Let's Talk Barbie


I have long been intrigued by the origin of words, phrases, events and some products. One of those fascinating products turns 63 years old this year; the never aging, Barbara Millicent Roberts, a doll created by Ruth Handler, who became affectionately known as ‘Barbie’.


Children have been playing with dolls forever, but not until Mattel licensed Barbie, did the industry really take off. There have been more than 400 million Barbies sold worldwide, and in 2019 it was the most popular Mattel toy, netting the company a mere 1.16 billion dollars… and that’s in US dollars.


The first Barbie sold for $5, which in today’s economy is about $35. Inflation has been kind to Barbie, and today you can buy a basic version for $10 in US outlets, such as Target.


One of the smartest marketing concepts, producing Barbie, was only the beginning. Once you had the doll, a plethora of necessities is a must. Items such as party dresses, gowns for the prom, wedding ensembles and of course, her boyfriend, Ken.


When Barbie was introduced, she represented a different, more liberated woman, which is one of the reasons for her success, and as the head of marketing said, “She looked like Jayne Mansfield and you never saw her in the kitchen”.


Mattel realized quickly that Barbie was all dressed up with nowhere to go, so along came camper vans, houses, tents and hotel rooms. Now Barbie became a way of life.


So let’s talk about value. A long way from her initial $5 price tag, a mint-in-box original 1959 Barbie doll is worth $8,000-$10,000 today (according to Reader’s Digest). However, slightly less pristine versions are available on eBay for less — one sold for $3,999 in December 2020.


Released in 1964, and only on the market until 1965, the Swirl Ponytail Barbie has become a collector’s item. An original Swirl Barbie with a brunette ponytail, is currently listed on eBay for $4,559.99.


There has only really been one Barbie flop, and that was ‘kissing Barbie’. Mattel created the doll with moveable lips, so she would be able to kiss; however, they never created a Ken in the same manner, so sadly, there was no one for Barbie to smooch with.


Therefore, when you have time, dig through your attic or basement and see if you have a Barbie tucked away somewhere. It may just be worth a fortune.


Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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