Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Surprise: Magic Nursery Toddlers by Mattel!

My goodness, Sundays come around quickly, don't they?  This used to feel like a bad thing because Sunday symbolizes the dwindling weekend.  While Saturday morning is filled with possibilities, Sunday morning is time to clean the bird cages, vacuum the dog hair, and get ready for another week of work.  Sundays have transformed a bit in my mind recently, though.  I have a new-found appreciation for Sunday because this is the day when my son calls home from college...and also because it's the day when I get to look at another surprise doll!

The Sweet e.Baby that I reviewed during the last Sunday Surprise had a secret gender and a secret name hidden with a that was new enough in 1999 to feel magical.  In 1990, about a decade before the Sweet e.Baby, Mattel came up with a doll whose gender was hidden within another seemingly-magical concoction: a dissolving hospital gown.  Yes, that's right--a gown that completely disintegrates in water to reveal the gender announcement (and a new outfit).  Mattel called these babies Magic Nursery dolls.

The idea might sound far-fetched, but it was wildly popular.  My parents should thank their lucky stars that I was not a child of the 90s, because this kind of toy would have been completely irresistible to me.  It's even irresistible to me now, almost thirty years later, when unopened Magic Nursery dolls--with all of their surprises still hidden--can cost a small fortune.

Magic Nursery Toddler doll by Mattel (1990).
The nice thing is that de-boxed Magic Nursery dolls are not expensive at all.  The enduring value of this brand seems almost entirely linked to the preservation of that magical hospital robe.

I had to stalk eBay for a really long time in order to find a mint-in-box Magic Nursery doll that was reasonably priced.  Many of the listings are in the $200 realm, often with international shipping that adds significantly to that.  I think there's still a doll on eBay right now from Greece that costs $219 (plus $36 shipping) and has visible mold all over his or her face.  I've had enough of doll mold for a while, thanks.

While I was waiting to find an affordable boxed doll, I scoured the used dolls on eBay for a nice example of the brand.  This girl was my favorite, and she only cost about $10:


I bought this doll for three reasons: first, she's really cute!  Also, I wasn't sure that I would ever find a boxed doll that I could afford.  Third, I wanted to get a look at the overall quality of the Magic Nursery dolls so that I could gauge how much I'd be willing to pay if a good opportunity arose.

Almost everything about this girl appeals to me.  She's black, which is rare (in all of my searching, I never found an in-box black toddler doll), she has wonderful hair, and her outfit is really great (and not pink). 

Her lip color is the only thing I don't love.  It's a little bright.

I spent a lot of time browsing the used dolls so that I could get a sense for the range of outfits.  This polka-dotted dress with its tasteful splashes of red is one of my absolute favorites, and it compliments the doll's coloring really well.

This doll can sit up nicely, but she cannot stand on her own.  She has a vinyl head and a cloth body.

Magic Nursery dolls do not come with a secret name (sad), so I used a random name generator to add my own little element of surprise to this post.  The last time I needed a surprise name I used the Baby Name Genie (that's a fun site!) but wanted to try a new generator this time around.  Specifically, I wanted to be able to pick the first letter of the name.  Sometimes dolls just radiate a certain letter, you know?  This particular doll seemed like an "S" girl to me, so I used the Random Names advanced generator option.  Here's their (very plain) default page:

With this program, you can pick the length of the name, the gender, and the first initial.  Perfect!  I selected "S" and got...

Very pretty.  Shyla it is.

Shyla's large eyes are painted in several shades of brown, and have an eight-pointed star reflection that's characteristic of the brand:

Shyla has a very faint heart with an inscribed star on her left cheek:

I'm impressed with this doll's hair.  After almost thirty years, it's still very easy to manage and feels great.  It's densely-rooted and has a cute style.

I was happy enough with Shyla that I felt re-energized in my search for a mint Magic Nursery doll.  I decided that I was willing to pay at least $50 for another one of these dolls and the excitement of seeing that dissolving robe.

Mattel made several different versions of the Magic Nursery dolls.  There are Magic Nursery Toddlers (like Shyla) which are my favorites, Magic Nursery Babies (who have less hair and smaller bodies than the Toddlers), little Magic Nursery Newborns (which came in twin and triplet sets, too) and even some PVC miniature figures.  There were also Magic Nursery Pets with mystery ears.

In 1993 McDonalds even had a run of Magic Nursery Happy Meal toys (baby dolls with mystery genders).  These toys are still easy to find and very inexpensive (less than $3).  

I thought peeking at a few of these Happy Meal babies would be the perfect way to get the surprises started today!

These toys come packaged in opaque white plastic to try and conceal the baby's gender.  Once I knew what I was looking for, though, I could see the gender tipoff through the plastic.

I had to do some research to figure out how the gender would be revealed on these little ones.  It turns out that the cloth bodies are either pink or blue, so we're looking for a revealing flash of color here!

I cut open one side of the bag and started to pull the baby out...

Orange hair...
...and suddenly there it was!  A blue body:

It's a boy!

