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Yes, I know, I don't do Barbies here - but I find it interesting and know that many of you, especially on the fashion doll side, are Barbie collectors too.
If you were told to name a doll toy off the top of your head, chances are, you’ll probably say BarbieーI mean who hasn’t heard of them right? Plastic, with bendy arms and painted make-up, Barbie dolls are one of the most popular toys for young girls. Having accompanied many children through the generations, they are seen by many to be an important part of the fashion doll industry; some may even dare say that they’ve become ea part of the American life. Since they were first created in 1959 by business woman, Ruth Handler, billions of Barbie dolls have been sold all around the world. They are currently the best, and most profitable product of the American toy company, Mattel.
Handler first had the idea of making a fashion doll after realizing the lack of adult-figured toys during the 1950’sーmost had been representations of toddlers or infants. Wanting to close the gap in the toy market, she presented her thoughts to her husband, Elliot, who was then the co-founder of the American toy company, Mattel. Although her idea was dismissed by many at the time, Handler would eventually create and design the first Barbie doll, based on an adult-bodied doll which she’d purchased in Germany. The toy first made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in March 9, 1959ーthat date would later be considered as Barbie’s birthday.
Since then, countless designs of Barbie dolls have been produced by the companyーeach with their own unique, different looks. In fact, just this year Mattel has announced that they will be producing them in three body sizesーtall, curvy and petite! Besides the doll itself, a number of accessories for the toys have also been released such as purses, shoes, and jewelry, as well as other merchandise such as cosmetics, books and video games. Barbie even starred in the popular Toy Story film series! While she may just be a plastic doll, Barbie has attracted a number of hardcore fans and collectors over the years and like all collectibles, there will always be some that are more valuable than others. So what are the most valuable, and expensive Barbie dolls? Read on to find out!
#10 – Bob Mackie Gold Barbie: Over $150
Designed by fashion designer, Bob Mackie, only a limited amount of the Bob Mackie Gold Barbie have ever been released; it was first distributed through a Mattel World of Imagination Party in 1990. The beautiful golden doll is also unique in that it features the designer’s signature. First officially release in January 1990, the alluring Bob Mackie Gold Barbie doll sports a beautiful gold sequinned gown with a soft, feathery white boa. With her platinum blonde hair pulled up into a high pony tail with a matching golden headpiece, only one word can describe her appearanceーelegant. She also comes with golden bracelets and earrings to complete her shiny, look. If you’re looking to add the designer doll to your collection, know that it’ll probably set you back at least $150 for one new in box with all its accessories
#9 – Live Action Christie Barbie : $300
The first African American Barbie doll ever to be made by the company, the Live Action Christie was first released in 1968, alongside Live Action Barbie. Dressed in an orange and fuchsia print pant suit, she modelled a matching orange headband and a pair of orange heels. Unlike many of the traditional barbies, the dark skinned figure had flexible limbs; the waist could swivel and their knees, ankles and elbows would bendーa feature which allowed it to be positioned in many ways. While the condition of the doll is always an important consideration in determining its value, for Live Action Christie, you’d want to pay more attention to her hairーas the dark colour often fades and reddens with age. A new, mint-in-box version of the doll currently goes for around $300 online.
#8 – Pink Splendor Barbie: $350
First released in January 1997, only 10,000 copies of the Pink Splendor Barbie doll has ever been made and distributed in the world; it originally retailed in stores for $900. Dressed in a beautiful rose coloured silk gown with delicate, gold lace trimmings, her ornate bodice also features elegant gold lace, over a layer of intricate pink taffeta adorned with gleaming rhinestones. Her exquisite dress also forms a wide, bow at the back that flows down to hover between the intricate pink roses on her backside. She also comes adorned with a lovely crystal necklace on her neck, along with matching crystal earrings; her hair is also put up in a graceful braid, with a matching headpiece. A match for any serious Barbie collector, this doll is likely to cost at least $350 today.
