there was no American Girl of Today doll. "Our feeling is that Pleasant Company [manufacturer of American Girl] has really identified a whole new market and we are trying to fill a gap in that market," Springer is quoted as saying in a 1995 Doll Reader article.
Springer and McKinnon turned to the talented and well-known doll artist Robert Tonner to sculpt the dolls. Tonner, a former Fifth Avenue fashion designer, also created most of the costumes. "This has been a dream project. I've always loved play dolls," Tonner stated in the Doll Reader article. "I want to see these dolls in the arms of little girls, every little girl in the country. Now that would be rewarding." You can read more about Robert Tonner at the Robert Tonner Doll Company site.
In the fall of 1994, Georgetown distributed its first Magic Attic Club catalog to a small test market. It featured the first three dolls: Megan, Heather and Alison. The three dolls shared the same face sculpt and were dressed in starter outfits designed by Tonner. The dolls sold for $59 and came with a girl-size key necklace (with one tooth), though they didn't come with a storybook at this time. The catalog lists a book called "The Secret of the Mirror" by Elizabeth Kelly, but if any of these books were actually produced they are extremely rare. The other storybooks shown also have different covers, and sometimes different authors and titles than those that were eventually produced and distributed.
Each of the dolls had a bedroom collection with furniture and night clothes, a holiday outfit and three adventure collections. Each adventure included a story book, an outfit and extensive accessories significant to the story. For instance, Megan had a Princess adventure told in the book "Princess Megan", with a fancy gown, cape and hat, and accessories like a unicorn tapestry, a diary and a wooden spinning wheel. There was also attic furniture including a gold floor mirror, a steamer trunk and a wardrobe.
The order form included information about the Magic Attic Doll hospital where broken dolls could get mended. (For only $10 for any repair plus $5 shipping.)
The test marketing of the dolls was successful but there were several changes made to the dolls and their collections between the first and subsequent catalogs. Items with these variations are extremely rare and highly collectible. A significant change was to the dolls' eye sculpt. In the picture below, you can see the difference between a 1994 Heather on the right and a later Heather on the left. You can tell a 1994 doll with the smaller eyes by counting the lashes painted below: 1994 dolls have ten lashes and all other years have five.
As you can also see from this picture, Heather had an orange t-shirt in the first catalog. She also had orange socks and a more orange-tinge to her face paint (though her eye paint was more brown than later). Her t-shirt and socks were changed to pink in 1995. Pictures of variations in other items can be seen in the catalog scans on the main Magic Attic Club Collector's Guide page.
1995 Keisha Joins the Club
When Georgetown solicited writers for the project, they were enthusiastically answered by Sheri Cooper Sinykin, a writer who had already published several children's books. Sinykin wrote a new introductory book, "The Secret of the Attic" which included the character Keisha. She also helped them flesh out the concept and the personalities of the dolls. "I wrote the 'bible' that was used to help other writers learn about the characters and the premise so that they could contribute stories," Sinykin said in a phone interview. Sinykin went on to write many other books for the series over the years, mostly for Heather.
Keisha, shown in purple in the picture below, had a new African American face sculpt. She was introduced with her own bedroom collection, holiday dress and three adventure sets, just like the other girls in the club.
Here are the dolls in the starter outfits they had in the 1995 catalog. The colors of the outfits reflect the girls' "favorite colors" which are echoed throughout the other parts of the line, including clothes and furniture.
Megan, Keisha, Heather and Alison from 1995
(Note that Megan should have yellow socks that match her t-shirt)
The quality on these starter outfits is mediocre and they are considerably less impressive than those of the competitive (though pricier) AG dolls: many of the edges are not serged, there is velcro on the back to snag hair, and the material is not the finest quality. The American Girls became even more competition at this point as the American Girl of Today dolls were introduced. It turned out that Pleasant Company was quite capable in filling the gaps in the new 18" play doll market that it practically created by itself.
In 1995, the dolls were still $59 but now they came with "The Secret of the Attic" book along with the girl-size key necklace and plastic hair brush. The doll hospital fee went up from $10 to $15.
