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Betty Teen. A “Tong doll” from the 1990s

Ekaterina Ziborova 6 february 2013

To be precise, this doll became famous in the 1980’s, but for the Russian doll collectors she has always been one of the toy symbols of the early nineties when bright foreign toys flooded the post-Soviet market. Of course the superstar of this toy world was “a genuine Barbie” – high-quality, famous and, which is also important, prestigious toy. So, other 1/6 dolls stayed in her shadow for a long time, while there were really interesting personalities among them.

Our today’s heroine, Betty (otherwise known as Betty Teen), deserves to be called one of the most remarkable toy fashion dolls of the 1980-1990 period. In Russia she was avaliable since the early nineties and could be purchased not only in Moscow and St.-Petersburg where Barbie reigned, but also in smaller cities that Barbie conquered much later. Being cheaper and almost of the same quality, Betty was a good choice for many Russian parents and girls who also liked the thoughtful expression of her sweet round face (which was so different from Barbie’s broad white-teeth smile!) It is funny how time changes everything. For many kids Barbie was an irreal, unattainable dream - and Betty, generally, wasn’t. Now the dear-loved “Barbies of the nineties” with Superstar faces are all around, affordable for doll lovers independent of their financial abilities, while Barbie’s less successful rivals have become nostalgic rarities and collectors passionately hunt them out.

Tong dolls Betty Teen Barbie type

M&C and Tong dolls. Blonde Betty with curly hair wears her original outfit, and two other Betties are redressed

Russia was not the only country where Betty was popular. Western fashion doll fans gladly add such dolls to their collections, as well as other Betty-face dolls of the nineties (and there were plenty). Betty’s biography has many gaps, that’s why we will not insist that it was Betty who was the first doll ever to use this pretty facemold with a humble Mona Lisa smile, but it is possible. Though, Christina Lemmi (a Tanya doll expert) says that Betty's facemold could have been retooled from a mold of some earlier doll. In North America Betty was sold as "Gloria", Betty and she were like two peas in a pod; Gloria's photographs can still be seen on the boxes of the doll furniture marketed under the same name. Famous Italian "Tanya" and even German Steffi Love borrowed Betty’s face too - though not for long, and such releases are difficult to find on the secondary market. Betty had even more twins - rare "Randi Teen", "Maria", "Elite Collection Dawn"; her special face was also adopted by "Brittany" from the famous Uneeda company. And this is apparently not the limit: this successful facemold popped up quite often on the markets of different countries under different names...

Vintage doll tong Betty Teen

This Betty Teen was purchased in 1992 in Samara

Let us return to our Betty Teen dolls. They usually have the © TONG mark (or sometimes M&C mark) on the back of the head, that’s the reason why they are often called Tong dolls. On the whole, it’s the only “identifier” for those who got a used doll and want to find out who she is. You may also see M&C CHINA mark on the doll’s back, though it is quite rare. It’s easier to find there a small gold and black oval sticker that says “made in china” (of course if she is in mint condition and the sticker hasn’t been removed by the previous owner). We should mention that the doll can have both M&C mark (body) and TONG letters (head). M&C is  the company in Hong Kong that produced Betty too, presumably in the second half of her life; now M&C is famous for its Kari Michell fashion doll and a Kelly-type toddler Paula doll.

