The original Blythe doll was created by designer Allison Katzman in 1972 and sold by the toy company Kenner. However, her oversized head and eyes that changed colors with a pull string did not go over well, and the four original dolls were only sold for a year.
In 1997, NY photographer Gina Garan received a Kenner Blythe as a gift and began using the doll to practice her photography skills. After taking thousands of photos of the doll, Garan eventually met toy producer CWC’s Junko Wong and published a book of her photographs, called This Is Blythe. In 2001, CWC was allowed to have Takara began creating new Blythe editions. The dolls were an enormous hit in Japan, and Ashton Drake began producing replicas in the US as well. While Takara’s Neo Blythes were based loosely on the 1972 originals, Ashton Drake attempted to produce exact replicas. Takara’s Blythes are much more popular, and their prices can range from around $75 to close to $400 for limited releases. Takara continues to produce Blythe dolls, while Ashton Drake ceased producing the dolls in 2008 after producing 12 different releases. Since 2002, Takara has been producing Petite Blythes, which are about 11.2cm high and do not have blinking eyes. And since 2010 Takara began releasing Middle Blythes which are in their words “Not too big, not too small” measuring in at 20cm.
Blythe is a 28cm / 12 inch doll, or 1/6 scale. Her head is disproportionately large compared to her body. Her eyes change colors and directions when the string hanging from the back of her head is pulled. The stock eye colors and positions for Neo Blythe are blue (left facing), orange (front facing), green (right facing), and pink (forward facing) although many limited edition Blythe’s have different coloured eyechips. She has fairly flat feet (Barbie shoes normally don’t fit) and only early Neo Blythes have bendable arms and legs (licca bodies) Her body is approximately the size of Mattel’s Skipper.
Takara Blythes have evolved over the years. The original 2001-2002 Neo Blythes had Licca bodies with bendable arms and legs. These BL dolls had face molds with eyes that glanced far to the side and some dolls had “boggled” eyes where the eye lid did not show. Several of the dolls had matte faces. In 2002, Takara switched to the Excellent (EBL) design. The new bodies were less flexible, with only the legs bending in a 3-click range. The eyes were improved to show more of the eyelid and had a less extreme sideways glance. Takara redesigned the face mold completely in 2004, based on scans of the original Kenner Blythes. The new design, Superior (SBL), also had updated eyes, producing a sparklier look. The first four dolls after the redesign have eyes that look sharply downward, but Takara fixed this for the rest of the dolls. Most recently in 2006, Takara again redesigned the face mold. The Radience (RBL) head can again be easily opened, and the face itself is more child-like. In September 2008, Takara announced a new body style with more bendable/durable knee clicks. In 2009, Takara introduced a new face mold called Fairest, supposedly based on the EBL face mold, with chubbier cheeks, bigger eye pupils, and semi-matte skin. Takara is currently releasing both RBL and FBL dolls, after announcing the discontinuation of the SBL mold in May 2009 . A comparison and discussion of the different head molds (excluding FBL) can be found here.
Blythe has an ever growing fan base around the world and online. While some collectors like to keep their dolls in mint condition, most play with their dolls and many customize her clothing and features. Customization can range from new make-up and rerooted hair to carved eye sockets and new eye chips. Takara has catered to this growing trend toward customization by releasing several dolls with minimal accessories and a cheaper price tag, called Prima Dollies.