All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Among the multitude of boxes that clog the claustrophobic crawlspace, behind my desk are many that are filled with drawings. In the days before I started using a computer, I relied on a Minolta copier. This generated a lot of copies. Interspersed among these sheets of paper, were the original pencil drawings, from which they came. A few years back, in an attempt to makes some space, I sorted through these boxes and threw several thousand pages of black and white art away.
But, whenever I came across a pencil drawing, I tossed it into a box to save. I also tried to save at least one copy that it generated. Looking through some of these boxes the other day, I discovered half a hundred product concepts that never advanced beyond the first sketch stage. This might have been because, either I, or my partners didn’t find them that exciting. Or I was diverted by another project at the time. At any rate, these sketches managed to survive, and avoid being thrown away. Of course, that will be their fate eventually. In the meantime, I’ll share some of them on this website.
One of the attributes of the copier was its ability to make a pencil drawing look like ink. This became a way of working for me. I could color these Minolta copies with markers and throw the pencil drawing away. Thus, many of the pencil drawings were lost immediately, and only Minolta copies survived. I will post a little bit of both. If I have the original pencil sketch, I will show you that; if not, I’ll post the copier image. The two images below will demonstrate the difference.
This concept was called Feeling Friends. Each bear would represent a distinct personality, sort of like the Seven Dwarfs. The first quick pencil sketch below, is even labeled with the names of the Seven Dwarfs.
You might note that the pencil sketch is far more nuanced than the copier print that follows it. On the next two pages, I will post only the pencil sketch if it exists.
Many of these abandoned ideas happen to be dolls. With each attempt I tried to adopt a different look and style, in the belief that variety would be more likely to be well received than familiarity. This rag doll was an attempt to adapt a visual theme, one based on polka dots, even on her cheeks. Looking at it now, I realize that the patches were a distraction that watered down the message.
Here’s a ragdoll variation that has a look that’s fresher, and perhaps a little more unique. In retrospect, I wish that I’d developed her farther, and maybe even made a model.
I really don’t know what I was thinking; these look like to boys to me. I guess, I just liked the drawing, but I really did know better. In the Kingdom of Toys, girl dolls rule!
This is a very simple concept, nonetheless, I’ve never seen it done before. ,The ragdoll has two sides. One side is awake, the other is asleep., The hands and arms work from both sides; so do the feet. The bonnet rotates on an axel to flip over and hide one side or the other.
This is, essentially, the same doll as the one above. In this case, awake and asleep have been replaced by happy and sad. One side is sad; the other side is happy. Her bonnet flips over to change her expression instantly.
This pair of dolls called , “Buttons” n’ “Bows” are sort of the flip side of “Sugar n’ Spice.” The theming is fairly obvious, a play on an expression that’s well known., And their pets, who also come from Cliché Land are “Rags” and “Patches”
Speaking of well-known phrases, here’s a couple of “humdingers,” “Cotton Candy” and “Lollipop.” Even though, I didn’t color these, is there anyone who doesn’t know that Cotton Candy’s hair is pink? They might also have animated tongues.
This drawing was made back in the day when Fisher Price Little People, the simple wood figures that came with every F. P. Pre-school Play sets looked like these. Fisher Price, later, did make Little People soft dolls. For a while, they were designed by me, based on our concept, called, Best Friends. Fisher Price ended up producing Best Friends as a separate mail order line, and the Little People they produced were slightly redesigned. There was no way they were about to share a huge signature property.
This was a simple one, soft spongy babies. This drawing was done many years before we seriously attempted a line called “Squeeze Mees.”
Here’s a totally different look, one I, frankly, don’t find that attractive. She reminds me of an early comic character named, “Henry.”
This complex contrivance is what one calls, a feature doll. The stuff she does is one dimensional. The question was would it sell. Perhaps a good doll for a birthday present. But what does one do with her the other 364 days a year?
“Twinkle Toes” is another feature doll. A ballerina whose toes twinkle. What could be more logical? She can trip the light fantastic, with your help.
Here is a series of three soft dolls, each with a different pocket theme. Smoosh-able accessories smoosh into their pockets.
I was always trying to explore new looks. One such attempt can be seen below. I can’t remember what use for these I had in mind. They make me think of Betty Boop and Barbie, combined.
Last of all is this doll, I called her “Baby Beautiful.” Can you believe that I actually considered attempting a conventionally pretty doll, the kind of doll that little girls like mine might have considered wonderful, so beautiful she won a blue ribbon in a beauty contest. She would personify “Beauty,” of the Hallmark Card variety, laid on with a heavy trowel. The attempt never progressed beyond this single pencil sketch.