There's nothing else in the bag (no hidden name or gender-confirming card):

So, I turned to Random Names again for a boy name starting with "C" (for candy cane):

And I got...

Cassius.  Whoa.  That's a big name for a little guy.  I like it, though!

Cassius has an adorable face with side-glancing blue eyes:

He also has a ridiculously-proportioned cloth body with massive arms and practically no torso.

I'm not sure if all of the boys had this same face?  I think so.

I love his face:

I actually got two of these little toys, so let's look at another!

Ok, so if this next one is another boy, I think we're going to be unimpressed.  My online searches confirm that the boys all look exactly the same.  If Mattel had offered a bit more variety in these toys, think of how many more Happy Meals might have been sold?

Things look pretty much the same so far--same color hair...

Oh!  Oh!!  Look:

A pink hand!
It's a girl!  So, either by luck or because of a very kind Amazon vendor, I happened to get one of each!

That's a frog body, not a baby body.
This little imp has purple eyes and an open mouth:

She's cute, but I like Cassius' expression better.  

With her holly-covered romper, I decided to seek out a name that beings with "H."  I'm hoping it's not Holly, though--that'd be too obvious.

And the name is...

Helga.  Hm.  According to the Baby Name Wizard, this name has zero use in our country right now (nor has it been used since ~1990).  That's ok!  Maybe it'll be the next big comeback name??

Here are Cassius and Helga together:

Girl (left) and boy (right) Magic Nursery Happy Meal dolls.
Does that put you in the mood for some more Magic Nursery fun?  I hope so, because I finally found a boxed Magic Nursery Toddler doll for under $100 on eBay!

Most of the dolls on eBay are blondes.  It's much harder to find a dark-haired doll--especially an un-opened one.  I've never even seen a redheaded Magic Nursery doll (used or in the box).  Does anyone remember if they even existed?

Anyway, I love looking at these old boxes.  The front of the box is decorated with photographs of girls playing with their dolls:

The box promotes the three big draws of this doll: the magical disappearing robe, the mystery gender, and the secret new outfit.

I'm not sure which of these I was most excited about.  I'm usually obsessed with the surprise gender of a doll, but this time I think I was distracted by wanting to watch that magic disappearing robe do its thing.

The little girl on the box is doing the magic wrong, though.  She's holding a very stiff-looking, fully in-tact robe with a wrapped outfit that appears to have just slid out:

There's no dissolving going on in that picture.  Hm.

The same girl, in another picture, appears to have gotten a boy and a girl doll:

Gauging by the relative number of boy and girl dolls on eBay, I'm guessing that it's harder to get a boy.  That doesn't surprise me, but I'd really like to get a boy one of these times.

A fun perk of this line--back in the 90s--was the small chance that the doll would be a twin:

A lucky 1-in-36 kids got a coupon for a free doll in addition to all of the other surprises.  That would have been amazing.

I peeked around inside the box and tried to figure out if it was possible to determine the gender without dissolving the robe.  My doll has mostly gender-neutral yellow clothing, but there is a pink band around the hat:

And the shoes are light purple:

I have no idea whether or not the shoe color gives anything away, but it might be a clue.  We'll see.

The Magic Nursery boxes are all wedge-shaped with angled fronts--very much like the Cabbage Patch Kid boxes:

Here's a quick side-by-side comparison of an empty Cabbage Patch Kid box and an empty Magic Nursery box:

The right side of the box has that picture of the girl with her non-dissolving robe again:

With the ironic caption, "Dip homecoming robe in disappears!"

Below that, the same girl is expressing extreme enthusiasm for her doll's gender and outfit.   If you look really closely, you can see that her doll is a girl.  There's also a frilly pink outfit.  A different outfit, by the way, than what slid out of the blue robe in that first picture.  Details, Mattel, details.

In the final picture of this series, the girl is holding her re-dressed doll.  Now wearing a dress similar to the one in the first picture:

The other side of the box has a different series of pictures:

This side reveals another fun feature of the Magic Nursery dolls.  If you kiss (or heat) the little heart on their cheeks...

...the heart disappears and a star is revealed!  This star means that your love is forever.

The bottom of the box recommends throwing a party to share the surprises of your baby with family and friends:

I wasn't young enough in 1990 to experience the popularity of these dolls, but I suspect Mattel was very strategic in promoting this social approach.  It's fun to get together with friends any time, of course, but having a party specifically for the gender-reveal of a new Magic Nursery doll surely had a desirable impact for Mattel: namely, it made all of the other kids at the party want a Magic Nursery doll.

The back of the box has a little bit of text and a large photograph of three girls with their dolls:

The blurb at the top of the box is fairly unremarkable, except for one thing:

This part: with the magic of love, their new mommy or daddy discovers all about them and their hearts link forever!

Mommy or daddy.  Bravo, Mattel!  I don't think I've ever seen this kind of wording on another baby doll box.

There's also a list of box contents--again, featuring the special party invitations:

The baby is apparently wearing Pampers brand diapers and does not come with socks:

That's a little strange.  All of the dolls on the box are shown with really cute socks.  Oh, well.  I guess I won't get those.

