Of all the toys I played with as a child, my Barbie doll and friends were my favorite by far. Even now, I cannot part with the dolls I played with as a child. Since the introduction of Barbie in 1959, the world has been in love with her, too.
In 1945, Ruth and Elliott Handler and a friend, Harold Matson, founded Mattel. At first, they manufactured picture frames. Mr. Handler started using the scraps of wood to make doll furniture, hence the toy business began. Due to illness, Mr. Matson left the business after the first few years. The creation of toys was Elliott’s responsibility and the marketing was Ruth’s. In 1955, Ruth used a large part of the company’s funds to advertise their toys as a sponsor of the TV show, “The Mickey Mouse Club”. This helped grow the business tremendously.
In 1958, the Handler’s patented a fashion doll, named Barbie. I have two different versions of how her name came about. According to “The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls & Collectibles” by Sibyl DeWein & Joan Ashabraner, Ruth named the doll after her daughter. My studies at the Asheford Institute of Antiques stated that Barbie was based on a doll called, “Bildhilli” from Europe that Ruth Handler came across in her travels. They both agree that Barbie was first introduced at the American Toy Fair in 1959 held in New York. The first Barbie doll was sold that year. Mattel became a major player in toys due to Barbie.
The very first dolls are very rare and collectible today. The first release doll had metal cylinders in both legs with openings at the feet. These were used to attach the doll to a pedestal stand with two prongs. These holes are the easiest way to identify the first release doll. She came with either blonde or brunette hair (twice as many blondes were made as the brunettes) that was in a ponytail with curly bangs. Barbie had bright red lips and nails, heavy eyeliner, arched eyebrows, white irises in her eyes (not blue), black and white striped one piece bathing suit, black high heel sandals, gold hoop earrings, sunglasses, booklet, and a box.
If you are lucky enough to have a brunette Barbie with all the accessories and box, as well as, in good condition, you have a true treasure! A few have sold at auction for over $25,000. The 2nd release doll averages a value of $6000 and a doll without the box averages $4500. Later models are still collectible, but the values go down quite a bit. After the second release, the number 3 Barbie averages $400. Dolls from the first half of the 1960’s are the most valuable. A doll’s condition is extremely important in determining value, as well as, if it still has its original outfit and accessories. It does help if you can dress it in an original outfit of its time. Some of the clothes and accessories are very collectible, as well.
As the year’s went by, Mattel released many friends of Barbie, including Ken, Midge, Skipper, Francie, Casey, Stacey, Tutti, Todd, Allan, Skooter, Chris, Curtis, and Christie. These dolls are collectible, too, but not as valuable as Barbie. A 1971 Twist-n-Turn Francie doll is probably the most valuable friend at about $1500 (in a box and in excellent condition).
Here is the sad news. If you invested very much money in the Collector’s Series dolls that were made in the 1980’s and onward, you will be disappointed to know that they are not worth more than you paid 20-30 years ago. The reason for this is mass production. Mattel made millions of these dolls and many of them are still around (even in an unopened box). These dolls may have cost anywhere from $25 and up when they first came out. Today, you would be lucky to get what you paid for it.
My dolls, which include a 1960’s Ken and Stacey; 1971 Living Barbie; 1960’s Skippers; 1970’s Barbie; and a 1960’s Midge were all well played with and probably more valuable to me in the memories of playing with them endlessly as a child. What was your favorite toy?
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