The best in nine inch play dolls.
So far in our doll reviews A Doll’s Picnic has shared only large play dolls. I have very few dolls in my collection shorter than 18 inches. Gaby, my red-headed Schildkroet doll, is about 17.5 inches tall; Matilda, my A Girl For All Time doll, is 16 inches tall; and Kisa Violetta, my Vestida de Azul doll, is the most diminutive at 13.5. As an adult, I definitely prefer large, huggable dolls to their smaller, fashion-doll counterparts. However, the very first doll I “collected” as an adult was a nine-inch fashion doll from a (then) brand-new company just becoming popular: the Only Hearts Club. These adorable dolls caught my eye one day when my husband and I were strolling through a toy store. I loved them right away because they looked so friendly, cute, realistic, wholesome and pretty–like real miniature girls, not pumped-up fashion models. My instinctive measure of a doll’s wonderfulness is how much I would have loved her when I was a child. The Only Hearts Club dolls had all the qualities I longed for when I was little, especially a soft, satisfying poseability that would have delighted my childhood self. That Christmas my wonderful husband gave me my first Only Hearts Club doll, the blond dancer Karina Grace; and I, in turn, gave the red-headed Lily Rose to my sister, knowing she would love these special dolls as much as me. Karina Grace soon had a little masonite house built for her by my husband, and she appropriated the few Barbie-sized accessories I saved from childhood, including a wicker settee and chair, and a gorgeous doll bed made by my mom and dad. Eventually Karina (I named her Annabelle) got a sister, too; I bought the chestnut-haired Olivia Hope, who became my favorite of the two. A couple of wonderful poseable horses, an exquisite white unicorn (my treasure!), several adorable dogs, and a modest wardrobe followed. When I began collecting 18 inch American Girl dolls, however, my interest in the Only Hearts Club line faded into the background, and for the last several years they’ve been hanging out in their hand-made doll house with their pups, doing what dolls do best: patiently waiting.
Then–I’m not sure what the trigger was–a couple of months ago my interest suddenly revived and I started poking around on the internet to see what had happened to this delightful company. I was dismayed to discover that purchases are no longer possible through their online webstore, and that the Only Hearts Club range of products is apparently no longer in current production. That did it. I was determined to finish my collection and write a review that would do justice to a unique and brilliant line of play dolls that should NOT disappear. I immediately set out to find where these dolls can still be found. I was somewhat relieved to discover that they are still (for now) readily available for reasonable (often ridiculously low) prices on Amazon, eBay, and the occasional on-line toy shop. The only exception is the Asian doll Hannah Faith, who, unfortunately, is very difficult to find for a good price. After some scrounging around, I bought Brianna Joy for $13.99 and Lily Rose for $11.72 on Amazon, and was fortunate enough to find Kayla Rae on sale for $8.95 at the Toy Hunt. Getting these three dolls in the mail was so fun and completely revived my love for the Only Hearts Club! I’d like to eventually find Anna Sophia, Taylor Angelique, and Hannah Faith, to complete my collection.
Today I’m going to share the beautiful Kayla Rae and compare her to her older sister, Brianna Joy. Brianna Joy is the African American doll from the original group of six dolls that began the Only Hearts Club line.
When we were young.
She has a medium brown skin tone and lovely curly light-brown hair. I always thought she had a very sweet expression. Kayla Rae was introduced several years later along with Hannah Faith, to fill out the line and increase its ethnic diversity. She is also African American, with much darker brown skin and glossy black hair.
Now we are eight.
I remember how excited I was when these two girls debuted and how I wanted to collect them both–and now, given Hannah Faith’s high prices, I wish I had. Here’s Kayla Rae in her box:
This is the first time I’ve gotten a close look at these later boxes. They’re a bit brighter and pinker than the original yellow and orange Premier Edition boxes, with heart-shaped cut outs in the plastic around the doll’s face. The back of the box talks a little bit about her character’s personality:
That’s my kind of a girl… well, except the fashion part. But, Spanky?
And here is Kayla out of her box:
I love the outfit she’s wearing, despite the pinkness: the layered-look tee, the sparkly jeans, and the warm plaid scarf. Seeing as I bought this doll in fall, this seemed like an appropriate arrival outfit.
Kayla has a bright, cheerful, friendly, intelligent expression. She looks excited to start doing things! One of the things that make Only Hearts Club dolls so special are their beautiful inset eyes, and Kayla is no exception.
