GRISWOLD, Iowa -- When Donna Brown first saw a Cabbage Patch doll she remarked, “That’s the ugliest doll I’ve ever seen.” But somehow the soft sculpture dolls won her heart, and she now has a collection of more than 3,000 dolls and accessories in her Cabbage Patch Fantasy Land Museum.
Brown said her huge collection started with one doll given to her by her daughter Sherry Seyler. “She bought it at a thrift store in Omaha,” said Brown. “So I guess I can blame my passion for Cabbage Patch Kids on her.” It wasn’t long before other relatives and friends began giving Brown the soft sculpture dolls as gifts for birthdays and Christmas.
As the collection began to grow and her house filled with dolls, Brown desperately needed more room. “We got a trailer house but then it got full and we got another trailer house. Then I told my husband I wanted a museum so that I could have them all in here.” It was then her late husband Clyde came to the rescue. “He built the museum,” she said.
Clyde even helped in collecting more Cabbage Patch Kids for the collection. “When we went on vacation that was our thing to find Cabbage Patch Kids,” she said. “Hardly any of them were fully dressed. They might have a shoe or top.” Brown would then take pieces from several to make one. “The older ones are getting hard to find in good shape.”
The story of the Cabbage Patch doll begins in 1976 when 21-year-old art student Xavier Roberts came up with the idea. It was two years later that Roberts and five of his college friends joined together and formed a company called the Original Appalachian Artworks Inc. that produced a plush, handmade Little People doll. Even those first dolls came with what would become a signature item with the later Cabbage Patch dolls, a birth certificate and adoption papers.
By 1981 his unique dolls were so popular Roberts and his friends couldn’t keep up with the demand. The Little People dolls even appeared on the cover of Atlantic Weekly. In 1982 they signed a contract with Coleco, who would mass-produce the dolls with plastic heads and be called Cabbage Patch Kids. By the next year even Coleco couldn’t keep up with the demand.
From 1989 to 1994 Hasbro took over production of the dolls that had now shrunk to 14 inches tall. Mattel began production in 1994, keeping the smaller 14-inch design that continues today.
Brown points out that Cabbage Patch collectors don’t refer to the popular toy as dolls. “You’re supposed to call them babies,” she explained. “And when you adopt a baby you’re supposed to take an oath that you will take care of your baby.”
On the left side of every baby’s bottom is the signature of the inventor, Xavier Roberts. What many people don’t know is the color of the signature changed for just about every year they were made. In 1983, the signature was black but in 1993 it was forest green.
Brown said Cabbage Patch Kids have been just about everywhere, including small versions in McDonald's Happy Meals. “Burger King also had them in their kids' meals,” said Brown. She said one lucky Cabbage Patch Kid even went into space. “On October 30, 1985, a Cabbage Patch Kid went into space on the Space Shuttle Challenger.”
Then in 1996 the Olympic Games Committee selected the Cabbage Patch Kids as their official mascot.
There were various ideas for special Cabbage Patch Kids, including one that could say their ABCs. But not all the ideas for the Cabbage Patch Kids were successful. Brown has one example that can eat French fries. “It wasn’t out very long,” she said. “Kids could get their fingers or hair caught in them. They didn’t recall them but you could take it back and get your money back.”
Just like the flu that swept through Iowa recently, the Cabbage Patch Kids had their own bout with disease. “They called it the ‘Cabbage Patch Pox,’” said Brown. “It was a defect in the material that caused spots.” Those Cabbage Patch Kids in the museum affected by the pox have been isolated. But not to worry, they have a full-time nurse looking after them.
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