What a doll! At 53 and untouched by botox, Barbie’s pulling power remains defiantly undiminished. She is officially the biggest selling toy in history: three Barbies are sold every second. 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 almost two billion dollars a year. Individual dolls can be worth thousands of pounds.
Like so many other collectibles, Barbie’s attraction holds true for both children and adults, particularly adults who, as children, were not allowed or could not afford a Barbie or two of their own.
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 started by Mattel in 1986. Of course, there’s far more to look out for than that…
- 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 with them! Although unboxed dolls are still saleable (one was auctioned at a 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 collector: Vintage, Pink Box and Collectible collectors. 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 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?
- 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 twenty or thirty years’ time for the dolls they were denied as children
- 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 will have a good-quality version but it is 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 on the net. A Barbie doll set a world record at auction of £9,000 at Christie’s in 2006.
- 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. Play.com also has a wide selection of Barbie products to explore.
- If in flawless condition, Vintage Barbies fetch astonishing prices, particularly in the States. A flawless version of one of the first specimens to roll off the production line in 1959, selling for $3 (£1.50), recently went for a massive £25,570. Even on internet auction sites, many models and even accessories in very good condition are changing hands for upwards of £1,000.
- If you want to make money, stick with Vintage. 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.
Crack the lingo: MIN (Mint In Box), MNB (Mint No Box) and NRFB (Never Removed from Box).
Top dollar: 1965 ‘Midnight Blue’ Barbie (£9,000 September 2006)
Don’t bother: 2000 Birthday wishes Barbie (£9.99 March 2012)