1996 New Starter Outfits
In 1996, the dolls got new starter outfits which were a distinct improvement in quality and detail over the old. At this time, the dolls also got accessory sets (available separately) to go with their starter outfits. The accessory sets had hats, backpacks, and other items appropriate to their character, like a soccer ball for Alison.
Megan, Heather, Alison and Keisha in their second starter outfits
The doll line got a new logo and the key necklace went from one tooth to three. New adventures were added so that each of the girls now had four adventure sets along with their holiday outfits, bedroom collections and the shared attic furniture collection.
1997 The Start of the Knickerbocker Era and Rose Joins the Club
In 1997, Georgetown sold out to the L.L. Knickerbocker Company, Inc. of California. Springer and McKinnon left the company soon after the purchase but the headquarters for the division remained in Maine and quality remained high. No real changes were apparent from outside the company.
A new doll, Rose, was added to the collection in 1997. Rose had a new face sculpt by Tonner and Sherri Cooper Sinykin penned a new introductory book, "Trapped Beyond the Magic Attic", which incorporated this new character. Rose's heritage was Native American, which was reflected in her adventure set with the book "Cheyenne Rose". Rose had two other adventure sets along with her holiday outfit and bedroom collection, while each of the other four dolls were up to five adventure sets each. New items for girls were introduced like a t-shirt, necklaces, MagiCloth dolls (like paper dolls) and a backpack with straps for carrying a doll.
Knickerbocker began selling the MAC collection through retailers as well as through it's own direct marketing. The dolls' price went up to $69 and the doll boxes changed to the purple that was used until 2001.
Doll boxes through the years: 1994 on the bottom, 1995-1996 in the middle, 1997-2001 on the top.
1998 Struggling but Still Trying
In 1998, Pleasant T. Rowland sold her Pleasant Company, maker of American Girl dolls, to Mattel for $700 million. Unfortunately, things were not as rosy over at Knickerbocker. "Knickerbocker had financial problems almost from the start," said author Sherri Cooper Sinykin in a phone interview. "The folks at Georgetown were wonderful to deal with and full of excitement and enthusiasm. Knickerbocker was not and even stopped paying my royalties."
Each of the girls got a new adventure set this year and for the first time there was also a group adventure, as told in the book "The Ghost of Camp Whispering Pines". Each girl got a new, casual camp outfit for this adventure and there were accessories like camp pajamas, cots and a volleyball net. Each of the girls' bedroom collections added a stuffed bear in their favorite color. 16" porcelain versions of Heather, Rose and Megan were briefly sold for $140 each.
A newsletter for girls called "The Mirror" was introduced in 1998. The newsletter had articles, contests and pictures of girls with their Magic Attic Club dolls. ("The Mirror" was discontinued after one year.) The doll hospital fee remained at $15 but the dolls started to be sent home in cute hospital attire.
Also this year, the Magic Attic Club website came on-line. Some retailers were concerned about the company competing with them in this way, especially when the company started giving 10% off on all on-line orders.
1999 Chapter 11
Knickerbocker continued to have financial woes, culminating in filing for Chapter 11 in 1999. At this time the whole operation was moved from Maine to Knickerbocker headquarters in California. There was a noticeable change in the quality of the catalogs which got smaller pictures and flashier colors. The doll hospital fee went up to $20.
Only one new adventure was introduced this year (for Megan), though a new holiday outfit was released (for no doll in particular). Holiday items included a new 12" teddy bear for girls, a cookie making set and some pop-up Christmas books.
There were no new adventure sets released in 2000. In fact, several of them were discontinued. Instead, the emphasis shifted to fashions (for any doll) with new lines of holiday dresses, spring fashions and fall outfits being released. The bedroom collections were discontinued (except for the nightgowns) and a new PJ, robe and slumber bag set was created.
A major new thing this year was Baby Magic Attic Club, a 14" soft-body vinyl baby doll available as Hispanic, Caucasian and African American. The doll came in a romper and also had a Christening outfit. Accessories for the baby included a white wicker basket, a diaper bag, a baby carrier and a feeding set. The baby dolls didn't last long and were only in the 2000 winter and holiday catalogs.