Her light brown eyes are very clear and lustrous, and they give her face sculpt a realism I’ve never seen equalled by any other comparable brand. I also love her dimples, her beautiful smile, and the sculpting above and below her mouth. None of the Only Hearts Club girls have eyelashes, either painted or glued, which gives them a fresh, natural, youthful look that is unusual among dolls of any size. Like all the dolls, Kayla has exquisite facial coloring and painted details, including shading at the corners of her eyes and a healthy blush.
I attempted to get Kayla to stand upright for a photo, which took some doing. The cloth-and-wire body design of these dolls allows them to pose beautifully, but combined with their small feet and large heads of hair it also makes it difficult to get them to stand upright without support.
Plus I’m holding a cat.
Like all Only Hearts Club clothing, Kayla’s outfit is very detailed. I was especially struck by the tiny seed-beads adorning her braids:
One thing I’m not crazy about is how many stitches and threads have to be snipped to liberate each doll. Kayla was sewn to her cat, her scarf, her box… well, you get the idea.
We’re really attached.
These stitches have their use, however. Once detached, there is no way Kayla’s cute hat will stay on by itself:
…and after. It’s perched.
Luckily none of my dolls really care about hats, anyway.
Kayla Rae and Brianna Joy share the same face sculpt. Thanks to the inset eyes, though, each doll is an individual, so besides differing in coloring and hair texture, they each have a unique expression. Even though Brianna is advertised as the sporty, energetic girl, my doll has a warm, gentle expression that is quite endearing. Kayla seems like the more vibrant one. I purchased Brianna in her soccer outfit. I’m not a big sports fan myself, but the doll was a great price in this ensemble. The dolls have been offered many different ways over the years, including with pets, in fashion outfits, in activity-oriented outfits, with books, in swim suits or sleep wear, ballet leotards and riding outfits. I tend to gravitate to the original “club doll outfits,” but these days you have to take what you can find.
Brianna’s tightly curled hair is exquisitely arranged. I love the little curls on each side of her face and her delicate fringe:
The front part of her hair is twisted and tied back in a very pretty half-pony style:
Her curls have an auburn glow in bright light, and are very soft. They should under no account be brushed, however! Kayla’s hair, on the other hand, invites brushing. She has two large braids framing the sides of her face, but otherwise her hair is unstyled:
It is very black, with just a slight wave:
The only thing I don’t like about her hair is this odd short fringe that sticks out of her hairline where bangs would be:
I think this must be an unintentional by-product of how her hair was sewn.
After playing with Brianna for a little while, I decided to experiment a bit with her hair. I’m not a fan of thread-tied styles; my child-self wants complete freedom and control over my doll’s hairdo. So I snipped the thread holding back Brianna’s hair to see what would happen.
A hair-raising experience.
Her curls have a lot of life! This would be fine with me, and I would much prefer to have her hair loose so that I could put it in pig tails or fluff it out. Unfortunately I discovered she has large bald patches on the top of her head. It looks like her hair style was not meant to be changed.
I took a small clear plastic band and twisted her hair back into the original style. Many, perhaps most, collectors and children wouldn’t mind her hair’s limited style-ability, but it is a definite detraction for me. Brianna’s mane is beautiful, but Kayla’s has far more options for hair-stylists.
Here’s the satisfyingly simple Only Hearts Club doll construction:
I love handmade cloth dolls and rag dolls, so maybe that’s why I like the Only Hearts Club body construction so much. They have a flexible wire armature that allows them to be bent into almost any pose. One of the differences between the original dolls and the later dolls are the feet. Brianna Joy, on the right, has simple cloth nubs for feet, while Kayla Rae has real plastic feet. Some collectors might feel this is a great improvement, but I’m indifferent to it. The fact is that I was always fond of the little round nubs.
The original foot.
The later edition foot.
I’m not sure when this change occurred, and whether or not all Kayla Raes and Hannah Faiths have the improved feet. Either way, all the dolls can fit all the shoes. Here’s Brianna’s foot in Kayla’s shoe:
And Kayla’s foot in Brianna’s sneaker:
All the dolls have cute little stuffed torsos with an added seam to give their bums some shape:
Brianna has a very narrow tag with a 2004 copyright date.
One of the issues with a rag-style body is a high degree of possible defects. My Kayla has a rather unevenly stuffed bottom.
Kayla’s tag is much larger and more intrusive. She has a 2010 copyright date.
Another difference between the two dolls is the texture of the body fabric. Kayla’s is a beautiful color, but has almost a fuzzy, teddy bear-ish feel to it. I prefer the original material.
Both original and later dolls have plastic molded hands. The hands have a high degree of detail, including tiny nails and creases.