While I was examining this box, I was imagining what it might be like to have been one of the models for this line.  The girls look about ten-years-old in these photos, so they're probably in their late thirties or forties now.  Maybe with kids of their own.

She kinda looks like someone I know.
I imagine that posing for any doll campaign would be tons of fun (and make for some great memories), but to have been a part of such a popular brand--and one that's still relevant today--well, that's especially awesome.

Anyway, I've delayed for long enough!  Let's look at the actual doll:

Sure enough, it has pastel purple shoes...with no socks:

These dolls were packaged with a band of cardboard encircling their waist.  This makes it look like they're seated at a play table:

Every doll also comes with a plastic bottle that isn't very interesting.  

Here's everything that was in the box...except for that bottle:

Remarkably, this doll stands on its own.  The legs are very firmly-stuffed and the shoes are sturdy and help with balance.

Ok, I'll admit something to you here.  When I pulled this doll out of its box, the gender card and secret outfit fell right onto my table.  Bam.  Surprise over.  It was sad.  No dissolving robe suspense for me.  It was a lot like that picture on the box, actually.

What happened, in a nutshell, is that the eBay seller was dishonest with me.  This was not a "new, unused, unopened" item.  It had been opened, the back of the robe had been stealthily cut, and then everything was taped back together to make it appear new.

Fortunately, I was able to slide the secrets back inside the robe, tape it back up, and preserve the secret for all of you!

Nothing to see here.
Before I dissolved the robe, though, I checked the instruction booklet--just to make sure I knew what I was doing.

The booklet begins with a paragraph on how to plan that ever-important marketing surprise party:

Sarcasm aside, this type of party sounds really fun to me.  There's no way I'd be able to save the doll's secret for the party date, though.  I'd be ripping into that box right away.

I found the directions for dissolving the magic robe.  They're very simple:

My love works the magic.

1. Take off the robe
2. Dip the robe in tap water
*radiate some serious love
3. Find the secret pouch!
4. Throw away the water

*this isn't mentioned as a step, but it's implied.

I think I can handle all of that.

The booklet has a lot of other little things inside of it, including this family tree, which I thought was a fun comparison to the Sweet e.Baby tree:

You have to pick a favorite aunt?  Score one for sibling rivalry...
This tree allows the parent to be a boy, of course, but it also has several spaces reserved specifically for additional Magic Nursery siblings.  Another clever nuance from Mattel.

But enough of that!  Let's get to the magic disappearing robe!

Here it is, safely removed from the doll:

The robe feels like paper.  It doesn't feel as fragile as I expected--it's like thin newsprint.  The secret pouch is sewn into a panel inside the robe:

I filled a glass bowl with tap water and put it on a dish towel in my studio:

And then I took a movie of the suspenseful moment when I dropped the robe into the water!

Except that this is the most boring video ever made.  Ugh.  There's no sound and practically no action.  I even clipped out several seconds to make it less boring than it originally was.  The robe took forever to dissolve.

But, the robe did eventually dissolve after a minute or two...

...revealing the secret gender card!

It's the Girl Card.
It's a girl!

Make no mistake, though, the robe did not disappear.  It's very present as a thick orange sludge in the bottom of the bowl:

Even love cannot defeat the conservation of matter.
On the other side of the packet is a glimpse of my doll's new outfit and a little wristband:

Here's everything removed from the surprise pouch:

The wristband doesn't fit me, but it's meant for the new parent:

Here's my baby girl with her hairstyle (and her name!) still a secret:

That is a really, really big diaper.
Maybe those purple shoes were prophetic after all?

Let's give this baby a name so I can call her something other than "this baby."  

She was giving off very strong "M" vibes to me.  In fact, I almost ignored the name generator and just called her Madeline.  She looks like a Madeline.  But let's have another surprise instead!  That's more fun.

I selected the letter "M" on Random Names and got....

Meg!  That's a great name for a baby.

Now, let's see what the hair looks like!  I hope it's as cute as Shyla's hair.  The hair is very well-hidden under a large bonnet that's sewn in place: 

I snipped the threads and started to pull the hat off...

Lots and lots of frizzy, curly bangs began to tumble out:

There was also a fair amount of hair piled up on top of Meg's head.  This was originally held in place with a rubber band, but the band is disintegrating:

Here's Meg with her hair finger-combed (and all the bits of old rubber band pulled out):

Oh, that's definitely late 80s hair.
The hair fiber does not feels as nice to me as Shyla's hair fiber.  It's dry and synthetic-feeling.  It also has a funny chemical smell that I do not like.  The hair is soft, though, I'll give it that.

The hair is rooted in even rows with medium-sized plugs:

The rooting might look thin up close, but the curly texture of the hair gives it more than enough volume.

I did my best to tame the hair and then moved on to look at Meg's body:

Her body is made entirely out of cloth, with the exception of her plastic "innie" belly button:

Meg's fingers, toes, elbows, ankles and bottom are defined by stitched areas of cloth.  I'm struck by how high her knees are.  She basically has no thighs.