#7 – Vintage Put-Ons and Pets Kitty Kapers: $500
Although this Barbie set doesn’t actually come with a doll, don’t let that fool youーit will still cost you an arm and a leg! Different from traditional Barbie doll products, the Put-Ons and Pets Kitty Kapers comes with a pet and a lovely outfit for Barbie herself. Featuring her white kitty cat, complete with blue beaded eyes and a pink stitched nose, the set also comes with a colourful floral polka-dotted patterned skirt, adorned with delicate white lace as well as a matching pair of shorts and a long sleeved top. Oh but let’s not forget about the accessoriesーBarbie’s going to need her white, lace-up boots and kitty’s going to need her bowl of cat food as well! If you’re lucky enough to find one for sale, know that the current going price for one new-in-box is around $500.
#6 – Barbie, Ken and midge on Parade Gift Set: $600
Released in 1964, this collectible set featured three dollsーBarbie, her boyfriend Ken and her best friend, Midge. Dressed in a red, long sleeve shirt with gold trimmings and a (dangerously) short white skirt, Barbie is definitely eye-catching in her marching band uniform. But what good would she be without her other half? Beside her in the set is Ken, who sports a clean, white uniform with red and gold stripes, along with long red pants. Don’t forget about Midgeーshe’s the third in the set, and is dressed in a white, wool boat-neck sweater (with a striking “M” logo) and a red knee-down skirt. Also included are two red and white pom poms, the pair’s uniform hats and a pair of marching batons. Awfully difficult to come by nowadays, a set in good condition will most likely set you back at least $600.
#5 – Devi Kroell Barbie: $1075
Created and designed by New York fashion designer, Devi Kroell for a charity auction event, this one-of-a-kind Barbie doll was sold to a collector for a whopping $1075 in 2010. Fitted in a fashionably stylish overlong sweater with a cute knot at the front side, the doll also sported a pair of snazzy gold pantsーcomplete with glow and shimmer. While one hand was adorned with a matching black and silver bracket, the other hand held in it, a beautiful red leather purse with an intricate golden chain. Hair slicked dashingly to the back, the doll also had on a pair of elegant heels which helped to fulfill the entire look. While there’s no doubt that this Devi Kroell Barbie looks fantastic, it might be a hard item to collectーseeing as how there’s only been one ever made in the world (which already has a home)!
#4 – Lorraine Schwartz Bling Barbie: $7500
Designed by New York City jewelry designer, Lorraine Schwartz, this bling Barbie flaunts beautiful diamond jewelry (valued at over $25,000)ーincluding a pair of gorgeous hanging earrings, a pair of diamond trimmed high heels, a number of stunning bracelets and a signature “B” pendant around her waist. As a collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designer in America, only twelve of this doll was ever made in the world by Mattel, making it a truly unique collectible piece. Dressed in a black, tight-fitting tube dress, this Lorraine Schwartz Bling Barbie sold for a hefty sum of $7500 at a recent auction (which is cheap, considering the value of the diamonds). Considering the fact that only a limited number exists, it may be a challenge to locate one for sale, should to want to add it to your collection.
#3 – The Original Barbie: $10,000
The first Barbie doll ever to be created, this original figure is one of the most sought after by collectors today. Originally introduced on March 9, 1959, this phenomenal figure is dressed in a striking black and white bathing suit, which accentuates her slim body; only 350,000 units were estimated to have been released at the time. With distinctive white irises (later ones would have blue irises), and arched eyebrows, this original Barbie doll truly has vintage written all over it. One attribute that distinguishes from the later barbies, is the fact that she has round holes on her feet; another distinguishing feature is that the doll has no marking on the back of the head. While this doll has been recreated many times throughout the years, only the original from the 1959 commands the highest valueーwhich is estimated to be in the thousands.
#2 – De Beers’ 40th Anniversary Barbie: $85,000
Created to celebrate Barbie’s 40th birthday in 1999, this anniversary Barbie fashions a flowing twilight garb which is reminiscent a gypsy dancer. Adorned with white gold jewelry, this raven-haired doll also has around her waist a belt that is encrusted with 160 diamonds (her bikini also has some bling) from the international big name jewellers, De Beers. Thought to be one of the most valuable, and expensive Barbie dolls of all time, the De Beers 40th Anniversary Barbie last sold for a stunning $85,000 in auctionーcomparable to the price of a car! If you’re itching to add this dear doll to your collection, then you may have to be prepared for a major dent in your walletーthat is, if you’re lucky enough to find one for sale!
