Barbie collectibles are a multi-billion dollar industry with almost 100,000 collectors and millions of dolls sold.
The History Behind the Doll
Ironically, when Ruth Handler first came up with the idea of a fashionable teenage doll with fully contoured proportions, Mattel corporation turned it down.Fortunately for collectors, she was inspired by another doll, the German Bild Lilly and tried again. This time, Mattel agreed and Barbie, named after Handler's daughter, made her debut at the American International Toy Fair in 1959. Mattel backed up this new kind of doll with an extensive television campaign.
1960s Barbie Collectibles
Early Barbie versions had eyes looking off to the side, and her expression was almost seductive. Wardrobes were designed to mimic fashionable Paris couture clothing as well as Jackie Kennedy's styles. Some of these are:
- Solo in the Spotlight(1960)
- Enchanted Evening (1961)
- Theater Date (1962)
- American Girl (1965)
- Miss Astronaut (1965)
In 1961, her eyes changed color to today's familiar blue, and in 1965, she and the other Barbie collectible dolls were equipped with bendable legs. 1966 saw an even more significant innovation, including the Color Magic Barbie, which could switch hair colors.
In 1967, Mattel introduced the Twist 'n' Turn Barbie, with a more flexible body and a younger though still sophisticated face.
In 1970, the Living Barbie introduced more poseable Barbie dolls, and in 1971, her eyes faced forward for the first time. 1971 also saw not only Malibu Barbie but Growin' Pretty Hair Barbie, with hair that could be lengthened or shortened.
1975 saw more career versions of Barbie collectibles with the Get up and Go series.
The Superstar Barbie of 1977 introduced her with a much more girl-next-door expression, particularly by giving her an open-mouthed smile.
1980 was a landmark year, with the first Black and Hispanic Barbies and the first International Barbie dolls. In 1981, Mattel introduced My First Barbie, designed for younger children.
For her 25th anniversary, Tiffany & Co. created a sterling silver Barbie doll and Mattel echoed the silver anniversary theme with the Silver Sensation Barbie.
Even though Barbie had all ready become a collectible, it wasn't until 1986 that Mattel first released an official, limited edition collectible, the porcelain Blue Rhapsody doll.
In 1988, the Happy Holidays and American series began, both tremendously popular with children and collectors.
1990s Barbie Collectibles
The 1990s were Bob Mackie's decade as a Barbie designer and he created some of the most spectacular Barbie collectibles ever. In 1990, he introduced the Bob Mackie Gold Barbie, followed in 1991 by Starlight Splendor Barbie and Platinum Barbie. After these, he turned to slightly fantastical designs such as the 1992 Neptune Fantasy and Empress Bride, the 1995 Goddess of the Sun, and the 1996 Moon Goddess Barbies.
Mattel also brought back the Gay Parisienne model as a vintage tribute in 1991. In 1993, the Great Eras series began with Flapper and Gibson Girl Barbies. Nostalgia continued with a reissue of the original model for her 1995 35th anniversary as well as a Hollywood Legends series.
In 1997, the Harley-Davidson Barbie was an unexpected top seller. For 1999, the 40th anniversary, there were several special editions and new releases, including Bob Mackie's Le Papillion Barbie and the new Garden of Flowers series.
The New Millennium Dolls
2000 debuted millennium collectible Barbie dolls, including Barbie 2000 and Sydney 2000, to honor the Olympics. Malibu Barbie reappeared in 2002 and this timeless doll became a Bond girl with a James Bond 007 Barbie and Ken Gift Set. 2003 saw the Birthstone Collection and 2005 the Zodiac Collection.
Where to buy Collectible and Vintage Barbies
Brick and Mortar Locations
- Doll collector shows and exhibitions
- Specialty shops
- Collectible doll and toy auctions
- Collectibles shops
- Flea Markets
Tips for Buying Vintage Barbies
There are many reproductions and counterfeit Barbies on the secondary market. Learn to identify fakes and reproductions from the original. Two excellent online resources to aid in identification are Doll Reference and Barbie Collector.
There are also excellent Barbie Doll price and identification guides and reference books available at libraries, bookstores or websites such as Amazon.
- Warman's Barbie Doll Field Guide: Values and Identification
- The Ultimate Barbie Doll Book
- The Collector's Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls and Collectibles
- Buy the best that you can afford.
- The original outfit, accessories and box add to the doll's value.
- Check the marks identifying the doll's manufacturer which generally are located on the doll's backside, neck or foot. Dolls made before 1972 have the words Made in Japan imprinted on them.
- Examine the overall condition of the doll. The condition of every aspect of the doll, such as its hair, paint, facial details, torso and clothing are important to its value.
- The original hair style of the doll adds to its value. If the doll does not have its original style check for replacement hair plugs.
- Look for splits in the vinyl that generally occur on the rim of the neck area, on the soles of the feet or behind the knees.
- Discoloration of the vinyl often appears where accessories such as earrings are placed.
- If the Barbie has poseable limbs make sure they move correctly and will hold a pose.
Collecting Barbies Is Fun
When you are looking for Barbie collectibles, buy dolls that you enjoy and love rather than buying them for their possible increase in value over time. Collecting Barbies is a fun hobby that can last a lifetime.