BARBIE :: A MID-CENTURY ICON
I'm happy to share with you the following interview with my friend Scott. He collects and sells vintage Barbies, many at high prices on Ebay. I wanted to know more about this Mad Men-like mid-century icon, so I asked him some questions and he was more than willing to share his knowledge. Thanks, Scott!
Why collect vintage barbies? What makes collectors excited?
Although Mattel does "swell" reproductions of their 1960's dolls and outfits, they are of somewhat cheaper construction than their vintage counterparts, which were made from a higher grade vinyl (solid vinyl on the earlier dolls which had a porous waxiness to it that not only gave it a pleasant crayon-ish aroma but a more porcelain or waxy look and a heaviness to them, all of which combine to form a more "substantial" feeling than the hollow contemporary ones, which look and feel more like plastic.)
Also, the new dolls are all identical, whereas vintage dolls can vary greatly from one to the next... different facepaint stencils, variations in the head molds (some faces being long and narrow, others shorter and wider). Some vintage dolls were even hand painted or partially hand painted, making each one unique and different unto itself, appealing to the "art collector" side of vintage Barbie lovers.
Finally, the fact that each vintage doll is an actual artifact from the 1960's, which is important to people who came to vintage Barbie through a larger interest in the area that produced them.
Where do you find your vintage barbies? Is it possible to still find them in thrift/junk shops?
They don't appear very often in thrift stores due to media coverage over the years that has made everyone with a vintage Barbie think their doll is worth $1,000. Typically, thrift shop and pawn shop owners tell me that when they come across old Barbie dolls, they put them on ebay, not out in their stores. Of course, now and then you will find the occasional exception. Often the mod era dolls (1967-1970) will wind up in thrift stores and pawn shops because the owners don't recognize them as vintage dolls (the mod dolls featured a different facemold and these dolls are not typically the ones pictures in articles about vintage).
What condition to collectors expect? Is there a checklist you can suggest for someone evaluating the condition of a vintage barbie?
Basically, any vintage Barbie will sell on ebay. The question is, what differentiates a $20 doll from a $1,000 doll? Well, condition and rarity, mostly. Only the mint dolls (with no rubs or restoration to the facepaint, and hair in the original factory set and style, no body problems like missing fingers or bent legs, tanning of vinyl, green ear syndrome from the metal ear rings) are really valuable. If you find a vintage doll with any or all of the problems listed above, you are likely looking at a $20 doll in terms of Ebay value.
Where rarity is concerned, research is needed. Some types of dolls (like Bubble Cuts and Fashion Queens) are in much readier supply and easier to find in mint condition than the earlier Ponytails, for example, making them a lot less valuable. I would suggest anyone seriously interested buy a reference book and brush up, as there are so many variables that decide value.
Lastly, when checking to make sure a doll is vintage, look for patent dates of either 1958, 1962, or 1965 on the rear ends of the dolls. They should also say "Made in Japan" under the date. Avoid dolls with the 1966 butt stamp. That is a year of patent and not manufacture, and dolls with that year stamp are usually from the 80s or newer.