#1 – Stefano Canturi Barbie: $300,000
Created by fine jewelry designer, Stefano Canturi, this one-of-a-kind doll currently has a hefty price tag of $300,000ーit had taken Stefano himself close to four weeks to design and complete from head to toe.. Commissioned by the Toy company itself, the precious Stefano Canturi Barbie features an upscale jewelry set which includes Stefano’s “Cubisim-style” necklace made from three carats of white diamonds, and a carat of the extremely rare emerald cut pink diamondーshe also wears one of the company’s iconic diamond rings on her right hand. From her beautiful black dress to her perfectly done eyelashes, this high fashion Barbie doll will truly dazzle any crowd with her beauty. It was auctioned off at Christie’s in New York for $300,000 in October 2010, with the proceeds going towards the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Are you a Barbie doll collector? Let us know your favourite piece in the comments below!
Every doll you find on the shelf at Target starts as a single prototype. Many doll professionals work on creating the dolls that we all love, from Barbie to Bratz. Have you ever wondered who makes those tiny doll clothes? Mario Gesualdi is one of a handful of people in the toy industry who creates doll clothing patterns and sews these tiny garments. Not only does he create doll clothes for clients in the toy industry he also sells reproduction vintage doll patterns through his company Tailored Doll Patterns. I’ve worked with Mario for years and thought it would be fun, and informative, to interview him and find out more about what it’s like to create these miniature garments.
You’ve done a lot of work developing dolls for production and working with manufacturers. Tell me about this part of your job.
Getting your doll on a shelf in a store is the biggest challenge. The fun part is sketching out your design, shopping for fabric, creating a hairstyle and seeing your 3-D sample come to life. Now the challenge begins by putting the doll in the box. Reality sets in and all of a sudden the dreaded “B” word shows up; Budget! Sadly in this industry perceived value determines price point. A doll that retails for $19.99 needs to be in a box that is at least 8″ wide! Consumers associate the size of the package with value. I have always disagreed with this mentality because I throw the box away and what is inside is what matters to me (also my philosophy in life). Knowing that this is a battle that we will never win we start by working backwards. Assume the retailer makes close to a 70% profit and the manufacture shoots for 50-65%, less the material costs of your packaging, overhead for shipping, employees and developments you may have a budget of $3.00 to dress that doll from head to toe. This is where I am expected to turn a sows ear into a silk purse.
So much is involved in manufacturing a doll. You need a sculptor to help you develop the body, then an engineer to translate into a program that cuts steel to make tooling molds for it. The Engineer will also help to with all you plastic parts and accessories such as shoes, purses and maybe pets.
You need a person for sourcing production fabrics that meets child safety laws globally.
Then there are production pattern-makers, sample-makers, people on an assembly line. Your fashions need to be cheap but still maintain its original aesthetic.
Dolls bodies are made from three different types of plastic materials, ABS, PVC and Poly-Pro. Mixing color for skin-tone is an art form in itself. The formula to achieve that perfect tan will be different for each material because of its chemical properties, shrinkage and cooling rate. It could take weeks to get all the parts to match perfectly.
Next the doll faces are painted. They started with “tampo” printing and then spray masks are made for each color and layer for the doll. Eye shadow has to go on first before the lashes, some doll faces have up to 15 different mask layers. Ever layer is considered an operation and I get billed per operation.
Now its time to root the doll’s hair. Hair style is costed by gram weight and steps, then styling and heat setting. The doll’s head is actually adhered to the insert first. The body is assembled, dressed then plugged into the head and secured onto the insert last before it in inserted into the package. Let’s not forget the packaging design team either. Their design work is done prior to the production process.
We are not done yet, dolls need to go to an outside lab for child safety and heavy metals testing. There are also internal tests that occur such as age and humidity, stress tests to the doll, shipping and drop testing to ensure no damage comes to the doll.