Her feet are stained from thirty years of being inside purple shoes with no socks:

Here's a peek at the detail on the back of her elbow:

That little dimple is classic Cabbage Patch Kid.
I really don't know what to say about this doll's bottom.  

It's just---I mean it looks like...well, it's almost as if...nope.  There's nothing I can say here that won't get me into some kind of trouble.  

See for yourself:

Aside from the bottom, the similarity to Cabbage Patch Kids is noteworthy.  Here's Meg with my Magic Touch Color Silk Kid, Mercedes Emilia (from Jakks Pacific):

Cabbage Patch Kid Magic Touch Color Silk Kid, Magic Nursery Toddler.
The Magic Nursery body mimics the Cabbage Patch body in basic construction.  The exact shapes differ from doll to doll, as do little details like the belly button, but there are a lot of similarities.  In my opinion, the Cabbage Patch body looks and feels better, and has much more reasonable proportions.  And of course Cabbage Patch Kids were around long before 1990.  Interestingly, Mattel took over the Cabbage Patch brand in 1994--only a few years after they introduced Magic Nursery.

I brushed Meg's unruly hair and dressed her in her new lavender dress (which matches her shoes...):

I think I got the shoes on the wrong feet.
The dress is a little wrinkled from being in a bag for 26 years, but it has a pretty design and is well-made.  The secret pouch preserved this dress well.  Other than the wrinkles, it looks (and smells!) brand new:

Meg's hair is crazy, but I like this doll.  Her hair gives her a little extra personality.

She has bright blue upward-glancing eyes with the same eight-pointed stars that are in Shyla's eyes.

The little heart on her cheek is supposed to conceal another star, but under my hot photography lights the star is visible all of the time...

...but the heart disappears completely when it's heated--or when I kiss it.  Yes, I had to try that to make sure it works.

I didn't even have to give Meg an awkwardly long kiss or anything like that.  Just a regular kiss does the trick!

Here's Meg with her Cabbage Patch cousin, Mercedes:

Cabbage Patch Kid Magic Touch Color Silk Kid, Magic Nursery Toddler.
Mercedes can't stand up on her own the way Meg can--even with those big boots.

I don't like Meg quite as much as I like Shyla.  Her hair is not as nice and she doesn't feel as special (many of the used Magic Nursery dolls on eBay resemble Meg).  However, she's definitely a well-made little doll with a lot of fun extras.  I didn't quite get the full experience of revealing her surprises, but I can imagine the suspense and excitement of watching that gown slowly dissolve.  After seeing Shyla and de-boxing Meg, I understand the hype that these dolls generated back in the early 90s.

But I'm not done yet!!  Did you think I was done?  Nah.

Right after I purchased Meg (before I found out that her box had already been opened), a new eBay seller emerged and listed a ton of Magic Nursery dolls all in a row.  It was amazing.  There were babies, toddler, newborns, twins...everything.  At first, all of these listings were auctions with $50 shipping prices.  I bid timidly on a few things but got soundly outbid.  But then, the seller changed tactics and started posting new offerings with really low Buy it Now prices and free shipping.  I jumped at this opportunity...and so I have another Magic Nursery Toddler to share with you!  Yay!  

This one did, in fact, arrive in a completely factory-sealed box:

This doll is from a different series than Meg.  It's a First Surprise Toddler:

These dolls all have a magic disappearing bib that conceal the baby's gender and secret outfit:

Again, though, the picture is misleading.  That girl is holding a doll that's clearly female (wearing her new dress)...and yet that same girl is also holding an undissolved bib.

Where'd the dress come from?
That bib looks like just a flat piece of paper, too.  It's not bulky enough to be hiding anything inside.

Anyway, in addition to a secret gender and outfit, these First Surprise dolls also have a hidden feature representing one of three first experiences: first treat, first tooth or first haircut:  

The First Treat babies come with an ice cream cone and have mouths that look messy when the temperature gets cold.  The First Teeth babies have teeth that pop out when a knob on the back of the head is turned, and the First Haircut babies have two strands of hair that can be made longer and shorter.  Those things all sound fun to me.

Not to be a spoilsport, but it's pretty clear that my baby is not a First Tooth doll.  There's no opening  in its mouth for teeth: 

It could be a First Treat doll, I suppose, but after twenty-some years I think I would see the hint of a messy face pattern around that mouth.  However, it is pretty hot in my studio.

Another intriguing thing about this baby is that it has white shoes:

If shoe color can, in fact, give away the gender of a baby ahead of time, white is a great color to see.  This could easily be a boy or a girl.  It really is a surprise!!

Instead of offering a free twin doll, this box advertises a free First Friend:

Lucky winners of this prize could send away for a free Magic Nursery Toddler.

The box is the exact same size and shape as Meg's box.  The right side of the box advertises the charm bracelet that's included in the baby's surprise pouch:

These dolls also have magic kissable hearts on their cheeks, and a booklet full of activities.

The left side of the box has a few different pictures, including the girl with her fake dissolving bib:

This side also highlights the fun of each different variety of doll.  

