What a doll!
At 60 years old and untouched by Botox, Barbie’s pulling power remains defiantly undiminished. She is one of the biggest selling toys in history, with over a billion dolls sold across six decades. A Barbie was bought every three seconds in 2014, and her popularity hasn’t waned since.
The bombshell first burst, fully formed, onto the toy scene in 1959 and now, standing at just under 12 inches tall, she heads a business worth over two billion dollars a year. Individual dolls can be worth thousands of pounds – some even into the hundreds of thousands.
This is all well and good, but how can you take advantage of the lucrative market in Barbies? We’ll think about that in this article.
Like so many other collectibles, Barbie’s attraction holds true for both children and adults – particularly adults who were not allowed or could not afford a Barbie of their own as children, or who now want to collect Barbies as nostalgia items.
The potential for any Barbie fan to create a unique and personal collection is endless. The question is, where to start?
Firstly, make sure you realise the three “eras” of Barbie dolls: The Vintage Era (1959 – 72), The Modern Era (after 72), and The Collectible Era, which was started by Mattel in 1986.
Of course, there’s far more to look out for than that – here’s what you should be aware of if you’re looking to make money from the Barbie universe.
Look for dolls that are different
A variation in eye colour or hair style can make them more valuable.
Try to keep your dolls and outfits boxed
In other words, do not play (or let your children play) with them!
Although unboxed dolls are still saleable (one was auctioned in London saleroom for £2,500), boxed examples always fetch more. For this reason many serious collectors buy two of each doll, one to leave in the box and one to play with.
There are three main types of barbie collector
Vintage, Pink Box and Collectible. And because there is such an enormous range of Barbie products to choose between, collectors tend to specialise in one small area.
Vintage means manufactured before 1972
Check the country of manufacture to give you an idea of a doll’s age. Pre-1973 Barbies were made in Japan, USA, Mexico and Taiwan
Pink Box Barbies
These are toys specially made for children and are widely available, although they are not as valuable as the older ones
Since the 80s, Mattel has released a series of Barbie Collector Edition dolls each year. They range from dolls dressed by top designers, to TV editions (Barbie and Ken as The X Files’ Mulder and Scully, for example). Designed for display rather than play, some of these will gain in value over the years.
The question is, which Barbies will gain value?
The trick for collectors is to predict the ones that will become collectible in the future. This is a hard thing to do without a crystal ball, but, as a rule of thumb, go for the models that are most prized by today’s little girls. They are the ones who will pay over the odds in 20 or 30 years’ time for the dolls they couldn’t get their hands on as children.
If in flawless condition, Vintage Barbies (which often have bendy legs and red hair) fetch astonishing prices, particularly in the States. First rolling off the production line in 1959 and being produced until the late 1960s and selling for $3 (£1.50), a Barbie from this period could sell for £25,000. Even on internet auction sites, many models and even accessories (as long as they’re in very good condition) are changing hands for upwards of £1,000. An original black and white swim-suited 1959 boxed Barbie in mint condition can now fetch around £8,000.
- Look for holes in the feet to see if it is one of the earliest models.
- Complete sets of outfits and accessories are collectible too. You can spend around £45 on a pair of tiny vintage Barbie sunspecs. And one website rather chillingly offers Barbie “body parts,” although keep in mind that restoration may get the doll to look better, it will likely ruin its value to a collector.
- Barbie Collectibles cost between £50 and over £100.Whatever you decide to stick with – 70s Barbies, Barbie footwear or ethnic Barbies – the important thing is to enjoy the dolls. Otherwise there’s no point.
There are plenty of specialist magazines and websites around where you can see what is available and compare prices. If you are lucky there may even be a collectors’ club nearby where you can pick up valuable tips.
The big market for Vintage Barbies, clothes and accessories is the USA, with dozens of dedicated websites. Certainly, if you have a Barbie or two you suspect is valuable, you are most likely to get the best price over there.
When it comes to picking up bargains, though, the dedicated collector may still track some down at auctions and car boot sales. Even the odd charity shop may sell Barbies, but in this case they are unlikely to be highly valuable.
Places like Christie’s, South Kensington, will also value Barbie items from photographs if you discover a collection in the attic. Christie’s only sells lots of £250 and above, but that can mean you get better value than you would if you bought the items individually online.
Don’t forget to do a search on eBay for old collectibles and check out the latest bargains at Amazon – you could start a collection of today’s Barbies to hand down to your children’s children.
Crack the lingo:
- MIN (Mint In Box)
- MNB (Mint No Box)
- MIP (Mint In Package)
- NRFB (Never Removed from Box)
- HTF (Hard To Find)
- A/O (All Original)
- OSS (Original Swimsuit)
- C1 – C10 – The grading system for Barbies, with C10 being the best possible quality (NRFB)
- Customized Dolls – Dolls created for a specific purpose
- Mint & Complete – Barbies that are in the ideal condition, with all their accessories present
Types of Barbie:
- #1 Ponytail – Original Barbie from 1959, with holes in the feet
- #2 Ponytail – Original Barbie from 1959, without holes in the feet
- #3 Ponytail – From 1960
- #4 Ponytail – From 1961
- Twist ‘N Turn waist – Common feature of Barbies from the mid-1960s onwards
- Vintage Barbie – All Barbies created before 1972
- Modern Barbie – All Barbies created from 1972 onwards
Top dollar: 1965 ‘Midnight Blue’ Barbie (£9,000 in September 2006)
Don’t bother: 2000 Birthday wishes Barbie (£9.99 in March 2012)