Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian

Barbie Dolls

Not so many years ago at a Bonhams valuation day I took in for sale by auction a late Victorian Bisque headed doll complete with her trousseau in a miniature chest. Later that same day I also took in a 1960's Barbie doll complete with a change of Mary Quant type outfits all in a fitted floral decorated travelling case. I have to admit to being more than a little surprised when the beautiful Victorian doll eventually sold for £800 and Sixties Barbie made a cool £1,000

Barbie was the brain child of Ruth and Elliot Handler, founders of Mattel Toys, and was introduced to the public at the 1959 American Toy Fair in New York. As far as the average doll of that period in time was concerned Barbie was the first to sport a full woman's figure and was launched at a time when the term "teenager" was new. The image did not come without it's problems and the Handlers were keen to play down the "sexy" element and promote the clean "All American Girl".

Barbie's growing wardrobe proved important when it came to sales where the ethos was that the doll sold the clothes and the clothes sold the doll. Above all else Barbie was perceived to live a life that was both glamorous and sporty, the very first doll came wearing a striped swimsuit price today --£2,000 in top condition in original box. In 1961 the decision was made to alter Barbies facial detail in came the bright blue eyes and curved eyebrows and out went the black eyeliner and pointed eyebrows -known as "Boomerang"eyes by collectors.

Being able to differentiate between early or "Vintage" and more recent creations is of fundamental importance to the collectors of today. Barbie emerged out of 1961 with not only a softer skin tone but her trademark "ponytail" gave way to the sophistication of her new "bubble" cut. In 1966 the doll was modified to incorporate a "twist and turn" or TNT facility whereby she was able to twist her upper body - useful to know when dating a doll.

The doll's international success over more than four decades has resulted in sales in excess of 8 million dolls, so there are plenty out there. So where do buy? At the lower end of the chain is the car boot where I regularly see examples priced between £5 and £15 . At the top end are specialist doll auctions where the record price stands at £3,000 plus. Doll fairs and specialist shops provide another shopping venue as do doll collectors clubs and meets that take place both here and in the US.

Barbie's relationship with boyfriend Ken all began in 1961, which allowed Mattel to introduce a wardrobe that was often coordinated with his "steady". An early Ken will set you back the princely sum of £200 Later examples weigh in at £80.Over the years the couple were joined by numerous friends. The first being Barbie's friend "Midge "back in 1963 price when found in original two piece swimsuit £100 and in 1964 little sister "Skipper" an early example being worth £100.

Skipper was modelled as the freckle faced girl next door and was specifically designed as the Surrogate daughter that Barbie would never be allowed. Despite her slender sensual form heaven and Middle America forbid any inference of a sexual relationship that might have led to a less than curvy Barbie. In 1965 "Ricky" became Skipper's first male friend and when found in his original box attired in beach shirt and shorts will set you back £120.

Shirley Miller from Lancashire has been in touch to ask about her Cabaret Singer Barbie which she found in her Christmas stocking when a slip of a girl in 1963. As far as the collector's terminology goes what you have is a brunette "bubble cut" complete with "Solo in Spotlight" outfit. The black figure hugging outfit is No 982 from the "Fashion Set" series and only available between 1960 and 1964 . When found complete with her microphone on stand she sells for £200.


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