First Teeth:

First Treat:

And first Haircut:

The back of the box is very similar to Meg's box, with a little bit of text and a large photograph of three girls and their dolls:

I love this messy little First Treat guy:

In this next picture, the jungle print overall set that the boy on the right is wearing happens to be one of my favorite Magic Nursery outfits:

So cute.
The diversity of outfits in tis line is really fun.

This girl had to hold another fake magic bib with her doll:

But enough about boxes!  I want to see that bib dissolve!!

Here's the doll removed from the main box:

The bib is a little crumpled, but it's clearly got lots of stuff inside...and it hasn't been cut open!

Here's everything that was in the box: the baby (with bib) and a little booklet.

There's a redheaded character on the cover of this booklet, making me think there must have been redheaded dolls at some point...

This booklet has a section going over how to dissolve the bib:

I don't think love is required this time.
And a page with details about each variety of doll:

I was determined to make slightly more interesting movies for this doll's big reveal.  I got my trusty bowl back out, but this time I filled it with boiling hot water--in an effort to speed up the dissolving process.  I can see why Mattel didn't recommend boiling hot water to kids, though.

I also grabbed some kitchen tongs so that I could avoid touching the hot water...and also, in a twisted coincidence, so that I could reach into the field of view without revealing my badly-burned left arm (which is not from this particular use of a boiling hot liquid...).

Are you guys ready to see the magic again?  Hopefully at a faster pace?

All right!  Let's do this!  I also added in a little Mozart to make the whole thing more cultured:

Sigh.  More pink.

There's no card with the baby's secret feature, though.  It must be on the other I made you another little movie clip:

Baby's First Haircut!  As predicted--but still fun:

The pink outfit already gave this away, but the baby's gender is written in one corner of this card:

The secret pouch holds the outfit and card, but it also has a pair of fake scissors and the charm bracelet inside:

The scissors are not sharp at all--for obvious safety reasons, but also because I'm not actually supposed to cut the doll's hair.

Even though I want to.
The charm bracelet is made out of plastic and has a rainbow-colored sparkly elastic wrist band:

The outfit includes a short dress and a pair of pink stretchy underpants (these dolls do not wear diapers):

Instead of a diaper, the First Surprise dolls come wearing a gender-neutral romper:

This romper is slightly clown-like, but it would be fun to use as the doll's pajamas or something.

The secret hairstyle is covered with a striped beach-style hat: 

Like Meg's bonnet, this hat is sewn into the hair so that it won't slip off in the box:

I cut the stitches and pulled the hat slowly off...

The hair is clearly not as curly as Meg's hair...

It has the same ponytail at the back, though...

...complete with a disintegrating rubber band:

The hair was hard to sort out.  There were a lot of bang-length strands that wanted to stand straight up:

After I figured out what the hair was supposed to be doing, I uncovered three small pink ribbons:

The longest ribbon is in the middle of the doll's head, and it disappears down into a hole in the scalp:

The other two ribbons are tied onto braids at either side of the doll's head:

The braids also disappear into the doll's head:

Here's a better view of one braid in its short position:

If I pull on the braids, they can get pretty long:

Pulling on the middle ribbon restores the braids to their original length--that's the simulated haircut:

This mechanism works pretty well, although the right braid tends to get stuck when I'm trying to pull it back into the doll's head.

This toddler has a body that's very similar to Meg's.  It's the same height and has the same construction, although this girl cannot stand up on her own (even with her shoes):

Also, she has an "outie" belly button!
Her bottom might be slightly less extreme than Meg's...

...or maybe not.

When she's dressed in her secret outfit, this girl looks like Meg's twin:

She has the same face and eye color as Meg...and her little kissable heart works the same way:

Sadly, this takes us to the last surprise of the day, which is to find out what this doll's name is.  I'm going to imagine that she's Meg's twin sister, so I'll pick another "M" name and cross my fingers that it coordinates well.

Looks like she's going to be called...

Ooh!  Marcy.  I like that.

Here are a few more pictures of little Marcy with her new outfit on and her hair brushed:

Her bangs are really thick!

She may not be able to stand on her own like Meg can, but she sits up nicely.

The beach hat looks cute with the dress, and it helps to control Marcy's unruly hair:

Here are Marcy and Meg together:

Magic Nursery First Haircut (left) and Toddler (right).
Bottom Line?  The dissolving clothes on these dolls are very unique and fun.  It'd be interesting to know what Mattel used to make the magical fabric.  It feels like fine wood pulp when it's dissolved, and I suppose it's just held together with something that's highly water-soluble.  The material is reasonably tough when it's dry, but dissolves almost instantly in really hot water.  It's a neat trick.  I assume it's non-toxic.

The secrets concealed within the melting clothes are fun, too.  I especially like that each doll comes with a cute hidden outfit.  It's nice to go on eBay and cherry-pick the best outfits (like Shyla's black-and-white dress), but it's more exciting to have the surprise of a mystery dress.

