Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Best Friend Sam" by Zapf Creation

The most special doll that I found on my trip to Edinburgh was Best Friend Sam, a Zapf play doll sold at Smyths for £22.99 (just under $40).  Sam is 63cm (24.8") tall and scaled like a toddler.  This doll is special to me because his size is uncommon, he's not sold in the United States, and his face has very Zapf-like features--calling to mind the gorgeous older German-made Zapf artist dolls.  What I like best about this sandy-haired rascal, though, is that he reminds me of my own wonderful boys when they were younger.  I can't think of a better doll to share with you on Mothers' Day.  Here's little Sam:

Zapf Best Friend Sam
Best Friend Sam (£22.99) by Zapf Creation.
There's one more special thing about Sam.  As you might recall, I couldn't purchase this doll at Smyths in Edinburgh because his box was too big to fit into any of our suitcases.  I ended up finding him on eBay, but the shipping was quite costly.  I was fortunate because both my mother and my mother-in-law said that they would help me buy a special doll from Scotland for my birthday.  So, not only do I want to say "Happy Mothers' Day!" to these wonderful women, but I also want to thank them for helping me get Sam. 

Sam came in a large cardboard box with an open front:

The back of the box is decorated with three photographs of Sam and the other doll in the Best Friend collection, Sally.  

The dolls are called Best Friend Sam and Best Friend Sally, but I'm not sure if Sam and Sally are best friends, or if they're meant to be best friends with whoever owns them.  The two dolls would make convincing siblings (fraternal twins?):

Sally looks very cute on the back of this box.  She did not impress me very much in person, but perhaps once she's out of her box with her hair fluffed up, she looks better.

Here's my not-so-great picture of Sally from the store:

I like this third picture, where Sally seems to be dragging Sam out of bed to go off on an adventure:

What I like best about this is Sam's messy hair.  I find it very endearing...and realistic:

I have to pause here for a sec and share something that Rachael discovered after I introduced Sam in my Toy Box Tourist post.  Rachael was clever enough to look up Sam and Sally on the Zapf website, and what she found is hysterical.  The page is written in German, and so non-German speakers are at the mercy of Google Translate and similar programs.   This doesn't go very well for Sam.  Here's part of his translated description:

"Auweia - now let's get out!  Sam is a real impose the beds sheets and scare woman Hegemann of opposite, of course, was once again grown on his crap.  But you would never betray someone!  Since yesterday he even knows your biggest secret so far - that you find the Lucy correctly cool from the 1c.  It does not blab out, knows you exactly.  Their two together hold simply like pitch and sulfur, that was the first day that way..."

I get the basic gist of what they're trying to say, but it still makes me crack up.  I think it's supposed to say that Sam's a bit of a hooligan, and one time he hung a bed sheet up to scare the neighbor, but he's loyal and will keep even your closest secret.  The description makes it sound like Sam and Sally are meant to portray older children--perhaps five or six year olds.  

I'll admit that when I unwrapped Sam from his shipping package, he wasn't quite as I remembered him.  His hair wasn't tousled like the doll at Smyths, of course, and his features weren't exactly what I expected.  For instance, I hadn't noticed that he doesn't have eyelashes.  The lighting at Smyths was harsh, and so it's hard to see the doll's true coloring in the pictures, but here's a comparison anyway:

Same doll looking quite different.

Sam is wired into his box in eight different areas.  The wires across his feet and torso had plastic tubes over them:

Many of the wires did not have a protective covering, and these left behind creases in the clothing.

Here is Sam completely de-boxed:

Zapf Best Friend Sam

Sam has a cloth body with light stuffing and no armature.  Some dolls are weighted to feel like actual babies, and these dolls are fun to tote around because of that realism.  Sam is nice to carry around for a completely different reason.  He is lightweight, soft and cuddly--almost like a cross between a stuffed animal and a doll.

He can stand on his own if he is balanced very carefully and wearing his sturdy shoes.

Underneath all of his hair, Sam has a bright, happy face with wide brown eyes and freckles.

