Vintage Doll
Your reference guide to 20th century dolls
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Barbie (1959-present)

ponyhead (5K)
Vintage ponytail Barbie
vbarb (5K)
Vintage bubblecut Barbie

See also the Ponytail Barbie page and Bubblecut page for more detailed information on the earliest Barbies.

Mattel introduced Barbie in 1959 and parents and toy buyers were immediately skeptical. This doll seemed too grown up and glamorous for young girls to play with. But Mattel advertised heavily on television and soon the kids were clamoring for her. Mattel cofounder Ruth Handler reportedly based Barbie on grown up paper dolls that her daughter played with. But similarities to Bild Lili, a German novelty doll who preceded Barbie, are also apparent. Barbie was one of the first dolls whose manufacture was outsourced to Japan by an American company. Within a few years, this practice became common, as companies competed to keep prices low.

vken (8K)
Barbie's boyfriend Ken
vallan (8K)
Ken's buddy Allan
Photo courtesy of eBay seller luving_dolls

The "Vintage Era" of Barbie includes those dolls made from 1959 to 1966. Within a few years of Barbie's introduction, she got a boyfriend, Ken; a best friend, Midge; and a little sister, Skipper. Barbie was released with different hairstyles and play features to keep her fresh year after year. In 1967, Barbie was updated with an entirely new look. The dolls made from then until the early 1970s comprise the "Mod Era". New friends and family members were introduced as well as celebrity dolls made from the Barbie family molds. The vintage and mod era Barbies were high quality dolls, and had many extra outfits made from beautiful fabrics with lots of detailed accessories. In the mid '70s, Mattel began manufacturing Barbie and her outfits with less attention to quality. The outfits didn't have individual names and most accessories were eliminated. Although many collectors of the earlier dolls and outfits disdain this era, those who grew up playing with these dolls hold them near and dear.

nbfran (11K)
Barbie's mod cousin Francie
stacey (8K)
Mod friend Stacey
Francie photo courtesy of eBay seller luving_dolls
Stacey photo courtesy of eBay seller your-favorite-doll.

In the 1980's, Barbie collecting began to take off, and some dolls were released to appeal to these adult collectors. In 1994, for Barbie's 35th anniversary, Mattel released the first reproductions of vintage dolls. The 1990s were the boom years for Barbie collecting, with new dolls as well as vintage and mod commanding astronomical prices on the secondary market. With the advent of eBay in the late '90s, Barbie collecting settled back down to earth and prices became more affordable.

Sources for this page include:

  • "Collector's Encyclopedia of Barbie Dolls and Collectibles" by Sibyl DeWein & Joan Ashabraner
  • "Barbie Fashion" vol 1 & 2 by Sarah Sink Eames

Copyright 2008-13 by Zendelle Bouchard.