In 1959, Mattel revolutionized the toy industry with the introduction of the Barbie doll. Originally dressed in a black-and-white striped bathing suit, with her hair in a ponytail, Barbie proceeded to capture the fascination and imagination of millions of girls worldwide. Since then, Barbie has been marketed in every professional and fashionable design imaginable, and children of all ages, from 6 to 96, still find these collectibles irresistible.
Barbie was the brainchild of Mattel partner Elliot Handler's wife, Ruth, who first purchased a Lilli doll on a buying trip to Switzerland. She purchased distribution rights for the American market, and exhibited the doll at the yearly toy festival in New York City.
This German-made doll served as the model for the fashion-plate Barbie, introduced to U.S. consumers in 1959. She was an almost instant hit. Barbie was named after the Handlers' daughter. Barbie's boyfriend Ken, who was quick to follow, was named after their son.
Barbie has been a fashion model for a variety of costumes, including Fashion Luncheon and Silver Flame. Since then, Barbie has undergone a variety of modifications, including movable limbs, a Twist-N-Turn waist and a widened waist. This last alteration occurred after critics suggested the impossibly narrow dimensions featured by Barbie could encourage girls to resort to anorexia in an attempt to become the "ideal size."
In 1977, Barbie's smile was widened and her eyes brightened so that she could be marketed as Superstar Barbie. She received another makeover, enhancing her youthful appearance, in the late 1990s, with a release of the Neptune Fantasy Barbie. To date, thousands of officially licensed Barbie models and costumes have been sold by Mattel, making Barbie products one of the most popular ever sold.
During the 1980s, Barbie's early followers reached adulthood. Mattel soon learned that even as adults, women continued to collect Barbie dolls. As a result, the first porcelain Barbie, Blue Rhapsody Barbie, was created and released in 1986. Christmas ornaments, vintage Barbie dolls, Barbie furniture, and Collector or Limited Edition Barbie dolls are still popular today.
Collecting Barbie dolls is so popular that collectors have devised their own lingo to describe collectible items. Here is a brief description of some of the must-know terms collectors use to describe their treasures and latest finds:
- Book value: What a collector can expect to pay for a certain doll or item.
- Collector Edition; HTF; Limited Edition: All of these terms are used to describe Barbie dolls released primarily for collectors. Limited Edition or hard to find (HTF) items were often released in limited numbers.
- MIB; MIP; MNB; NM; NRFB: These terms are short for Mint in Box, Mint in Package, Mint no box, Near-mint, and never removed from box; respectively, and describe the item's condition. For example, a factory condition Barbie doll found in its original box is designated as MIB.
- Customized, Modern, or Vintage Barbie dolls: Customized Barbie dolls were made for a certain store, while modern is the term used to describe those Barbie dolls made after 1972. Vintage Barbie Dolls are those manufactured prior to 1972.
- Timeless Treasures: This term is used to refer to Barbie dolls manufactured to model certain famous celebrities, including Elvis, Lucille Ball, or Marilyn Monroe.
Collectors use a C grading system to describe the condition of dolls. C-10 indicates mint condition, while C-1indicates very poor condition.
Mattel developed a "tier structure" in an effort to help collectors identify potentially collectible items. This structure, released in 2004, is meant to help determine a doll or item's potential value as a collectible. Platinum Label Barbie dolls were intended to be the most collectible; less than 1000 of these dolls were manufactured. Examples of Platinum edition dolls include the Fairie Queen Barbie or dolls made for special annual events.
Gold Label Barbie Dolls indicate a production quota of fewer than 25,000, while Silver Label Barbie Dolls have a maximum production of fewer than 50,000. Barbie as Juliet is one example of a Silver Label Barbie. Many items, including the Dolls of the World, have been classified as Pink Label Barbie dolls, which means that no production quota has been established for these dolls.
Collectible Barbie dolls often brings back memories of endless hours spent playing with friends, combing Barbie's hair or changing outfits, vicariously riding in a Pink Corvette or starring in a fashion show. It's ok for grownups to store their Barbie dolls and collect them if they choose, but it's also OK to take them out of the box once in a while and relive those memories.