Your manufacturer will continuously send samples to you along the way for approval of each step. Some concerns are minimal but occasionally it is necessary to make on-site approvals because of the challenge of that step or time is an issue to meet schedule. These are just some of the responsibilities I take on as a Production Manager. My goal is to give you a gorgeous doll without functional issues, in budget and on time.
You’ve worked on lots and lots of dolls. Which projects were your favorite? Why?
You might as well ask who is your favorite child. After 19 years in this business working on high-profile brands such as Barbie, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hello Kitty, Olivia the Pig, Taylor Swift, Disney’s Fairies, Princesses, Kim Possible, Jo-Jo’s Circus and licensed products like Samurai Jack, Scooby Do and The Power Puff Girls how do you choose?
If I have to pick the best experience it would be a toss-up between Mattel and a start up company called Possibility Place where I worked on AvaStars.
I loved Mattel because it was my first job in the toy industry and I worked with some amazing people and learned from the best.
AvaStars is a fashion doll with your face printing in 3-D on it. It is an amazing concept which is the ultimate personalized doll. Because it was a startup I got to roll my sleeves up, dig in and was part of the birth of something I felt was special!
Did you play with dolls as a kid? Do the things that you loved as a kid still inspire you?
Yes, I did. I have an older sister by three years who decided what and how we played when I was a child. I also loved to color and paint by numbers. My mother was a good sewer back in the day and she would give me her fabric scraps and I would try to make doll clothes for my sister’s dolls, unsuccessfully at that time.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I was born in Providence Rhode Island and grew up in the town of Lincoln. As a child I usually wore a tie to school even though not required even in high school. I never succumbed to pier pressure and march to the beat of my own drum.
I was not the best of students with the written word; I was a visual learner. I believe that contributed to my eye for details and my sharp memory. My interests were always in Art and Design. I loved going shopping with my mom and was always moving furniture around much to my mother’s dismay.
I attended Rhode Island School of Design and graduated with a degree in Apparel Design in 1985. I worked in the garment industry in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. I eventually fell into teaching design on a college level which was extremely rewarding for me emotionally. It appealed to my nurturing side and helping students achieve their goals and dreams made me very happy.
In 1996 I was recruited by Mattel where I working in development for the Barbie brand for almost six years. I am still in the toy business but would be open to life’s next big adventure if it comes my way.
How did you get started in sewing and creating patterns for doll clothes?
I have always been a pattern maker. It’s just one of the skills I learned in school. It wasn’t until 2005 that I started making patterns for dolls, prior to that there was staff for that wherever I worked. I started making patterns for Cabbage Patch Dolls. Their bodies were a challenge, they have no shape with stretched out arms. I described it as a pin cushion with limbs!
Tell me about your doll pattern business. How did it start?
In 2012 I started to make patterns for Barbie. A friend of mine who was an avid Barbie Collector was going to the Barbie National Convention. He also liked to design his own dolls but was not trained in that field. He asked me to make a few patterns for his designs and then invited me to the convention. It spawned the idea of trying to sell my services to that community, but how? I realized that there is a finite number of original vintage Barbie fashions out there and not everyone can afford to pay collector prices. I decided to knock them off for the home sewer. I started with a baker’s dozen of day dresses and popular fashions. I sold 117 patterns in three days! Since then I have completed a new collection each year and created a website. You can find me at TailoredDollPatterns.com. I have customers in Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and Finland! I have also been interview by the Australian Barbie Club.
How do you promote your business?
Here is where I need to have my wrist slapped. I am very bad at self promoting. I am fine with attention being brought to my work but a bit shy when it is directed towards me. The toy industry is small and we all know and promote each other so you really don’t need to advertise if your work is good. For my Tailored Doll Patterns business I finally succumb to peer pressure and started a Facebook page. I tried promoting and boosting my posts there. I photo bomb images of my dolls in environments with a cute pun attached to the name of the Fashion and post them.
This year after urging from Heather and mocking of friends at a Christmas party I signed up on Instagram. I’m open to any other suggestions!
Heather Fonseca is a freelance designer specializing in doll design and illustration. Check out her site to learn more about her services and read her blog.