When it comes to dolls, you simply can’t get more iconic than Barbie. For more than 60 years, Barbie has been a pop cultural icon and a role model for generations of girls.
Barbie was created by Mattel co-owner Ruth Handler in 1959, who was inspired by watching her daughter play with paper dolls and baby dolls, and realizing that there was a major gap in the market for sophisticated dolls that could allow girls to imagine their future selves.
Handler named her pretty plastic creation after her daughter, and from this first vintage Barbie, a phenomenon was born.
One of the most amazing things about Barbie is the way she’s adapted to every era and remained relevant for generations. The long-awaited live action movie based on the doll, aptly named Barbie, starring bombshell Margot Robbie as the blonde icon, is this summer’s biggest blockbuster, and Barbie pink (or, as some are calling it, “Barbiecore”) is trending.
Read on to take a walk down memory lane with our favorite pointed-toe gal, and see if your Barbie may be worth the big bucks!
The magic of Barbie
The original Barbie doll was all about 1950s fashion, with her bouffant hair, red lips and a pin-up style black-and-white strapless swimsuit. Since then, seemingly endless versions of Barbie and her friends (including her boyfriend, Ken, who was introduced in 1962) have been released, and she’s had over 250 jobs, from astronaut to CEO to President of the US.
More than 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute. While the ubiquity of Barbie makes it hard to say just how many dolls have been sold since her introduction, the number is projected at over a billion (yes, that’s billion with a B!).
Whether you’re a baby boomer or a member of Gen Z, chances are good you’ve probably played with Barbies at some point in your childhood. Barbie has rocked every fashion trend you can think of, from miniskirts to power suits to athleisure and even now, at age 64, she shows no signs of slowing down.
The Barbie controversy
For just as long as she’s been an icon, the doll has also been a magnet for controversy. Much has been said about Barbie’s unrealistic proportions. With a big head, skinny neck, large bust, tiny waist, long legs and arched feet, her body is cartoonishly ultra-feminine to the point that her proportions would be literally impossible to achieve.
Barbie has frequently drawn ire from critics who believe she presents a dangerous view of how women’s bodies should look, and claim the doll presents an overly sexualized image rooted in male fantasy. Barbie has also been criticized for her lack of diversity, though over the years more Barbies of color have been introduced, and Barbies with different body types were released in 2016.
On the other hand, some women point to the fact that she’s had just every job imaginable (often way before her time) as proof that she’s a strong role model. Barbie’s Dreamhouse was first released in 1962, before women were widely allowed to buy their own homes without male co-signers.
Whether you think Barbie’s an independent woman worth celebrating or a reflection of sexist values, one thing’s for sure — she inspires a truly impressive amount of conversation, and has become far more than an inanimate object.
Are vintage Barbies considered collector’s items?
It comes as no surprise that there’s a thriving market for vintage Barbie dolls. Collectors admire the dolls for their artistry, the details of their outfits and the instant nostalgia they conjure up. But it’s not just any old Barbie that’s valuable.
Kids often will throw away their cardboard Barbie boxes, take off the doll’s shoes and misplace them or even (eek!) give Barbie a haircut. These facts of toy-owning life mean that the majority of Barbies aren’t necessarily going to make you rich. However, if you have limited edition or vintage Barbie dolls in good condition, you might be in luck.
How much can a vintage Barbie sell for?
Simon Farnworth, a UK-based Barbie collector who runs the shop Simon’s Collectibles, told The Sun that limited edition Barbies, including ones sporting looks by famed designers like Christian Dior, Versace and Vera Wang, can bring in big bucks. The Dior Barbie has sold for nearly $1,000, while the Versace Barbie has sold for $590 and the Vera Wang Barbie has sold for $500.
Vintage Barbies from 1959 to 1972 are also highly sought after. Original Barbies from 1959 can bring in thousands: in a 2016 episode of Antiques Roadshow, one of these dolls was appraised for up to $4,500 — a number that may keep rising now that vintage Barbies are such hot topics in the news. One 1959 Barbie in mint condition sold for $9,302 on eBay in 2023, with 64 bids.
Farnworth notes that because so many collectors have personal connections to Barbie, they may also collect dolls from the ’80s and ’90s. These dolls are not worth as much as the ’50s and ’60s Barbies which regularly sell for more than $1,000, but they still hold great nostalgic value, and may command $100 or more if they’re in good shape.
Many sellers will also sell ’80s and ’90s Barbies in lots — and these groupings of many random Barbies can earn you up to $465, even if the dolls aren’t in perfect condition.
How do I know what my vintage Barbie is worth?
Got an old Barbie in your closet and not sure how much it might be worth? If you remove the doll’s clothes, you’ll be able to see a copyright notice hidden on its body. While many Barbies will have 1966 listed as the copyright date, this doesn’t necessarily mean the doll is from that year.
A better indicator is looking for the country of manufacture. If your Barbie says it’s made in Japan, that means the doll is from before 1972. Barbies that list Mexico, China, Indonesia or Malaysia as the country of origin are harder to pin down, as they’ve been made in those locations for a longer period.
Resources for buying and selling vintage Barbies
The world of buying and selling vintage Barbies is somewhat overwhelming, given just how popular the dolls are. Resources like the National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention, the Barbie Collectors Guide and the Barbie Database can help you learn more about your dolls and how much they may be worth.
Come on Barbie, let’s go party!
With a rich cultural history and an extensive market of passionate collectors, Barbie offers us so much to explore. There are a lot of Barbies out there, and if you have a vintage one, you just might be able to sell it for a good profit. We wish you all the best on your glamorous, pink-hued Barbie journey!
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