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Collecting Cabbage Patch Kids

What child of the eighties didn’t covet a Cabbage Patch Kid? I had one—a boy named Sheldon Percy, with brown, curly hair, and a green football jersey. My sister was blessed with two: a girl and a preemie. And now, 30 years later, she can’t remember either of her Cabbage Patch Kids’ names.

Who was the better parent, I ask you?

The Kids are gone now. I assume they’re all living happy, healthy lives. But do they call to check in? No. Of course not. Not even on Christmas. Not even to say hello. Where did we go wrong?

Cabbage Patch Parenting is hard.

Vintage Kids are still sought out by collectors. Doll aficionados, children of the 80s with fond memories of Christmas morning, parents of the 80s with stories to tell about the time they got into fisticuffs at Child World—the Cabbage Patch adopts out to all of them.

But if you’re looking to start a collection, or maybe just find yourself drawn to one at an estate sale, it’s important to know what you’re looking at, so you know if you’re about to get a good deal.

Cabbage Patch Kids were created by Xavier Roberts in the late 1970s after discovering an interest in a 19th-century German fabric-sculpture technique called “needle molding.” By 1977, he had created his own line of adoptable “Little People” soft sculptures, shortly thereafter he founded Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc.

The soft-sculpture, hand-stitched, hand-painted dolls are still made today, at the Babyland Adoption Center in Cleveland, GA. These are not the same dolls you can find in your neighborhood big box store.

The dolls you and I are most likely familiar with—the ones that parents threw elbows for in a KB Toys in 1983—are mass market dolls, made in a much higher volume, in factories around the world, with soft bodies and vinyl faces. (Later models can be found made completely in vinyl). They were distributed throughout the U.S. by Coleco, before changing hands and moving to Hasbro...then Mattel...then Toys R Us... then Play Along ...then JAAKS Pacific...and eventually its current licensee, Wicked Cool.

Both types of dolls are collectible in their own way, though their values vary widely. For some insight, we spoke to Pat and Joe Prosey, avid collectors who for many years ran a Cabbage Patch museum in Maryland.

Like many collections, theirs started innocently. “I always liked dolls,” Pat said. So when she discovered Cabbage Patch Kids, she thought she’d pick up two: a boy and a girl. “Then they came out with preemies,” she said, and once again, she set out to get a boy and a girl. “And the next thing you know, I have 6,000.”

Their first dolls were the mass market dolls—the kind most of us had. But then they discovered Babyland General Hospital, where the soft sculpture dolls are produced. Their affinity for the dolls became more apparent when their collectible store became an Original Appalachian Artworks-approved adoption center. 

“At that time we had probably 2,500 kids in our collection,” Joe said.

They are in the process of paring back their collection after a cross-country move to a home with much less storage space than their Maryland museum. They’re re-adopting their Kids on their website, bringing their brood down from 6,000 to around 300. But over the decades, they’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of Cabbage Patch collecting, and while they say some things “you just have to know,” there are a few general things to look for, and look out for, if you hope to discover your own hard-to-find doll at an estate sale.

It’s unlikely you’ll find one just like the one you had growing up.
My dreams of finding another Sheldon are smashed. When it comes to the soft-sculpture dolls, no two are alike. Because they are hand-stitched and -painted, each doll will have differences. And when it comes to mass market dolls, the matrix of facial molds, hair color, eye color, freckles, dimples, outfits, etc., in addition to the differences that occur between factories, means it’s extremely unlikely you’ll find an exact match.

Two dolls may look the same sitting side by side, but there would be subtle differences. “If it came from a different factory, the eyes, if they were blue, would be a different blue. The clothes would be a little different” Joe said. “It got to be a huge, huge matrix.”

Even duplicate names are unlikely. Out of the Prosey’s 6,000 Kids, there are no repeat names. (The soft sculpture dolls are named by the adoptee, which means some Kids may have the same names on their adoption papers. But the factory-direct names given to the mass market dolls are varied enough that the Proseys have yet to see two of the same.)

The original soft sculpture dolls are more valuable.
This is likely unsurprising. They may not have had the popularity of the mass market dolls (after all, the vinyl-faced dolls were available all over the world), but they are much more valuable now, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer of them. They’re hand-stitched in one location, which means they’re all legitimately one-of-a-kind.

“Most people, when the fighting started, didn’t even know about the originals,” Joe said. “If people would have adopted the originals that Xavier [Roberts] was making in Georgia, and not the mass market Kids that were sold in toy stores,” he said, they would now have dolls worth hundreds, or even thousands on the market. They were originally priced at $35-45, Joe said, “depending on how he stitched it and how good it looked.”

The earliest of those dolls have been known to command thousands on the resale market.

You’re unlikely to find one of those early dolls, and if you did…
There are different editions of dolls. The earliest were known as “Helen Blue,” named for the city Roberts was living at the time—Helen, GA—and the border-color of their birth certificate. These, the Proseys say, are the most valuable. “The first [Roberts] he did in ‘77 would probably be worth $20,000 if you could even find them,” Pat said. They’re even in-demand from Xavier Roberts himself! “[He’s] been going around and adopting back all of his kids from collectors that he can find.”

The Proseys say it’s unlikely that you’ll find a Helen Blue in the wild. You’d be more likely to find an imposter. “You would have to be a Cabbage Patch collector, and to have been around them long enough,” Pat said, if you wanted to identify a ‘77 Original doll. “There were so many people making fake ones, you would have to know what to look for.” The stitching, she said, progressed over time. And you would have to recognize the nuances. “There’s no guide.”