The gender and hairstyle secrets were less impressive to me.  This is mostly because I got two blonde girls who look similar enough to be twins.  Also, their hair smells funny and is difficult to manage.  It's nowhere near as nice as Shyla's hair.  It's probably not fair to judge the diversity of the Magic Nursery line by what's for sale now, though--twenty-six years after the dolls were first introduced.  Over time, certain coveted variations (like the darker-haired babies and the boys...maybe some redheads?) have surely been filtered out of the market and kept in treasured collections.

What's really hard for me to gauge is if these dolls had staying power as toys once their secrets had been discovered.  Back in 1990, was it enough to have just one Magic Nursery doll?  The dolls I have are certainly endearing and well-made enough that they could have been a child's single beloved plaything.  But I also wonder if there was more of an emphasis on accumulating lots of these dolls--perhaps trying for a rare or popular combination of clothes, gender and hair color?  For no solid reason in particular, these dolls remind me of the American Girl phenomenon: owning a doll carries some social status (you'd want to announce it to your friends with a party...) and collecting a lot of dolls is highly desirable.

I'm really just guessing about all of this, though, and basing my thoughts on my own reaction to the line.  I enjoy the dolls, but I'm pretty fixated on trying to find a boy.  They must be out there.

As evidence of my fixation, I'll leave you with a teaser preview for a future Sunday Surprise post.  I found this doll on eBay too late for it to join today's review:

But I have a good feeling about this one.  First of all, it's dressed in blue.  That's a good sign for a boy, right?  Also, it has white shoes (gender neutral!).  And, it's completely sealed and mint-in-box.  What do you guys think?  A boy or another girl?  You can guess along with me by voting in the poll at the top of the page.  I haven't had a poll in ages.  The thing is, even if this is another girl (I like girls, too!), the hair is dark and looks straight, so there will be some kind of new variation.  Stay tuned.  The Magic Nursery fun has just begun!

Magic Nursery Toddler holding Magic Nursery Happy Meal doll.


  1. I had one of these as a kid. My mother totally eased open the boxes and felt under the hats to find one with long dark curls lol. She was terrible.

    I think mine was called Melissa but I can't remember. it was an M name anyway. I think the only boys I have ever seen were actually bald.

  2. Okay, I actually let out a little gasp when I saw the Magic Nursery Happy Meal toy, because I *remember* having those as a kid! My brother had a little boy and I had a little girl. Can't remember what we called the boy, but I'm embarrassed to admit that the girl was definitely named "Holly." Hey, I was three, cut me some slack haha...

    Shyla's beautiful, BTW, and I love her outfit! I was a little disappointed that Marcy turned out to be a girl, though, since I swear I got some "boy" vibes from her picture. Oh, well! Here's hoping the mystery brunette baby turns out to be a boy!

    Great post, as always! Sunday Surprise entries are so fun to read!

  3. Once again you've enlightened me, as I've never heard of this line before. I wonder if this line had any connection to Mattel's My Child line? They're not a lot alike but their faces remind me of one another. Very cute, and as usual a great post. I'm looking forward to the third doll's reveal!

  4. I was born in 1981 so I was about 9 years old when these dolls came out and I have so many of them. I think I one from every line they made. I was a spoiled only child of divorce so I got lots of presents. lol Thanks to my grandparents that allowed me to keep some of my most treasured toys in a closet at their house when I got married and moved out, I still have these dolls. I loved reading this review, it made me want to dig my old dolls out of the closet and see how they're holding up. I think I remember having the ice cream treat one but I don't think I had any boy dolls. Maybe if I have time I can photograph them and post some pics on your Facebook. I'm really loving this Sunday Surprise series! Oh and thanks for letting me know about the Happy Meal ones. I don't know how those slipped by me as a kid but I never knew about them.

  5. Oh, I loved this review! I remember everything about these dolls: the packaging with the cardboard play table, the sludgy orange post-reveal water, the little booklet that you filled in. I remember coveting these dolls so hard and finally getting mine on my Birthday, and the reveal was the most exciting thing ever. I loved little Matthew for quite a long time. I'm actually not entirely sure what happenend to him, but now I wish he was still around.
    As for the collecting more dolls thing, I think I only had the one and my little sister had two (she got her baby during the promotion where you sent away for a twin). And I didn't really feel the need to expand (Except I do remember wanting those "first surprise" dolls and never getting one). Even after the surprise was over, there was so much to do with my baby, he still remained special. Of course, even American Girl was different back then. Not every single person had one, as they were just becoming well-known, and most people I knew (including me)only got one doll, and the rest of the focus was on building the character's collection of accessories and outfits to go along with her books. I think it's just in the past several years that the "Gotta Catch 'Em All" idea of AG doll-buying came about. Probably in large part because there are now nearly a hundred dolls to choose from instead of five. Now there's constantly a new doll coming out, with new hair/skin/eye combinations to want. And also partly because parents back then weren't willing to spend a ton of money on dolls willy-nilly. If you got one, you'd better love it, because it would be the only one. I had a special relationship with my Molly, much more so than with the dozen other AG dolls that I've accumulated in my adulthood. Having her be my only American Girl doll made her so special to me, and she still is. So I think the need to collect more dolls is part of the culture now.
    Oh, and I was browsing Magic Nursery on eBay myself just now, and I saw a listing for a redheaded baby!
    She's naked, and, being a baby, not as cute as the toddlers, but at the very least, they exist! Thought you should know ^_~.