2001 Chloe, We Hardly Knew You
In the summer of 2001, a new group adventure was released with a new book, "The Jewel of the Sea Cruise". The girls each got summer party dresses and accessories for the cruise adventure included a deck chair, matching table, birthday party accessories and a ship's rescue ring.
In winter 2001, new casual winter fashions were released. Then, for the 2001 Holiday Catalog, a new doll named Chloe was debuted along with new starter outfits and accessories for all the girls. Keisha got a new hair-style with lots and lots of little braids.
Chloe, Megan, Rose, Heather, Alison and Keisha from Holiday 2001
Rumors had been flying that the new doll was going to be Asian after sculptor Robert Tonner let it slip to fans at various events that he had been working on an Asian sculpt for Knickerbocker. Many fans were disappointed when Chloe turned out to be another blue-eyed blonde. She shares Rose's face sculpt (as you can tell looking closely at the picture below).
Chloe and Rose Face Comparison
There was no new introductory book so Chloe's character was never fleshed out. She was also a departure from the each-girl-has-a-favorite-color theme since she shares pink with Heather. Her only doll-specific items were her accessories.
More rumors flew that Knickerbocker had tried to sell the Magic Attic Club to Robert Tonner but that he wasn't interested and that the company was going to abandon the doll line. Knickerbocker began a big sell-off, including package sets for retailers of items from different girl's collections at drastically discounted prices. Weekly deals came from the company for package sets at up to 80% off available directly to consumers. The company was obviously trying to raise cash and many people expected to hear any day that the company was folding.
Then, in October 2001, Knickerbocker's assets were purchased by Brian Blosil, husband of actress Marie Osmond. Knickerbocker had been producing the Marie Osmond Collection of fine porcelain dolls for many years. Marie and Brian combined their names to come up with the new company's name Marian, LLC, pronounced to rhyme with Brian.
2002 Ho Hum
In 2002, nothing emerged from the company except rumors. According to a press release, "Marketing of the Brand was suspended during 2002 pending a complete upgrade of the product line."
2003 The New Line Debuts
Finally, at Toy Fair in January, 2003, the new Magic Attic (no longer Magic Attic Club) doll line was unveiled.
Alison, Rosa, Megan, Keisha and Heather in their new 2003 starter outfits
Much had been changed:
Megan got a new face sculpt, as shown here.
The dolls got a new body sculpt including bellybuttons and slightly changed hands (ostensibly to make them easier to dress).
The dolls' hair was changed from wigged kanekalon to rooted saran.
Chloe was retired (the rumor being because her teenager looks didn't appeal to Marie Osmond).
Rose's name has been changed to Rosa and her heritage was changed from Native American to hispanic.
All of the dolls got new starter outfits and accessories.
New outfits were introduced, but they dropped the association of outfits and accessories with adventure books. A canopy bed and magic mirror was released. Several accessory sets were sold, such as a hair play pack
A new introductory adventure book was written for the girls, authored by Marcia Wilke with input from Marie Osmond.
Marian dropped direct marketing through catalogs and only sold through retailers.
The brand got a new logo (and the key necklace went from three teeth to two).
The price of the dolls was increased to $74.
Reaction to the revamped doll line was mixed and most people did not consider this an "upgrade". The dolls' new hair was universally panned since it tangled very easily and could not stand up to any hair play by girls. It was also noted that the quality of the parts used for the dolls was lower, making them break much easier. Despite winning the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval and other awards (including, ironically, a Doll of the Year award for discontinued Chloe), things were not going according to plan.
2004 Charisma Gives it a Go and Fails
In February, 2004, Marian LLC was bought by Charisma Brands of Rhode Island. Charisma made some changes, such as reducing the price of the dolls to $59, going back to wigged hair rather than rooted and introducing some new outfits and accessories, but little attention was given to the doll line. Finally, in December 2004, it was announced that production of the doll line would cease. They still produce other doll lines (including Marie Osmand's), but it seems unlikely that Magic Attic dolls will ever be produced again.
2007 The Magic Attic Doll Hospital is Closed
In late 2007, the Magic Attic Doll Hospital ceased operation and no longer repairs the dolls.
This page was last updated 11/09/07