How to earn money collecting Barbie dolls
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)
The real story of the Barbie doll: strong female leadership behind the scenes
In marking the 60th anniversary of one of the world’s best-known toys, the Barbie doll, scholars and journalists have a wealth of angles to explore. The impact of the Barbie doll on girls’ body images and the spread of a stereotypical model of womanhood has been the subject of extended reflections. They can also focus on the American company that markets it, Mattel, and its current difficulties in dealing with more interactive toys. Yet one story that’s much less known is that of Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie and one of the founders of Mattel.
A succession of trials and tribulations
The first part of Ruth Handler’s life is a succession of challenges. Born Ruth Moskowicz in Denver, Colorado, in 1916, she and her family were Polish Jews who had earlier immigrated to the United States. The youngest of 10 children, she could not attend university and initially found work as a secretary. She married Elliot Handler in 1938 and together they traversed the ordeal of World War II, which affected all of the United States. Then came financial hardship for the young couple, living in California with two children. At the time Ruth was 30, but she had a huge ambition for her life and a big vision for the Handler family.
She encouraged her husband to use his design skills to create a company manufacturing plastic objects. Mattel was founded in 1945 and success quickly arrived. Behind the scenes, Ruth’s creativity, energy, intelligence, willingness to take risks and determination worked wonders. While she didn’t take the title of president until 1967, these qualities made her the real leader of Mattel.
Poker and strategic breakthroughs
One of Ruth Handler’s rare qualities was her visionary ability to anticipate. She was able to analyze subtle signals in the marketplace, identify potential innovations, and develop strategic breakthroughs.
For example, Mattel was looking for an original way to promote one of its first toys, a plastic machine gun. While toys has previously been marketed to parents, who chose them for their offspring, Ruth had the idea of speaking directly to the end users, as such. The approach was the Mickey Mouse Club television program, which Mattel sponsored in 1955. After seeing the program, thousands of children asked their parents for the new toy, a reversal from the traditional process. While this idea may seem unremarkable to us in the 21st century, it was a clear break in the marketing dogma of the time.
Another innovation was the cost of this promotion: $500,000, which at the time was the entire financial value of Mattel. A skillful poker player, Ruth Handler was ready to risk her firm’s entire future on a single advertising campaign.
Ruth wanted to make a toy for girls, and knew that she had a test market close at hand, her daughter Barbara. The idea emerged during a trip that the family took to Switzerland in 1956. In the window of a Swiss shop Ruth discovered a sex-symbol doll with a generous shape, Bild Lilli, based on a cartoon character created for the German tabloid Bild. Ruth immediately understood the marketing potential of the doll, and took several back to the United States.
In the 1950s, dolls intended for girls were often babies or mother or housewife characters. Ruth Handler’s insight was that girls of the 1950s no longer wanted to grow up just to be mothers, and the Barbie doll announced a certain emancipation from the exclusive role of a mother. While we can now see in Barbie the personification of the woman as object, Ruth Handler’s idea was to create a toy that reflected women’s ability to work and be autonomous. As she stated in her 1994 autobiography:
“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”
When Ruth Handler presented her new concept to the head of a major American advertising agency, he stated: “It has no chance of succeeding. You’re joking”. Mattel’s executive committee – composed entirely of men except for Ruth – also opposed the idea. She not only imposed the project, she persuaded Mattel’s R&D department to make a doll that would be sold at cost, with profits coming from the sale of clothes and accessories.
At the same time, the innovation of a product whose profit comes from consumables (in this case, accessories) was born. We have here a stimulating break: the doll is sold at a very low price to capture a market and the profit is generated by the sale of accessories. This business model has now become the norm in many economic sectors.
Speaking directly to children
When the Barbie doll was presented at the New York International Toy Fair in 1959, all the big buyers, including the major American store brands were unimpressed and refused to buy any. While many entrepreneurs would have given up, Ruth Handler decided to sell her doll directly to consumers. A major publicity campaign was launched, which resulted in the worldwide success that we know today.
For the next decade Ruth Handler was instrumental in Mattel’s rise. However, in 1975 she and her husband resigned after a financial scandal. She died in 2002 and Elliot in 2011. Mattel and Barbie live on, however, its earnings reaching a five-year high in the first quarter of 2019, and Barbie continues to prosper, with sales up 12%.
Yet on the 60th anniversary of her creation, Ruth Handler’s contributions aren’t as well-known as they should be. She was an independent, creative and powerful woman, and a model of female leadership. And ultimately, a much more interesting and important model than the Barbie doll herself
Tim Hortons delays hockey Barbie rollout to rush production of Black doll
Both versions of the doll will be available as of November
Barbie is getting ready to hit the hockey rink with an assist from Tim Hortons.
But a Tim Hortons spokesperson said its restaurants won’t be selling the pint-sized plastic hockey players until both Black and white versions of the doll are available.
Solange Bernard, the chain’s head of marketing communications, said it started working with Mattel last year to roll out a hockey-themed Barbie as part of a charitable initiative aimed at getting girls involved in the sport.
Bernard says the plan was originally to launch one doll, but amid the protests against anti-Black racism in recent months, Tim Hortons decided to delay the launch to make the product more diverse.
She said the company asked Mattel to rush the production of a Black version of the Barbie doll, which comes with a Tim Hortons jersey, helmet and hockey stick.
Bernard said Mattel was on board with the plan, but had its own retail commitments to meet, so the white version of the doll can be purchased in toy stores while her Black counterpart is still being manufactured.
She says both versions of the doll will be available for purchase at Tim Horton’s restaurants in November, and the proceeds will be donated to Hockey Canada Foundation initiative, which is aimed at getting girls on the ice.