Zapf Best Friend Sam
His eyes are the tiniest bit wonky.
I like the level of detail in Sam's light brown eyebrows, but I wish that he had eyelashes (Sally does).  Instead, he has three brown lines painted at the side of each eye to suggest eyelashes:

His freckles are not especially realistic (they're all uniformly shaped) but they are nicely scattered across his face:

Sam's eyes have a complex iris design with a mix of browns that ends up looking amber-colored from a distance:

Sam's mouth is shaped into a half smile and has subtle lined detail in the lips.  I think the color of his mouth is perfect: a natural rosy pink:

Sam's hair looks shiny and soft, but the fiber has a slightly coarse synthetic feel and I fear it will hold tangles over time.  The hair also looks quite thick, but the rooting is actually a disappointment:

The hair plugs are widely-spaced and too visible in some areas--most notably at the top of Sam's head.  

It is possible to arrange the hair so that the thin patches aren't noticeable.  If Sam's hair is kept a little messy, there's a risk of exposing the hair plugs, but if the hair is completely smoothed down along the part, the rooting pattern is not apparent.  

Sam's hair is rooted with a side part.  This style makes the bangs behave strangely (like on the left, below), but the hair can be rumpled so that the bangs fall fairly evenly across Sam's forehead (on the right, below), and I think he looks best like this:

Sam is wearing a two piece outfit consisting of a long sleeved shirt and a pair of khaki pants.  The shirt has a big "s" on one side and the Sam Best Friend logo on the other:

The shirt is made out of three different colors of synthetic knit fabric.  The fabric is a little thin, but the pieces are sewn together well, with serged seams and secure hems.  

The shirt opens in back with two separate strips of velcro.  These snag on Sam's cloth body, but are otherwise very practical.

Sam's pants are simple.  They have an elastic waistband and taper at the ankles:

The pants look like jodhpurs from the front...
The fly and pockets are decals that are meant to look stitched.

The crotch on these pants is a little low, made worse by the fact that the waist tends to slip down.  They look better when they're pulled all of the way up, but these simply aren't attractive pants in my opinion.

...and they look like a melon in a paper bag from the back.
Sam's blue converse sneakers are made out of hard vinyl and have white painted details:

Sam can't stand on his own without these shoes, and so I propped him up with a stand (which is much too big for him...) so that you can see his full body.  He has an unjointed cloth torso with three quarter length vinyl arms and legs.  

Here he is with his shoes back on:

The cloth body is made out of a thin, fine fleece fabric that's soft and cuddly.  Sam's stuffing is not dense or heavy, so he's very squeezable.

Sam's only joint is at his neck.  With some effort, the head can be rotated all of the way around.  Sam's shoulders and hips can bend because they are made out of cloth, but the vinyl limbs are sewn into the cloth body so there is no rotation at these seams.

Sam has adorably chubby legs that make me think he's meant to be a young toddler--maybe two or three years old:

Not the legs of a five-year-old.
The legs are very nicely detailed and realistic:

His hands are a little less baby-like, and also well-sculpted and realistic:

I don't have any other dolls in quite this same scale, so I'll just show you a few reference shots with other dolls.  First, here is Sam with my lovely Keira Sofia (American Girl):

My Twinn dolls (the older 23" variety) and my Paola Reina girl, Marta, are about the same size as Sam, but these dolls are meant to portray older children and so their proportions are very different:

My Twinn Danielle, Sam, Paola Reina Marta.
Sam makes a nice big brother to some of the older Zapf babies, like this Emma Marie by Rolanda Heimer:

I don't have many other dolls that can share their clothes with Sam, but what's fun about him is that he can wear real children's clothing.  Here he is in a Carter's 0-3 month outfit that fits him pretty well:

Sam borrowed this Carter's outfit from one of my Leman babies, so I had to go out and find him his own clothes.  I badly wanted this awesome shark sweatshirt to fit (it was the last one the rack), but it is newborn sized and a little too tight:

Zapf Best Friend Sam

I settled on this colorful onesie tee shirt and some comfy blue sweatpants:

I think Sam looks so much cuter wearing these colorful clothes, and he reminds me even more of a real little boy. The only thing that was bothering me about him at this point was the fact that he didn't have any eyelashes.  

I rummaged around in my closet and found some wispy auburn eyelashes to try on him.  I was worried that they would look silly over the painted lashes, but I actually think it's fine:

We have been having a beautiful Mothers' Day here in Maine, with 70 degree temperatures and plenty of sun.  I thought I would take Sam on a quick trip to a local playground so that you can see his coloring out in the bright light.

Sam is not very good at posing or standing, but with a little help from this play structure, he did ok:

He even had a quick run down the slide:

Like my own kids, he climbed a little higher than I was comfortable with at one point...

