7 things you need to know about… collecting Barbie dolls
What did you do with your Barbie? Amputate her? Cut her hair? Drown her? The atrocities inflicted upon Barbie in her 59 years are endless. But there is a group of people who are treating Barbie with more care: the Barbie collectors. Want to join their number? Here’s what you need to know.
The Holy Grails
The most valuable doll, the one Barbie collectors will sell their mothers for, the one that will make you the envy of the Barbie collecting community…
…is the first one.
Mattel released Barbie #1 (as she is prosaically known in the business) in 1959. Today she can sell for around $9,000 in top condition, according to the JustCollecting Barbie Index.
Mattel unveiled Barbies 2, 3, 4 and 5 between 1959 and 1961. Prices range from $8,000 for #2 to $800 for #5. Few Barbies can match the prices of the first five.
One example that does is 1966’s Pan Am Stewardess Barbie. Her rarity, and her popularity with aviation collectors, has seen her reach $3,750 in top condition.
1996’s Pink Splendor Barbie is a rare example of a more modern doll that is extremely valuable. She can sell for up to $1,000. Why? She was adorned with real crystal rhinestones and released in a limited run of just 10,000.
Did you know? Barbie was based on a raunchy 1950s German call-girl doll named Bild Lilli. These were originally produced as joke gifts for men. Production stopped in 1964 when Mattel bought the rights.
These too can sell for thousands.
How to spot a Barbie #1
The easiest way? Look at her feet. Does she have a hole in each foot? Perhaps with metal tubes still inserted in them? The holes and the metal tubes were only a feature of #1, and enabled Barbie to remain upright on her stand.
However, some modern reproductions of the #1 also include holes and tubes. So you need to do one more check. Look at Barbie’s bare bottom. Does Barbie’s buttock read: “Barbie ™ Pats. Pend. © MCMLVIII by Mattel Inc.”? Then it’s a genuine #1.
Blonde or brunette?
There are two versions of Barbie #1: blonde and brunette.
Brunette Barbie #1 is the more expensive at $9,250 in top condition. The blonde version is slightly more affordable, at $8,800. Why the difference? Brunette Barbie #1 is far rarer than the blonde version. In fact, so much rarer that you might expect there to be a wider gap in the values. The fact the gap is so slim is because of the greater popularity of the blonde doll with collectors - blonde is regarded as the quintessential Barbie “look”. In addition, more children would have had the blonde version, so now that they're nostalgic baby boomers, it's the blonde one they want to own again.
If you’re serious about building a Barbie collection to be envied, you need to think about condition from the start.
In the Holy Grail section you’ll have read the term “top condition”. That means not only is the doll pristine, with all its original clothes, it also has its original box – also in pristine condition. The further back in time you go, the harder it becomes to find an accompanying box – let alone one in perfect condition. That’s why collectors will pay huge amounts when they discover one.
For example, without a box, a Barbie #3 from 1960 will set you back around $650. With the box? $2,500.
Controversial Barbies are collectible
Let’s be clear, these days Barbie is always controversial. Some critics argue she is a terrible role model for young girls – promoting a body shape impossible to obtain. Mattel has recently started producing Barbies in differing body types, including tall, curvy and petite.
Yet some Barbie dolls are more controversial than most. Namely Growing up Skipper and Pregnant Midge.
1975’s Growing Up Skipper was meant to help educate girls about puberty. With a mere twist of her left arm, Barbie’s little sister would grow breasts. This was too much for the parents of the 70s to take. Pregnant Midge was a short lived experiment.
2002’s Pregnant Midge came with a detachable stomach. The doll was rapidly yanked from toy shop shelves following numerous complaints she encouraged girls to become pregnant. Some critics were also taken aback she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
Their short shelf lives mean both are now rare, and collectible. Expect to pay around $150 for either today, in top condition with their original packaging.
There’s a large group of Barbie collectors who have no interest in owning the heroine at all. They’re the celeb hunters. The collectors of Barbie dolls that resemble famous names.
Can you guess who these three are?
Mattel produces most for a limited time only, meaning some can become quite the collector’s items. Cher, for example, will set you back around $75.
What about Ken?
Ken’s been cutting his own jaunty style since 1961, when he was released sporting a pair of red swimming shorts.
And if Ken’s your thing, you’re in luck: he lacks the cachet of Barbie with collectors, meaning you can pick him up on the relative cheap.
1961's Ken #1, in mint condition with original box, can be yours for around $60, while the rare “Time for Tennis” Ken from 1962 will set you back a relatively modest $700.
On an absolute budget? 1993’s “Earring Magic Ken” is yours for just $35. He caused a stir when released because many commentators thought he looked like a stereotypical gay man – complete with sex toy around his neck. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests gay men bought this version in huge numbers.
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