    1. That ebay doll doesn't really look like a redhead to me. It looks like the medium blonde hair some had. I wish the seller shoed the hair clearer. I did some searching, and couldn't find any true redheaded dolls.

      And you're right about dolls often being the only! I never got an American Girl (or a My Little Pony, which I wanted so badly and never really got over not getting), and since dolls were most expensive then, it's not like we got Barbies left and right either. I remember the price of some dolls, without accounting for inflation, costing more dollars than Barbies today, and when you factor inflation...OUCH.

  6. What an exciting review! I love your Sunday Surprise series. Seems like mystery toys have always been appealing, from baby dolls like these to things like blind boxes today. It's really fun to learn about all these older toys and notice the marketing trends, etc.

    Secret names are my favorites! It's a bummer these dolls didn't have names (missed opportunity there), but you picked really cute ones.

    I was getting very strong 'boy' vibes from Marcy. What a disappointment that she turned out to be so similar to Meg. I am so curious to see one of the boy dolls (fingers crossed the brunette newcomer is a boy)! Shyla is most adorable though, and definitely a special little doll.

    Can't wait to see what you find next! Thanks for this exciting review & have a great week. :)

  7. Another great review. All the secret dolls have been fun. I remember the McDonald's toys. I can't wait to see the next one!

  8. Great post! I love your Sunday Surprises. On the back of the box I noticed the boy babies had different shoes from the girls. They have lace up shoes. So if the new baby has lace up shoes it might be a boy,

  9. This was such a fun post! These feel so so familiar to me - especially having to dissolve something in water - but I don't remember ever having one. Hmmm. I did have a My Bundle Baby which looks similar to the Magic Nursery Baby dolls and had a gender reveal gimmick, too, but came in a pouch with a 'heartbeat'.

    1. My sister had a My Bundle Baby, and I believe they may have been part of the Magic Nursery Line. From what I remember the My Bundle Baby came in a pouch that the child owner would wear over her stomach and pretend to be pregnant. Not only could you hear the baby's heartbeat coming from the pouch, you could also feel the baby kicking! Rather strange for a child's toy, but the doll was kind of cute. And yes, when the pouch was opened some sort of written announcement revealed the baby's gender. At least, that's what I remember from the tv commercial. I don't remember my sister's doll very well.
      Signed, Treesa

  10. Thanks Emily, what a fun review! I'd never seen these dolls and had no idea there had been surprise dolls. The closest to this I was aware of before this review were those Playmobil bags with a mystery figurine.
    It was a clever idea on Mattel's part to have dissolving outfit patch. At first I thought the outfit dissolved as you bathe the doll and on seeing they were fabric bodies, that seemed like a recipe for trouble:-)
    I think the future Surprise is a boy.
    Thanks again.:D

  11. Oh these are so cute! Shyla is absolutely adorable! I guess I'm just a bit too young for these dolls though as I've never heard about these dolls before. If I had been around when these dolls were hip I'm certain I would have many of them! In my opinion, their faces are cuter than cabbage patch kids! And I would be sorely tempted to buy one of these if their bodies weren't all cloth. As it stands, for over fifty dollars I would rather find an Adora or Lee Middleton doll on ebay ;) Thanks for this review and I can't wait until you open the next one!

  12. What an awesome post!! Sunday Surprise posts are my favourite, although I have to say, this one and Sweet.e.Baby are my favorites so far. Now whenever I see people in raincoats, I want to yell, "It's the faceless rain stompers!!!!" ;)

  13. I had never heard of these dolls before, so you have enlightened me once again! All of this was really cute. Hoping the third one is a boy!

  14. Thank you for another awesome review, Emily!

    How many Cabbage Patch Kids do you have?

  15. Thank you for another awesome review, Emily!

    How many Cabbage Patch Kids do you have?

  16. Hey Emily,

    That really is a cute doll. I love all the pictures that you take and level of details. This would be a great gift for kids come December.


  17. OMG YAY!!! After a particularly hellish week, I'm do excited to see this!!!

    "It's fun to get together with friends any time, of course, but having a party specifically for the gender-reveal of a new Magic Nursery..."

    No one I knew ever waited that long. I stopped my own birthday to rip open the box and rush to the kitchen sink!! Screw the bowl. I held it under running water and rubbed it. I got a girl. She had a purple floral dress, did have socks, and I named her Stephanie. I loved filing out everything in that book. Stephanie went everywhere with me for a couple years. I even took her with me to see the Blue Angels, and camping, and to some professional baseball games. I was about 12 when I finally retired her to a spot on my bed. I didn't even care that I was seen as too old to have a doll I loved when I was 12. These days, adults can love the hell out of dolls. I was simply ahead of the curve in not chucking toys before then.

