Blythe is a doll with a strong, central gimmick — those crazy, four-color eyes inside of that big head. But there is more diversity, and more confusion, within this hobby that it might initially appear.
Kenner Blythe are easy to recognize — they’re the beat up vintage ones with invariably fierce Ebay bidding wars. Takara Blythe is the same as Neo-Blythe, mostly. They are the majority of the boxed, new dolls with difference themes from 2001’s Parco to whatever is the most recent release being touted at Junie Moon or CC-Toys.
Ashton Drake Galleries (“ADG”) Blythes are also pretty easy to identify — they were made, box, stand, and all — to resemble the Kenner releases. They were released between 2007 and 2009, so they are obviously going to be in better shape than the 1972 Kenners. They also tend to have different skin tone — sometimes it look looks rather green.
Ah, but what of those dolls invariably listed as “nude factory doll”? The story that is repeated everywhere — including, oddly enough, descriptions in many Ebay listings — is that once upon a time, someone took home (er, stole?) rejected parts from Blythe dolls at the factory, put them together, and sold them. These Frankendolls seem to have exactly existed once, but no longer. Now factory dolls are just a polite, ebay-friendly way of saying bootleg. Results may vary on whether you feel comfortable with those. When parsing the web, it seems like more people were less comfortable with the factory dolls eight-10 years ago. Whether Takara’s reported downgrade in quality convinced some of the uncomfortable Blythe fans, or they just realized that factory dolls were a great base upon which to practice customization skills.
For anyone entering the Blythe hobby for the first time, some of the commonly used terms can be confusing. Perhaps none more so than “factory Blythe.” “Factory Blythe” or Taobao Blythe (TBL — Taobao is a Chinese website, though you will see “TBL” around on Ebay and Etsy). Fake or Fakie dolls are a little more self-explanatory, but in most cases, these terms are interchangeable. The meaning for each one is bootleg. Unofficial.
Unfortunately for copyright protection, there can be a lot to like about factory dolls. Though Takara branches out into bright hair colors every few releases, you will find hundreds more factory dolls with hair that the company never dreamed of. They also invariably have more hair than official releases — sometimes too much to handle!
I have seen it argued that the existence of factory dolls encouraged Takara to release brighter, wilder-haired official releases such as my Mandy Cotton Candy above. It does feel like, laws not withstanding, the Blythe collector benefits in a world of official and unofficial releases.
When it comes to customizers, trustworthy artists will tell you whether the doll they used for a base was unofficial or not. Nearly every time, a customized Takara will be $100-300 more than a fakie (thought not alway). Sometimes if a doll is being sold by someone who did not customize her, they might say that they genuinely do not know the base doll. This is a feasible explanation, and whether it will bug you not to know is something you will have to decide.
Check over here for more details about official Takara releases and officially released not-quite-Blythes.