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The Evolution of Barbie Dolls: From Playtime to Profitability

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Barbie car
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We all know who Barbie is. Undoubtedly, she’s one of the most iconic female characters in our living memory. In 2006, it was estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls had been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second. And in the week that we saw the official trailer for the Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, we look back at the history of the world's most famous doll.

The History of Barbie

Officially introduced on March 9th 1959, Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, who cofounded Mattel with her husband, Elliot. Her physical appearance was modelled on the German Bild Lilli doll, a risqué gag gift for men, based upon a cartoon character featured in the West German newspaper, Bild Zeitung. 

In its first year, Barbie went on sale for just $3 (£26 today) and more than 300,000 dolls were sold. 

The original Barbie doll

The original Barbie doll

Barbie's appearance has been altered numerous times over the years, perhaps most notably in 1971 when the doll's eyes were adjusted to look forwards rather than having the demure sideways glance. This would be the last adjustment Ruth would make to her own creation as, three years later, she and her husband Elliot were removed from their positions at Mattel after an investigation found them guilty of issuing false and misleading financial reports.

Barbie has had over 150 careers, from an archaeologist to a doctor and a computer engineer. She broke records by landing on the moon 4 years before Neil Armstrong and in 1992, she even ran for president. 

Left: Astronaut Barbie | Right: Barbie for President

Left: Astronaut Barbie | Right: Barbie for President

In 1961, Barbie got her first boyfriend, Ken - named after Ruth's son. They broke up in 2004 (Barbie got custody of the Dreamhouse) but they reconciled their differences and 7 years later, they were reunited. 

Ken Doll 1960 - Etsy

The original Ken doll

In 1967, Mattel introduced the first celebrity Barbie, British model Twiggy, as a hybrid of a celebrity and Barbie original. Many celebs have followed, including Cher, Kylie, Diana Ross and Destiny’s Child. Some of these are incredibly rare and can sell for a heavy amount.  To this day, the Bob Mackie Barbies (designed by costume designer, Bob Mackie) are some of the most sought-after. Featuring his trademark style, the Barbie featured 5000 hand-sewn gold sequins. A rare signed Bob Mackie Gold Barbie sold on eBay for $1,200. 

Barbie Gallery — Bob Mackie

The Bob Mackie Gold Barbie

Controversy has always surrounded Barbie, with her body size and proportions being under public scrutiny for promoting dangerously unrealistic body image to young girls. Her obsession with material items like cars and clothes has also raised concerns in the past. However, Mattel has endeavoured to make Barbie more varied and inclusive in recent years.

In 1968, Mattel introduced a new character into the Barbie world, Christie, who was the first black Barbie doll (below left). Since then there has been a wider representation, addressing the longtime criticism that the dolls did not accurately reflect the diversity of the modern woman. In 2016,  ‘The Fashionistas’ were introduced. They came in 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles. Barbie has also embraced several life events to make her more relatable - including going through chemotherapy, losing a limb and being in a wheelchair. 

Left: Christie | Right: The Fashionistas

Left: Christie | Right: The Fashionistas

Barbie came full circle in 2014, donning her famous black and white bathing suit to pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. 

Barbie's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Causes a Stir Online - The New  York Times

Barbie’s Accessories

Barbie has always come with a range of accessories, all of which are collectable and can be valuable. These include:

  • The Barbie Dreamhouse

  • Barbie Car

  • Barbie Camper

  • Barbie Makeup / Hair Styler

  • Barbie Fashionista Wardrobe

  • Barbie Moped

  • Barbie Boat

  • Ken Doll; Barbie’s long-term boyfriend since 1961

  • Barbie’s Family, especially her sisters: Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea

The Value of Barbie Dolls

barbie doll

Given that there are so many Barbie dolls out there, the big question is, are Barbies valuable? Well, as with most things, the most valuable Barbies are the rarest. They have been, and still are, highly widely produced, so even the vintage Barbies don’t hold huge amounts of value in used condition. If you have an iconic 90s Barbie, a celebrity Barbie, or one of the original Barbies - or an original accessory, in mint condition, you could be in luck. Unfortunately, the more modern, mass-produced Barbies won’t fetch you much, but anything vintage and boxed is well worth having appraised. 

The original first edition Barbie from 1959 is very rare. Money, Inc. reports that even in played-with condition, she is worth $8,000. In pristine condition, she could be worth more than $27,000.

Do You Have Unused Barbies?

Let us help. At Vintage Cash Cow, we never send anything to landfill, so you can be sure that your unwanted Barbies will be happy in their new homes, and you could receive a valuation more than you might imagine.  You can order your starter pack here and have your items sent to us to be valued, completely free of charge. 

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