But he did a good job of holding on to the bars.

The sun really lights up Sam's eyes in a neat way.  He reminds me a lot of Paola Reina Marta with these eyes:

After a while, Sam had to sit down and take a break on this bench.  If you look closely, you can see a dark spot on his nose from all of the tumbles he took climbing around on the playground.  He really is much better suited to cuddling than climbing:

Back at home, after a quick Magic Eraser treatment, Sam went back outside and picked a few of the dandelions in our ratty yard for all of the mothers out there reading today:

Zapf Best Friend Sam
Happy Mothers' Day!
Bottom line?  Well, it's probably clear that I am smitten with this little fellow.  His happy face and tousled hair captured my heart the very first time I saw him, and since then his cuddly, sweet personality has only made me like him more.

To be fair, though, I have to reiterate some of Sam's shortcomings.  First of all, while his hair looks shiny and thick from afar, the fiber has a synthetic feel, and there are areas where the hair plugs are unattractively visible.  I prefer his hair a little rumpled, but this type of styling has to be done strategically in order to avoid alarming zombie hair patches.  Sam came with only three painted eyelashes over each eye.  This looked fine, but I think the addition of applied lashes improved his appearance.  Sam has a soft, unarticulated body with no armature.  This limits posing and makes it very difficult for him to stand on his own.  Because real toddlers are always on the move, my instinct was to put Sam into all kind of active poses, but he simply isn't capable of holding these positions.  Last, although Sam's outfit is well constructed and easy to get on and off, the fabrics are thin and I don't think that the style adds anything to his personality.  The pants, in particular, are unattractive.  I much prefer the vibrant color and fit of real children's clothing.

Everything else about Sam is wonderful.  His vinyl body parts are well-sculpted and realistic.  He has a beautiful face with a mouth that is especially natural and well done.  I like how his expression is bright and eager without being caricatured or exaggerated.  His inset eyes are plastic, but they have an exotic amber color with interesting iris details.  I often find that boy dolls have hair that is too long or too short to look realistic, but Sam's sandy blonde mop seems just right for a young boy.  The hair manages to look shiny and full despite the thin rooting and the slightly coarse hair fiber.  The thing that surprised me most about Sam is that despite my usual preference for highly articulated, posable dolls, I really appreciate Sam's body construction.  He seems particularly well suited to younger children: he is lightweight and easy to carry around, and he has a pleasantly soft and huggable body.  Even with his hard vinyl head and limbs, this doll would make a great bedtime buddy.  I think my own children would have enjoyed this doll, back in the days when they were always toting around their stuffed animal friends.

For a $40 play doll, Sam is a rare treat.  I have commented before on how certain dolls seem to have a special charm that makes their shortcomings all but disappear...Sam is one of those dolls for me.  This line of Best Friend dolls is also well-named: I enjoyed Sam's cheery company so much this morning that I can easily imagine him being a young child's constant and beloved companion.  

Zapf Best Friend Sam


  1. He is so cute. Too cute. :D Happy Mother's Day!

  2. He is adorable! So cute!

    Happy Mother's Day

  3. Aw he's so cute! He reminds me of my Autistic little brother when he was younger. :) Happy Mother's Day to you!

    1. Hi Emma, that's so neat that he reminds you of your brother! We were just chatting about who he looks like in our family. There's something in his expression that is very familiar!

  4. I went on Ebay and ordered "my" Sam after reading the original post about your trip. He sounds & looks quite awesome.

    1. Oh, wow! That's great, Ken! I really hope you like him in person. He's pretty hard to resist. :) Did you get this same one, or did he have a different outfit?

  5. He looks so cute! and not creepy like other boy dolls. I usually like to just stay with american girl and Monster high, but today I saw an our generation doll that actually looked cute! Maybe I'll just admire her, as now that I received Kaya for my birthday (american girl historical) I now have 5 AG dolls. He is really cute though, and I love the fact that he can wear real children's clothes! Happy mother's day!