But you can still find something special.
The earliest Originals may be difficult to come across, but it is entirely possible that a later model will make its way into a local estate sale. Pat told us about a flea market she attended, where she discovered an original doll with an asking price of $10. It was, in fact, worth several hundred.

New soft sculpture originals are still being adopted out of Babyland General Hospital, at prices between $200 and $300. So if you come across what appears to be an original doll at a good price, it might be worth picking up, just in case.

Boxes aren’t that important.
Soft sculpture dolls from Babyland do not come in boxes, so a box is a trait of a mass market doll. And when you’re looking for a mass market Cabbage Patch Kid that is particularly valuable, despite how important boxes are in a lot of other toy collecting, rarity is more important than packaging, particularly for the American dolls.

“You could have a Kid that’s never been out of the box. You look at the kid and there’s nothing unique about it, but because it’s from 1983, someone thinks it should be valuable.”

It’s where you come from.
“There are some mass market Kids that are harder to find than others, Pat said, “and there are some outfits that are really hard to find,” Pat said. And most of those are made in factories outside the U.S.

Mass Market dolls made by Coleco (or Hasbro, Mattel, Toys R Us, Play Along, or JAAKS Pacific) are not rare or particularly hard-to-find.

In the 1980s, every Cabbage Patch Kid sold in American department stores were made by Coleco. Foreign factories, like Lili Ledy in Mexico, Triang Pedigree in South Africa, Tsukuda in Japan, and Jesmar in Spain, were making Kids for their own regions. “When people found out about the foreign Kids, they became high-dollar Kids. People who brought them in were selling them for a lot of money,” Pat said. They aren’t rare, she said, because they were sold all over the country in which they were produced. “but they were hard to find in America.”

So if you’re looking for a doll unlike any other you might have had as a child—and one that might have collector value, check the tags for signs that the Cabbage Patch Kid was made outside the U.S. These dolls will often have different hair and eye combinations, and offer colors not seen on U.S. Kids.

“There are some Kids from South Africa that have what we call ‘gaudy yellow hair.’” Joe said. The yellow, he said, is “unbelievable,” and only found on Kids from Triang Pedigree. “It’s a fairly rare Kid to find.”

When the Proseys hosted Xavier Roberts in their museum, he was immediately drawn to one of these gaudy-blonde dolls. Joe said Roberts carried it around as he walked through the exhibit.

Outfits, too, are different, and often reflect the region they come from. Pat said the Tsukuda factory produced Kids wearing kimonos and samurai outfits.

“Traditional outfits, in later years, became very sought after,” Pat said. In fact, she just sold two of them herself, without boxes (because none of her Kids are in boxes) for $200 each. Not only was the doll valuable because of its origin, but the outfits—in specific colors—are also hard to find.

“The one [I sold] was red. There weren’t too many of them made. Those are hard to find,” Pat said.

“I imagine even overseas,” Joe added. “The mass market Kids were made to be played with by children. So a lot of them didn’t survive. That’s what makes those hard to find, and makes the price go up.”

The Prosey’s are careful to use the term “hard-to-find” rather than “rare,” reserving the latter for Kids who are truly unique, not just made in a different market.

“We have a little boy from the Taskuda factory in Japan. He’s got no fingers on one hand,” Joe said. Factory flukes like that are the "really the only kind of rarity that you’d find in a mass market Kid," he said

Look for certain traits
Even if you’re expecting to only find mass market dolls on your estate sale excursions, that doesn’t mean you won’t find something special. All Cabbage Patch Kids, of course, have their charms. But as mentioned, foreign Kids are particularly desirable, but certain combinations of traits in U.S. dolls are harder to find as well.

For example, the Proseys said, one of the harder-to-find Coleco-distributed dolls is a black Kid with freckles.

Kids with fuzzy red hair, too, are difficult to come by. “Especially with a pacifier,” Joe said.

Buyer Beware
But the value of these special Kids means there are people out there creating imposters.

“People know black Kids with freckles tend to bring in a lot of money,” Pat said, “So they sit down and put freckles on Kids without them. So you have to know what factory and what head mold had those freckles on it.”

Hand-stitched Originals are also often duplicated, so unless you’re familiar with the dolls, you might find yourself buying a bootleg baby.

Of course, at estate sales, the company won’t be setting out to dupe you into adopting something other than an official Cabbage Patch Kid. But without a knowing and careful eye, it’s possible to misidentify a doll.

Keep in mind, too, that there are people whose hustle is re-rooting Cabbage Patch Kid hair. Many of them do a wonderful job, and it can be a great way to customize a doll. But if you come across a Kid with hair unlike anything you’ve seen before, that may be the reason. You might have found yourself a one-of-a-kind Kid, but only because it’s been modded out, which doesn’t add to collector value.

Buy What You Love
This is ultimately the key to any collection, but it’s particularly important with Cabbage Patch Kids when you’re just getting started. If you’re going to drop over $200 on a doll, do so because it’s something you want, not for the potential resale value it might hold.

Of course, if you have a good feeling about a doll at an estate sale with an asking price of $10, and it’s within your budget, there’s no harm in giving it a shot. After all, it happened to Pat, so it could happen to you too.

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