Antique Barbie in box

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Today, Mattel Inc.’s famous Barbie doll is an American toy icon. Getting the famous fashion doll to such high status was no small feat. The Barbie doll debuted at the International Toy Fair on March 9, 1959 in New York city. Barbie came to be as a result of the idea put forth by Ruth Handler who was inspired by an adult female fashion doll made in Germany. Handler wanted to close a gap in the doll market, yet her husband, an executive at Mattel Inc.and his colleagues were not keen on the idea of an American female adult fashion doll when Ruth presented the idea to them. While the German doll was very popular with girls abroad as well as with the Handler’s own young daughter aptly named Barbara, the Barbie doll was not initially a big win with toy makers.

Barbie doll

In 1959, the first Barbie dolls sold for $3 each. Unlike early German bisque dolls, antique china dolls, and Madame Alexander dolls all of which were made to look like infants, toddlers, or youths, the Barbie doll was an adult female fashion doll which focused on the world of working and career minded figures.

The Barbie doll was introduced with specialty outfits, shoes, accessories, etc. Today, not only are vintage Barbie dolls collectible and valuable, but so are vintage Barbie clothes, shoes, coats, boots, portable wardrobes, dream houses, airplanes, cars, etc. Dolls range in value well into the thousands of dollars depending on many factors and some individual Barbie collectible clothes and accessories are worth $10 to $900. So think twice before you give any away at your next yard sale.

Barbie has been featured on major magazines, television, various advertising campaigns, and even the cover of the 50th anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated’s popular swimsuit issue wearing her famous black and white striped one-piece bathing suit from 1959.

What to Look For

Barbie doll

Early Barbie dolls of the 1960s reflected the fashions of the times with fashionable suits, jewelry, and bubble cut hairdos reminiscent of the style of Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. Some Barbie dolls came with interchangeable wigs and there were three shades of hair color: red or titian, brunette, and blonde. Distinctive facial features were known to Barbie dolls too such as blue eyes, hair to match eyebrows, and red lipstick. Certain Barbie outfits are more valuable and more collectible like the quintessential black and white striped bathing suit, white cat eye sunglasses with blue lenses, metallic gold wedge shoes, cowboy boots, stud pearl earrings, and evening gowns. Barbie clothes came in fashion paks which were accessory outfits that were packaged together.

Condition is key when assessing the value and authenticity of a Barbie doll. The skin tone and hair color of a Barbie doll impact value assessment on the collectibles market. Related Barbie dolls are also of interest like Skipper, Ken, and Midge dolls. Original packaging, boxes and the like will impact value positively. Clothing in good condition with Barbie tags intact and accessories are also of interest to collectors. Look for information about the doll and its maker on the original box and associated paper brochures.

Get an online appraisal of your Barbie doll and Barbie clothes and accessories from Dr. Lori.