Did Nisbet ever make dolls of the "Fab Four"?
Many collectors of Nisbet dolls may be unaware of the existence of this near mythical group; Some may have heard of a set of four "Beatles" dolls being made by Peggy Nisbet, and dismissed them as a fanciful story; Others may be unsure of the reality of these stories. Some of you may have heard of the set being sold at auction, but very few collectors can claim to have seen them.
So what is the truth behind these stories? Is there any truth? Or is it all a magical mystery tour, based on speculation and rumour?
Following an email from one of our correspondents, (and with his kind permission), we can reveal a bit more about this intriguing story.
On 24th and 25th February 1996, more than 1500 dolls from the Nisbet archives, and the private collection of the late Peggy Nisbet, (who died in 1995), were sold at auction in Osprey, Florida, USA.
The two images above show the Front cover of the auction catalogue, and the relevant part of Page 46, which carried the description of Lot SE002 - The Beatles. This page tells us that the dolls were designed between 1977 and 1978, and that they were the "only prototypes of the Beatles ever produced by the House of Nisbet". The faces were sculpted in wax, from the picture on the album cover, painted, and fixed to Resin bodies. The costumes were also made to represent those shown on the "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album cover. The dolls never went into production, because one of the Beatles did not give their consent. The set was given a guide price of $2995 in the auction catalogue.
A report in the October 1996 "Doll world magazine commented on the auction :
"Bidding rose to a fevered pitch as a one-of-a-kind Beatles set came up on the auction block. This rare set of prototypes was eventually hammered down for $1320. Each doll was costumed in a psychedelic uniform from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Brass prototypes of miniature musical instruments and an actual record album of the same name accompanied the dolls. This set is the only complete prototype in existence; the dolls were never manufactured."
So what happened to the dolls? for most collectors, that remained a mystery. But our researches did turn up a few minor additions to the story.
A collector we know owns a duplicate set of the Beatles heads - (their picture is shown below).
Shown here is a doll that came up for sale on a well-known internet auction site, some years ago. It was described as being a "Ringo Starr Prototype". We then wondered whether this doll had been part of the original auction lot - perhaps the lot had been broken up, and re-sold as individual dolls.
But we knew that the original auction lot dolls each had a brass musical instrument - this doll didn't. Also, the original Ringo had a hat, too.
So was this part of a second set?
One of our correspondents, Michael A, contacted us about the Beatles dolls sold in the 1996 auction. They were purchased by his Late mother, Patricia, and he was curious to learn more about them. We were very excited to hear of these dolls, and were very happy to be able to provide Michael with the background information we had access to, (which is shown above).
But one vital piece of information had always eluded us - a decent photograph of these unique and iconic dolls. Michael was very happy to oblige, and we are very proud and excited to be able to show it here :
We strongly suspect that there may have been at least one more set of these dolls in existence at one time, and there might be a clue about this possibility, to be found in the "Doll World" article : it states, "This set is the only complete prototype (set) in existence". This careful wording does not exclude the possibility that other less complete dolls from this set may be in circulation, and the Ringo Starr prototype shown above supports this possibility.
From our knowledge of the production and use of prototypes in the Nisbet factory, it is highly likely that preparations were made to produce at least three sets;
The first may have been limited to the modelling of the heads only, (the set we have shown above).
The second set may have been dressed, but not fully finished; (faces, hair, and shoes may not have been fully painted, and some costume trimmings, (ribbons and piping, etc), and the brass instruments, not fitted).
We think that the third set was fully painted and finished, complete with the brass instruments - and we think that this was the set that Michael's mother Patricia purchased at the 1996 auction.
So where are the partially completed John, Paul, and George from the second set of prototypes that we suspect were produced? Are they part of your collection? Please do let us know, if they are!