Plastic Fantastic - Collecting Barbie Dolls
The first Barbie doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.Over half a century on, Barbie is undoubtedly the most popular doll in the world, and the figurehead of one of the world’s most successful franchises.
Not only that, Barbie is a cultural icon, adored and collected by hundreds of thousands of fans.
Wikicollecting looks at the passion for Barbie, and her development as a collectible.
Barbie was created in 1959 by businesswoman Ruth Handler. At the time, dolls for children were usually modelled on babies or infants. Handler had long been thinking about how to fill a gap in the market, after watching her daughter give paper dolls adult roles, and dress them in different clothes. Handler came across the German doll Bild Lilli, who had been on the market in Europe since 1955. Lilli was a doll who provided everything Handler had been looking for – a grown up female body and a penchant for fashion. Handler then developed her own doll, Barbie, named after her daughter Barbara.
Barbie was produced by Mattel, the company owned by Handler’s husband that she later became partner in. The success of the doll was unparalleled, in part due to the innovative television marketing strategy employed to advertise her.
Barbie was given a whole fictional biography, and over the years gained friends and family members. Numerous different models and styles of Barbie have been produced each year since her first outing on this week in 1959.
By the 1980s, Barbie’s first child fans had grown into adults, and the more nostalgic became collectors. Ever since, from each generation that grows up with a penchant for Barbie, some collectors emerge who carry this interest into adulthood.
Mattel have gamely played up to this phenomenon, and produce many collectors’ edition and limited edition dolls. However, for some, the charm remains with the very early original dolls, made for playing with rather than stashing away pristinely in a box as an investment.
Models of Barbie doll
There are nearly 50,000 types of Barbie doll.
While Barbie’s body has not changed much, her face has altered dramatically since 1959.
What are known as Vintage Barbies are those produced between 1959 and 1966. These include the model numbers 1 through 7 Barbie Ponytail dolls (1959-1966), Barbie Bubblecut dolls (1961-1967), Fashion Queen Barbie (1963), Barbie Swirl Ponytail (1964), Miss Barbie (1964), American Girl Barbie (1965-1966), and Colour Magic Barbie (1966).
What came next are known as the Mod Barbie dolls, made from 1967 until 1973. The first came with a Twist ‘n Turn waist, long straight hair, and a new wardrobe filled with the full range of 1970s fashions. Other dolls that were produced during this time included Talking Barbie (1968-1971), Dramatic New Living Barbie (1970), Live Action Barbie – the Hippy Barbie (1971-1972), and others. The most important Barbie of this era was Malibu Barbie, a doll with an entirely new face, who continued to be made from 1971 to 1977.
Another big change occurred in 1977, with Superstar Barbie – her toothy smile, big blue eyes and tons of blonde hair remained a staple for the rest of the 1970s and into the 1990s.
The first black Barbie was introduced in 1980.
Barbie became truly collectible after the popularity of Holiday Barbie (1988). Mattel then began to produce collectible Barbies for adults, including vintage reproductions. The Silkstone line uses the vintage Barbie face. The 90s saw designers making clothes specifically for Barbie.
Barbie has also had numerous careers, such as pilot, astronaut, doctor, teacher, vet, paratrooper, US president, firefighter, life guard, police officer, architect, astronaut, ballerina, chef, model, gymnast, photographer, etc, designed to show that women can take on a variety of roles.
Ken, Barbie’s on-off boyfriend, appeared in 1961. Other family and friends were introduced gradually over the years, including Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie, Steven, Skipper, Todd and Stacie, Kelly, Krissy, Francie, Blaine, Kelly, Chelsea, a whole community of dolls.
Other dolls have been produced in the form of real-world celebrities and movie characters such as Twiggy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and more recently, the cast of the Twilight Saga movies.
Other collectibles include clothes, accessories, books about Barbie’s life, cosmetics, pets, and cars.
It is a near impossible mammoth undertaking to aim for a complete collection of every Barbie ever produced, that would require endless funds and energy. More sensible perhaps, is to choose a group of models, or types, or a particular era to focus on.
Barbie is incredibly accessible as a collectible. People often collect items that remind them of their childhood. The 1980s to 1990s dolls can still be picked up quite cheaply, even in their boxes, so these might be a good bet for a new collector. When buying brand new models, it is worth waiting to see if they become offered at a discount price – this is common, and sometimes can knock half the cost off.
As with most collectibles, the key is to collect what you like rather than attempting to guess which ones will become desired by collectors down the line. It is a complete gamble trying to guess which dolls will gain value in years to come. At its time of release, no one knew that the Dorothy Wizard of Oz doll would become so sought after, but now it is a favourite among collectors. Similarly, the Harley Davidson Barbie. There is no way of knowing which will become rare and popular, or which models are stashed away in mint condition in their thousands, thus rendering them commonplace. Investment seekers stand a chance of being disappointed with Barbie dolls, because everyone had the same idea.
So, once again, just buy what you like. You might be most drawn by nostalgia, or fashion, or a love for the vintage models. Early dolls have amazing fabrics, closures and sewing compared to modern ones, that are mass produced cheaply. However, modern ones have a diverse range of famous people, film characters, and lavish fantasy outfits that you cannot find on the older dolls.
The rarity of Barbie is now classed:
Platinum = fewer than 1000 dolls. Gold label = fewer than 25,000 dolls. Silver label = fewer than 50,000 dolls.
While the collector's lines are obviously valuable for the intricate craftsmanship of the apparel and the dolls, the regular toy line also yields highly sought-after collectibles. Themed Barbie dolls sold in limited quantities can become favourite collectors’ items, and of course, the vintage models remain significant and appreciate in value.
Authenticity and markings
A genuine Barbie will always be stamped ‘Mattel’.
If a Barbie is stamped with a year, this is not necessarily the year of manufacture, but the patent year for the body model. For example, a Barbie from the late 1990s may still bear the stamp 1966.
Played-with versions are less valuable as investments but these can be found anywhere, from car boot sales and garage sales flea markets, or picked up from family and friends. The majority of collectors might not mind a few dents and scrapes, if they love everything and anything Barbie.
To box or not to box?
Definitely keep any vintage models in their boxes, that is a must.
However, the same does not necessary go for modern ones. So many people are keeping new Barbies in their boxes that they are no longer rare in mint condition. This lack of rarity makes them much less valuable.
It could therefore be more beneficial to take them out and enjoy them, rather than stashing them away in their boxes, hoping no one else had the same idea.
Another consideration is that the packing can damage the dolls, the plastic ties cut into their feet, the tape leaving marks on their clothing.