Launched at the American Toy Fair in 1959, Barbie was the first teenage doll ever produced for children and quickly became one of the all-time best selling and most widely collected toys. Heavily promoted on TV, over a billion of the dolls have been sold. Collectors prize early numbered Barbie dolls from 1959 and the 1960s, as well as a wide range of rarities and special editions, such as Barbie dolls with bendable legs or red hair.
The toy was the vision of Ruth Handler, whose husband, Elliot, was the "el" in Mattel and whose daughter, Barbara, gave the doll its name. The inspiration for Barbie’s facial features and impossible hourglass figure was Bild Lilli, a doll Handler picked up in 1956 while vacationing in Europe.
Bild Lilli, which is a collectible in its own right, had pouty lips, reminiscent of the lips found on bisque and porcelain dolls in Europe. Mattel metallurgist Kohei Suzuki gave Barbie more natural-looking lips, although her eyes and nose were kept almost identical to those of her forebear...
The other critical difference between Bild Lilli and Barbie was the concept of accessories. Beyond Barbie’s standard black-and-white zebra-striped swimsuit, little girls in the United States could choose 22 other ensembles, ranging from a collarless Chanel-style jacket with matching sheath skirt to a satin-and-tulle bridal gown. Clothing designer Charlotte Johnson was hired away from her teaching post at Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles to complete this critical task.
Most of the outfits offered in 1959 were still available in 1960, making the three that were discontinued (Easter Parade, Gay Parisienne, and Roman Holiday) extremely collectible. Of the six new outfits added in 1960, Friday Night Date was one of the best, thanks to its charming blue corduroy jumper with felt appliqués, pair of soda glasses with cotton standing in for actual fizz, and a black serving tray bearing the Barbie logo.
1961 introduced the world to Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend named after Barbara Handler’s brother. In addition to Barbies with ponytails, dolls with bubble-cut 'dos were also offered. Barbie’s ever-increasing line of outfits suggested that this woman did more than go to fancy parties and beach barbecues — she was an American Airlines stewardess, a nurse, and even a professional ballerina.
Barbie’s best friend Midge was added in 1963. Though Midge’s facial features were different from Barbie’s, her body style was the same so that accessories could be mixed and matched between the two dolls. The following year Midge got her own boyfriend, Alan, and Barbie was given a kid sister, Skipper. Mattel even sold a pet poodle, which itself could be dressed in a variety of fun getups.
During the middle of the 1960s, dolls in the Barbie line gained bendable limbs so they could be posed, but the major facelift came in 1967. Rooted eyelashes replaced the doll’s plastic ones, and Twist 'N Turn Barbies were offered for just $1.50 plus the trade-in of an old doll, which is why many of the original vintage dolls are so hard to find and expensive. 1967 was also the year that Barbie and her increasing number of friends went mod. The Bermuda Holidays outfits predate Goldie Hawn’s costumes on Laugh-In.
1967 is important to Barbie collectors for two other reasons: It was the year an African-American doll, Francie, joined Barbie and her friends, and it was the last year the doll was manufactured in Japan. From 1968 onwards, Barbie dolls were produced in Mexico, Taiwan, and Korea.
Interviews & Articles
I always wondered if starting a hobby in my free time was a good idea, and then I remembered Ken. He was a gift to my older sister… [more]
We have a very small team here at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, so we all have to do lots of different things. I do… [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Fashion Doll Guide
Vintage Barbie Vinyl Reference Guide
Vintage Dolls of the 50s
Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls
Museum of Childhood
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Top eBay Auctions
Recent News: Barbie Dolls
Source: Google News
Making outfits for American Girl dolls makes money for Grandview womanColumbus Dispatch, June 20th
“It's just your time to be pampered and to shop,” said Sexton, 61 of Grandview Heights, who visited the store in 2009 and has a collection of eight American Girl dolls. Sexton and other central Growing up, Angie Gill loved playing with Barbie dolls...Read more
Super fans ready to hop aboard Transformers rideUSA TODAY, June 19th
His impressive collection — last count it was 6,700 in the man cave and another 6,000 to 7,000 in his shed — includes the largest ever made and the tiniest one out there. "This takes the whole action-figure-sissy-Barbie out of the equation," he...Read more
2013 University Barbie Dolls can play with Texas A&M KenCBSSports.com, June 19th
But getting back to the important topic here, viz, Barbie dressed up as college cheerleaders, the most interesting entry in the collection is obviously Texas A&M's, which isn't Barbie at all. It's Ken, outfitted as one of the famous Aggie "Yell Leaders":...Read more
Collector company rolls out new UT Barbie dollWATE-TV, June 19th
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A new collection of Barbie dolls is helping University of Tennessee fans show off their volunteer pride. The 2013 University Barbie Collection is now available and includes cheerleaders decked out in Vols attire. Only three other ...Read more
New A&M Yell Leader is a Barbie collection dollKHOU, June 18th
The Barbie Collector website features many different collections of the classic dolls that children have played with for decades, but the 2013 University Barbie Collection features four dolls sporting the outfits of the students who spend their time on...Read more
Malibu Barbie x Trina TurkApparel News, June 17th
The June 14 party, hosted by Turk and Haute Look, featured a glimpse of Barbie's new Malibu wardrobe—including candy-colored bikinis and shorts, Mod-chic jumpsuits, sophisticated peasant tops and flirty cover-ups—and a matching summer collection for...Read more
Malibu Barbie is getting a makeover from fashion designer Trina Turk.NorthJersey.com, June 12th
It gave me the idea to use Barbie as inspiration for my collection." Turk contacted Mattel for permission, and representatives at the El Segundo, Calif.-based company offered her one better — the opportunity to design her own doll for the Barbie...Read more
Queen of the Constellations Completes Barbie Sci-Fi CollectionChip Chick, May 28th
The collection throws Barbie out into the final frontier, in guise of an alien empress, a protective galactic goddess, and, now, with the conclusion of the series, a doom-bringing queen who looks like she's about to show us what Barbie's Dream Death...Read more