    1. Oooh, Kaya is very nice! I love her name, too. That's a wonderful birthday present! There are some nice Our Generation dolls aren't there? I find myself admiring them frequently, too. I really like how Battat has improved the line over the last few years. I also like how low the price is. :D

  6. I really love your reviews!! What a cute doll and so childlike. I like the eyelashes you applied - they looked natural as though they belonged to Sam. Cute doll! Happy Mother's Day Emily :)

    1. Thank you so much, Nadine! I was lucky to find those eyelashes--the color is a great match. I have the strangest things in my closet.... ;)

  7. I love boy dolls, and they are so few. I was taken with Sam when you showed him in your other post, and now I want one!

    1. Hi Tam, I totally agree! I adore boy dolls--especially toddlers, but there really isn't a great selection in that age range. Master Piece has two little boys by Monika Peter-Leicht that I have been admiring, but I don't know a lot about the quality of those dolls (and they cost close to $300!). Sam is just right in so many's just the shipping costs to get him here that are tough!

  8. I love the fact that real baby clothes fit him. Often I find that dressing dolls can be quite expensive, finding the right fit from doll lines other that the original doll is a challanged and sewing for them requires real skill and a sewing machine. I wish I was able to just walk into any clothing store and buy beautiful outfits for my Ellowyne. Having a doll that you can buy clothes for at regular stores for about a quarter of the price of real dolls' outfits is a real added benefit. As usuall a great review.

    1. sorry for the typos.

    2. Very well said, Tali! There can be so many hassles and expenses with doll clothes, and yet my favorite outfit of Sam's cost $3 for the shirt and $1.99 for the pants! Hard to beat! :D
      Finding just the right outfit can make such a big difference for a doll.
      (I didn't notice any typos) :)

  9. Hello from Spain: great pics. Lovely Sam. He looks like a real boy. Keep in touch

    1. Thank you Marta! He has a presence here in the house like a real boy, too. Everyone knows his name. :)

  10. I always love reading your reviews!
    Have you ever seen the Maplelea Girls dolls? I think you would like them. :)

    1. Thank you, Jo! I happen to have my eye on one one of the Maplelea Girls.... ;D

  11. is so cute to eat causing kisses

  12. Now I had to have a look at Zapf HP. :-)
    Here´s what it says: "Oh dear, let´s get outta here!" Sam is a real rascal - putting the bed sheets over his bed and scaring poor Mrs Hegeman from the house next door was all his idea again of course! But you wouldn´t tell on him, would you?
    Since yesterday he knows all about your biggest secret- that you´ve got a crush on Lucy from 1st grade. He´ll keep mum, you just know that. You are like two peas in pod, have been from day 1. Maybe it´s because you have such similar dreams when it comes to your future vocation? Sam wants to be a fire fighter, you want to save the whole world. That´s pretty close, isn´t it?

    Love from Germany!

    1. Yay! Sandra! Thank you so much for translating this for us. I was really hoping someone could explain Sam's personality a little better. :) Putting the bed sheets over his head makes so much more sense than what I said! Where did the "crap" part come from, though, I wonder? Strange!
      It's actually a very cute, detailed description and I am so happy to know the real meaning. Thank you again!

    2. The crap part comes from a direct translation of the German idom "auf seinem Mist wachsen", literally "growing on his own manure" for "it was his own (usually stupid) idea". :-D

    3. That's so neat!! Many thanks for the excellent explanation! My kids are going to love that idiom. ;D

  13. sorry, typo, "putting the bed sheets over his HEAD"

  14. I want one of these now so I can dress him in my son's baby clothes. My son is two but I still have a bunch of his baby clothes in the closet that I can't bear to part with and it would be nice to be able to display them on Sam. All of the baby dolls I have now are too small to fit into real baby clothes.

  15. He is really cute. Congratulations of a wonderful addition to your doll family.

  16. SOOOOO CUTE!!!!!! It seems like Mothers Day in the US is on a different day to the UK

  17. I came on your review by looking around to buy a 2nd Sam doll. My twins (girl and a boy) of 5 years old, have both Sam and Sally. They are playing a lot with them. They became a part of the family. It is so nice that they can were the baby clothes from my twins. The funniest thing is that my girl has also blue eyes and my son has the brown eyes. Even the hair color is matching with the dolls. My son of 10 want to have Sam too to sleep because he is so adorable. So that's why I try to find a 2nd Sam doll but in another outfit. It is really hard to find the dolls in Belgium. Shops have most of the time only Sally dolls. Good luck with your dolls and enjoy the little Sam as we do here in Belgium. xxx Daisy

  18. Great Blog!I really want him do you know where to find him cheap?