Now I’d like to share Kayla and Brianna’s family. Here are Lily Rose and Olivia Hope:
These girls have my favorite Only Hearts Club face sculpt (at least of the ones I’ve seen so far). To me it looks strong and sweet, and I really like the face shape. Lily Rose’s freckles and strawberry-blond hair have completely won me over, but Olivia Hope has always been special.
Karina Grace and Taylor Angelique also share a face sculpt. So far I only have Karina Grace. Like Kayla and Brianna, she has lovely dimples. My Karina has a brown smudge on her left cheek, which she won by coming into contact with a breyer horse’s hoof during moving some years ago.
Anna Sophia and Hannah Faith both have unique face sculpts. Anna Sophia is the only one in the line with a closed mouth. I’d love to see these girls in person.
I love how much variety there is in the Only Hearts Club doll coloring. Kayla has a dark brown skin tone; Brianna has a cafe au lait skin tone; Olivia Hope has an olive skin tone; and Lily Rose and Karina Grace have a fair skin tone. I look forward to seeing how Anna Sophia, Taylor Angelique and Hannah Faith compare. The only concern I have is how some of the dolls hands have tended to fade over time. Olivia Hope’s hands in particular have a greenish cast. Thankfully this hasn’t happened to any of the doll’s faces. Their hair hasn’t faded either, from what I can tell.
Of course, these are fashion dolls, and Only Hearts Club has always done a great job of making cute and trendy fashions that are up to date and girl appropriate. I especially love the tiny stitching, real pockets, and high level of detail on most of these outfits.
My Kayla’s arrival outfit is a great example. Her jeans don’t have real pockets, though.
Brianna’s socks have real shin guards sewn in, and tiny cleats on the bottom of her sport shoes.
All of the outfits that the dolls come in, that I know of, are (or at least were) also available separately, which is really nice if you want to buy a particular doll but like another outfit better. And Only Hearts Club made a fairly large range of fashion outfits available separately as well. I’m not familiar with all of these, but from what I’ve seen on Amazon and eBay, many of these outfits are still easy to find, though some of the older ones or specialty ones are more rare. They include fantasy outfits…
And riding ensembles.
The Only Hearts Club has had a lot of fun ideas over the years. The Horse & Pony Club, which introduced full-sized poseable horses of different breeds, matching foals, and even miniature horses, was one of my very favorites. I have the chestnut mare, and at one time also had the brown and white paint. I’ve always had a hankering after the big black stallion. Again, I love that the horses, like the dolls, were soft and poseable, with long brushable manes and tales. I would have adored these as a child!
The Big Sister-Li’l Sister idea was also fun, though I haven’t yet collected any of the little sisters:
You can still find the occasional double-doll set of a big sister with her matching little sister on eBay. The little sisters were also available separately, with accessory sets, and even with fantasy unicorns. So cute.
The Only Hearts Club also offered coordinating accessories that were sometimes quite elaborate: a sofa and floor chair for the “club room,” a stable for the horses, and even a ballet studio!
One of my favorite offerings was the Only Hearts Club line of pets. These soft little dogs (and later, cats) have so much personality! I was so excited to recently find a two-dog pet set with the only dog I was missing–the fluffy little mop called Bubulina, that belongs to Anna Sophia.
The simplicity of these dogs is charming. The dauchsund is one of my favorites:
But I also have a special place in my heart for the dalmation (I have two):
Over time the glue holding together the two strips of material that make up the tails and ears has yellowed and separated. I can easily re-glue the pieces, and for me the yellowing is a minor issue.
Kayla and Hannah Faith broke the previous pattern of the original six dolls by coming with kitties instead of puppies. Kayla’s kitty is a little vacant looking, but still pretty cute:
I think it’s the messy nose-stitching and green knot eyes that make him not quite as successful as the pups. But cats are hard for manufacturers to capture successfully, as I’ve often noted in the toy world.
He was a bit over-balanced by his enormous tag, so I cut it off:
Just like their character counterparts, my Only Hearts Club girls love to play with their animal friends.
I’m so glad to have rediscovered these wonderful toys. They have a kind of magical ability to make me smile every time I hold them or look into their tiny, detailed faces.
I would love to see the Only Hearts Club line revive or be bought by another company willing to retain the original vision. The simplicity, un-plasticy-ness, wholesomeness, and quality of these toys is unrivaled in their field. I love the tiny detailed outfits, the fun accessories, and the beautiful horses. I really feel these dolls hold an important niche in the toy world, one I would hate to see disappear. For now, these special girls and their accessories are still relatively easy to find at good prices. Their ethnic diversity, responsible portrayal of healthy, normal girls, and high level of quality make them a treat for the collector and a wonderful gift for the children in your life.