Betty dolls fashion dolls Barbie knock off collection

A collection of Betty dolls. Photo courtesy of arabica

Betties were sold in pink or sometimes white boxes and dressed in outfits for many occasions which were neat and nice, though not very detailed. Those could be sports uniforms (for tennis, skiing, windsurfing…), casual clothes, spruce attires and ball gowns. Betty’s hair was styled in different ways, it could be straight and wavy, relatively short or very long, with or without bangs, but the most remarkable is her nostalgic haircut with hair in little curls reaching doll’s shoulders. Bettys’ heads were often made of hard vinyl so it’s a little difficult to reroot such a doll if her hair is in poor condition. The neck joint is a ball without an anchor and it’s very easy to take the head off for redressing or rerooting. Most Betty Teen dolls had short, velvety, thick “real eyelashes”. The poseability of most Betties was similar to the poseability of basic 1990’s playline Barbies with straight arms: their arms and legs could be rotated back and forth, legs “clicked” with hidden joints (2-3 clicks), and there was also a waist joint with a diagonal slit like the one that mod TNT Barbies had. Most dolls’ feet were molded in tiptoes for high heels, but one can sometimes see Betty Teen dolls with flat feet as well. There were variations with softer vinyl  arms that can both be turned and risen to the sides like the arms of Shani Barbie body type.  Quite rare are Betties with better general poseability and “open” joints in elbows and knees. One can be lucky enough to spot a Tong doll on soft body that slightly resembles Bedtime Barbie or Slumber Party Barbie bodies. We should also mention the hollow plastic bodies with no knee joints – cheaper versions of Betty dolls were sold on such bodies, though it is possible that the knock-offs of this kind could also exist.

Steffie Love, Susy, Betty

Vintage Steffi Love, Susy and Betty by TilliBoo

Rarities: AA Betty dolls and dolls with dark tan, Betty with bright make-up, German and French-talking Betty with battery slots in their backs. And finally a “big Betty” – an unusual Chinese knock-off that used a plastic body copied from 18” Mego Candi and an enlarged Betty head. Samy Odin and Claudine Seree showed the same one in their guide Poupees-Mannequins: Anthologie pour collectionneurs (2000) under the name of Corinne, a Chinese playdoll distributed in Italy by GLOBO. Photos courtesy of osen_v_lesu:

vintage Corinne doll Betty knock-off

Vintage Corinne doll Betty knock off


Buying a “tong doll” is not a big challenge, though it may be tricky to get the doll that looks exactly the way you want. As usual, there are 2-3 (sometimes more) Tong dolls on sale on international and European versions of eBay. In Russia these dolls are sometimes sold through different message boards or free ad sites. Ebay prices range is 20-30$ for Buy It Now and from 5-15$ for the auctions. In Russia, “tong doll” prices on the secondary doll market generally start from 35$ but you can be lucky to get a Betty on a flea market or find a random ad from someone who doesn’t know that this doll is rather valuable for the collectors.

The main problem with Betty dolls is the same as with many other playline dolls who were generally neglected by fashion doll collectors of the 1980-1990s. These dolls were bought for play, not for display, thus their condition varies from “gently played with” to “badly worn”. That means bites, pen marks, cut hair (and even eyelashes), cracks on vinyl, knees not holding poses, loose joints etc. You can succeed and purchase a doll in overall nice condition and even dressed in her original outfit, but it’s almost impossible to find a Betty NRFB. A little bit easier is to buy a MIB Betty, though.

MIB Betty Teen Bendable Doll tong m&c

Rare MIB Betty Teen from the collection of osen_v_lesu

…From my own point of view, Betty’s story is especially remarkable because it is a story of simple and candid “people’s recognition” not affected by powerful PR-campaigns, awards, glossy catalogs and eye-catching merchandise. And when in the late nineties it turned out that Betty’s style was out of fashion, she just left the scene. Of course it’ a pity, but there is something very touching about the doll who remained true to herself for about two decades, retaining that sweet, nostalgic and a little bit naïve image.

Ekaterina Ziborova

Useful links:

Betty community on Flickr

Betties’ body comparison with comments

Same-face Tanya, Gloria and Betty Teen group shot

"Betty from the 1990's" topic on forum - hundreds of live photos

Another Betty topic on forum - note great promo pictures on the package and the fact that Betties are shown there on the body typical for another famous Chinese playdoll of that period - Sandy. As far as we know, Betties have never been produced on such a body, or at least no one of us Betty fans has purchased such a doll yet. It is a fun fact that from time to time collectors find Betties in boxes with a label "Sandy".