    I do know that some boys had purple shoes. There were boys with purple in their romper outfits.

    In fairness to Meg's hair, any chemical fumes were trapped under her bonnet for all these years. Shyla's hair got to air out. I've never seen any redheads though. Since hair color could be seen, I doubt that any were made. Redheads were teased so horrifically that my parents actually ponied up to get my hair dyed so I wouldn't be teased so bad. I was the one who asked. They didn't suggest. Because of how bad bullies were to redheads at the time, they didn't argue. Red hair is fashionable now, but it wasn't in the early 90's. :(

    I hope you left that seller a scathing review, or at least no better than a neutral if the seller righted the wrong of lying.

    Did you notice the girl on the First Surprise doll's box has her hair bow on upside down when she's holding the flat bib?

    I wonder if the teething doll comes with anything the way the others come with a cone or scissors. Some ear plugs for the parent would be great, or perhaps a bottle of Hylands. Hylands saved my sanity when my daughter was teething. That helped her sooooo much!!

    Ah, now I read down farther. The box said nothing about the toothbrush.

    I got suck a kick out of those videos!

    These dolls DID have staying power. Since no two were the same, and there was a lot unknown at first, each doll was unique and more special.

    By the way, you're welcome for the new obsession. ;) And mostly, thank you for covering these dolls. This one, and the promise of at least one more future review, take me back to when I was a kid, back before things in my life fell apart, both before my health tanked and my family fell apart. So this review is extremely special and emotional.

  18. I had a little set of triplets as a kid, but I have no memories of opening them. A couple years ago, though, I was lucky enough to receive a mint-in-box Christmas-themed baby that had been kept for many years by a man who used to be one of the higher-ups at Hasbro. It was ridiculously exciting unveiling all the surprises! (My doll was a girl, too, haha!)

  19. Emily, have you heard of Hatchimals? It is a spindoctor toy.
    It is an electronic bird that hatches from its egg and goes for about $60.
    Sounds like a fun surprise!

  20. But I'm not done yet!! Did you think I was done? Nah.
    I did think you were done and!! Mindreader.

    my badly-burned left arm
    :o Are you okay? That sounds horrible. I haven't noticed you mentioning your injury anywhere else, I hope you're healing up well.

    I also added in a little Mozart to make the whole thing more cultured
    I feel bad for laughing right after you announcing you've been badly burnt.

    I was delighted by this review, and am very excited about the cliffhanger. It makes it feel more interactive, especially with the added poll. I hope you'll do a line-up of all the babies in the next post, I'd love to see a side by side of Shyla (also my favourite) and the other girls. And you've got me wondering if Shyla could be rebodied - her brown eyes are so mesmerising, but I don't enjoy cloth bodies.

    Thank you for another marvellous introduction!

  21. I loved reading this post, Shyla is adorable. I remember receiving a Magic Nursery doll as a child. She had the same outfit as your Shyla and curly, pale blonde hair. I absolutely loved her as a kid and I still have her in storage at my Mom's. I cant wait to see if you finally got a boy doll this time. Thanks for another wonderful post.

  22. I was a child of the 90's and at one point I had 6 Magic Nursery dolls. 2 boys and 4 girls. My first was a girl whon I named Chrissy because I had gotten her for Christmas. She had a cute black and white polka dot romper (I don't recall if this was her surprise outfit but I think it must have been as she was always in it when I played with her). She had violet eyes and just a little tuft of blonde hair. My second was Ellie but unfortunately the only thing I can remember about her, other than her name, is that she wore a white dress with pink flowers on it. Next came my first boy who was a newborn so he didn't have hair on his head. I named him Patrick and he came in a sort of onesie that was mostly a mint green with short pink sleeves. His secret outfit was baby blue shorts and a top that was white with blue polka dots and a picture of either a duck or a bear. I forget which. His special feature was that with cold water (or even ice cubes) his eyes closed. Compared to my first 2, he was slimmer and just a little taller. Next was Ally, who I think waa quite to tiny compared to the others. She was the baby that came in the carrier that, when you pressed a button, had the heartbeat and kicking action. The most I remember about Ally is that she had blue eyes and her coming home outfit was a pink and yellow romper. The last 2 were given to me for free because a friend of my mother's was giving away some toys that her daughter no longer played with. These 2 were toddlers and they came to me without clothes. One was a boy and the other a girl which I named Jessica and Justin because my mother had told me a story about the last set of twins she had miscarried before she had me. So I named my babies after the ones she didn't have. Sadly however, I no longer have possession of any of these dolls as they were all lost when my childhood home had been taken due to back taxes. I had kept them in hopes that I would have a little girl to give them to. It's nice to know they can be found on the internet, but it's a same that they haven't been slightly revamped and brought back for today's children to enjoy like the Waterbabies (which I also had) have been. I bet my nieces would have loved Magic Nursery dolls. I might buy them Waterbabies though. Thanks for the review Emily. It reminded me of all of the fun I had with my dolls when I was a little girl.

    1. Forgive typos. I'm usually good at catching them, but apperently this wasn't one of those times.