Updated: Jul 3, 2021
When I need a new doll for my gtGdollwear crew, I just click the website that is bookmarked on my laptop - Fred-Dolls.com - the first Integrity Toys distributor in Europe. There is a reputable seller, an honest man and a very kind soul behind this brand! We never met but somehow I feel like I've known Francesco for ages. Last year he helped me with the head start of my business by introducing me to the wider doll community. You can only imagine my excitement when my Facebook messenger lit up and there was a thumb up from him agreeing for an interview.
- Hello, can you please introduce yourself?
Hello, I am Francesco Ruffino, owner of FrEd Dolls since 1999 (formerly Teddy’s Doll Shop). We changed the name a few years ago.
- Francesco, this is the questions that I’ve always had on my mind – why Fred if you are Francesco!?
Fr is for Francesco and Ed is Edgar for my partner, so there you go FrEd.
- Tell me about your background!
I am Sicilian by origin, however I was born and raised in beautiful Switzerland.
After finishing the school, I worked just a few years in media advertisement. In 1989 I started working as a flight attendant up until 2013. When I had enough of traveling I started looking for a more settled life, so I started working for an insurance company, I am now in the Travel Assistance department.
- What or who inspired you to start collecting the dolls?
I loved playing with dolls since a was a child. I had LEGO, airplanes, cars but missed a doll! I mostly played with Barbie dolls belonging to my friend. She had loads of them, and that was in the early 70’s. As I did not have my own dolls, I once borrowed a Barbie from my best friend. I took the doll home and stared at her. I did not even play with that doll, just wished I could have my own one.
Then I remember one day my mother and I went shopping, I was about 9 or 10 at the time. We passed by a doll shop, and in the window, there was a Barbie doll displayed! I started screaming and did not stop until my mum gave up and I got my one and only doll.
Fast forward 10 years… When I was about 16 or 18 years old, I bought myself some Barbies with my own money. They were Tropical Barbie, Ken & Skipper, soon after the Roller Skating Barbie joined, I still have them all.
My true collector instincts kicked in when I began to fly around the world as a flight attendant and discovered all the different shops and dolls. Thanks to this job, I could visit many Doll Shops and Barbie Conventions.
- Do you collect any other toys apart from dolls?
I collect Teddy Bears mostly Harrods Musical Bears. Sometimes I make my own Teddy.
- Out of all your collection, do you have any favourites?
I love my Vintage Barbie dolls and her friends. Actually I kept all my favourite dolls like (Gene & friends, Silkstone Barbie, all Harry Potter Movie Character from Tonner Doll, Dolls like Lilli Lalka, Sylvain, Sable, Stella from Julian Kalinowski. Also I kept some of the AA dolls from IT).
- How many dolls are there in your collection?
I guess a few hundred. I have always been collecting because I actually like the dolls I bought, not for hoarding!
- I know from my customers that during the lockdown many people have re-discovered their childhood hobbies and started to collect dolls. What advice would you give to someone who is new to collecting dolls?
I would advise to check with the experienced collectors and always buy the reference books, if available. Knowledge will save you from wasting money.
- How do you look after your collection? Is it on display?
My dolls are displayed in IKEA Billy display cases.
- I know you were an official distributor of Integrity Toys in the past, can you tell me how that influenced/shaped your doll collection?
The first collection imported into Europe was made by me, and we used to sell them at different doll shows. After that we received all of the collections from Integrity Toys. I have always been impressed by the high quality of fashions given the dolls’ size. All those years I’ve collected many dolls, in the meantime I have kept very few (due to space!!!).
- Do you think fashion dolls are a good investment? Have you seen anything gone up in price significantly over years?
Never buy for investment. Buy if you love to collect the dolls or fashion.
- Now, about doll prices… I have seen some dolls (especially new releases that are hard to get) are getting sold for much higher than they are worth. Do you want to share your thoughts?
Everyone is responsible for his/her own decisions. All of the pre-ordered dolls we got from IT have always been sold out very quickly. I would sell dolls on a higher price range if it was a doll from my collection or someone had cancelled the order. Doll prices vary on vintage to new limited editions. It has always been like this in my experience.
- Have you made any friends through the doll hobby?
I have been lucky to meet many collectors all over the world due to my former job. Some of those friendships lasted for over 30 years. The social aspect has always been the most important to me. Since Corona, traveling and joining Conventions is not possible and I really miss the people.
- What's next on your doll wish list?
Spontaneous I would love to buy a Nr1 Barbie Brunette in box, and an ash blonde or a special blonde Side Part Barbie. And well, there are endless Vintage Barbie fashions missing.
- Unbox or not unbox (and why?)
I am a debox collector. If the design or the graphics of the box is very special. I buy 2, one to unbox and one to keep in the original condition. For example, the Barbie Reproductions from the past years.
-Thank you Francesco for taking me on a tour of your doll collecting life-long journey!
Explore Francesco’s website www.fred-dolls.com, and follow fred-dolls on Facebook and instagram @fred_dolls
All photographs are property of Francesco Ruffino and have been published with his kind permission.