How to Value Barbies

Barbie doll has unarguably been one of the most monumental and influential phenomena of modern toys and children's media. From the first Barbie in 1959 to this day children across the world are able to enjoy what Barbie has to offer having successfully adapted to a contemporary 21st century context. And just as modern children are eager to play with the doll, collectors and enthusiasts of any age appreciate vintage Barbies as highly valuable collectors items.

Barbie Dolls

Leslie Shum Kit-ping, Barbie Doll collector, shows a part of his Barbie collection at his house in Sheung Shui. Image: Getty Images

Barbie dolls are among the most popular and iconic dolls ever made. Made for entertainment for young girls, today Barbies are also often sought by collectors as highly prized collectible items around the world. Collectors are looking specially for the well-preserved, vintage Barbie dolls with original packaging, outfits and accessories.

Barbies fame began with the launch of the first doll, named Barbie Millicent Roberts, which was introduced 1959. Since then with every new edition of the doll new accessories and outfits were added, reflecting the times the Barbies were produced.

Do you have an old box of Barbies that you would like to know more about? Do you believe you have come across what you believe may be an early model Barbie at the thrift store? Perhaps you want to know if your mother’s collection of Barbies is worth anything? Find out today here at Value My Stuff!

The first Barbie doll from 1959 called the Barbie Teenage Fashion Model doll

The first Barbie doll from 1959 called the Barbie Teenage Fashion Model doll is displayed during the Barbie: A Cultural Icon Exhibition media and VIP event at The Shops at Crystals on November 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Image: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for Barbie: A Cultural Icon Exhibition

Before first Barbie doll's debut in the late 1950s, there was nothing like it on the American market. Majority of the dolls catered to children were based on infant and toddler-like designs. Barbie doll was based on an adult woman and was designed for young girls to role-play independent, career-driven women. Barbies quickly became a hit and only during the first year of production sold a record breaking amount of 350 000 dolls. Until today Mattel, the company that launched the first Barbie, has sold over a billion Barbie dolls, making it the company's largest and most profitable line.

Especially prized among the collectors are the vintage Barbie doll models produced between 1959 and the late 1960s. The Barbies from this period that had red hair and bendable legs are considered to be the most rare and valuable examples. The value of a Barbie doll from this period in a mint condition circles today around $25 000.

Check Out The Latest Barbie Doll Auctions on Barnebys Here!

Talking Ken and Barbie as Captain Kirk and Barbarella, vintage Barbie doll

Talking Ken and Barbie as Captain Kirk and Barbarella, 1985. Image: RomitaGirl67 / License: CC BY 2.0

A Brief History of Barbie Dolls

Barbie was first introduced to the public on March 9th, 1959, at the American International Toy Fair in New York. It was named after creator Ruth Handler’s daughter who inspired her to make a doll that was based on a full grown character rather than a baby. Ruth saw her daughter roll-playing with her toys and thought of toy that could fill in the niche as nothing similar was available on the American market. She forwarded the idea of the toy to her husband, who was at the time the cofounder of Mattel, an American toy company founded in 1945.

After a quick research, Ruth found out that there is an adult-bodied doll on the German market, so called Bild Lilli. This doll was based on a strip-comic in the Bild newspaper and was catered rather as a fashion doll for adults. Ruth got inspired by this doll during the creation of her first prototype of Barbie and even bought the rights to Bild Lilli. The first Barbie doll was officially shown at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.

Barbie was introduced as a successful teenage fashion model from Wisconsin and was catered to the young teenage girls. First dolls were sold in two versions, brunette or blonde, and were sporting a stripy black and white swimming suit. The original price was $3, but depending on accessories, additional $1-$5 could be added on top. By 1961 Mattel also launched red-hair Barbies, and the same year Mattel introduced Ken (named after Ruth Handler's son), a male fashion doll model. The first African American and Hispanic Barbie Dolls were introduced in the 1980's.

Despite Barbie’s initial success, many parents were concerned about the mature appearance of Barbie’s body, but Ruth Handler saw it as important to give young girls a distinctly adult role model to look up to and aspire to. She was a doll that represented a modern, well-rounded woman who could be anything from a mother to a doctor to an astronaut.

Barbie undeniably changed the modern toy industry and influenced the upbringing of many young girls, who could role-play with a doll who was given over 180 career choices. Moreover, over the years launched a number of collectible limited edition Barbies, that are highly sought after by the collectors and individuals all over the world.

Related: The History of Barbie

Hair Fair Barbie, Twist n' Turn Barbie, "Marlo Flip", Living Barbie, Talking Barbie with side pony, Talking Barbie with nape curls

Vintage dark brunette Barbies with assorted hairstyles. From left: Hair Fair Barbie, Twist n' Turn Barbie, "Marlo Flip", Living Barbie, Talking Barbie with side pony, Talking Barbie with nape curls. Image: RomitaGirl67 / License: CC BY 2.0

fashion Model Barbie doll in a red gown

Fashion Model Barbie doll in a red gown. Image: Canva / License: Public Domain

Condition and a Rarity of Barbie Dolls

One of the first factors to address when setting out to determine the value of your Barbie is its condition. Naturally, collectors will be willing to pay a lot more money for a doll that is in mint condition compared to a doll of the same model that is damaged and beyond repair. The doll will be especially valuable if it is in its original box and comes with all its original accessories. On the other hand, if the item is missing parts, or has suffered any damage such as cut or matted hair, chipped paint, scratching, or anything else that compromises its original appearance, its worth will be decreased significantly.

The next attribute of your doll to take into consideration is its level of rarity. Even if a doll is in perfect condition, if the supply exceeds its demand on the market, it will likely be worth very little. Aside from rare collectors’ models, your Barbie’s age will be the most likely factor in determining its rarity; the older your doll is, the more rare it will probably be.

Related: Learn About Dolls

Barbie as Marilyn Monroe

Barbie as Marilyn Monroe, 1997. Image: Value My Stuff

The Most Expensive Barbies Ever Sold

Strangely enough, the most expensive Barbie ever sold was not a vintage one. It was a model made in collaboration between Mattel and a designer Stefano Canturi in 2010. Doll wears a bespoke set of diamond jewellery designed by Canturi as well as a fashion little black dress. The doll is worth $302,500. Second in line is De Beers 40th Anniversary Barbie from 1999, worth $85,000. The third most expensive barbie is the original doll from 1959, worth $27,450.

modern barbie dolls, barbies

Modern Barbie dolls. Image: Canva / License: Public Domain

How to Identify a Barbie Doll?

Once the above factors are assessed, the next quintessential step to take is determining the year and model of the doll. While older dolls do tend to be rarer and thus more expensive, there are still plenty of younger collectible models that could be worth much more than you might expect. For example, some rare collectible Barbies are the 2014 Karl Lagerfeld Barbie, the 2001 Aqua Queen of the Prom Barbie, the 2003 City Smart Silkstone Barbie, and many more. 

It can often be helpful to compare your Barbie to what dolls of the same model have sold for in the past. Price guides can be a beneficial tool to assist in doing so, as they provide comprehensive lists of what Barbies have sold for in the past, given that they are in good condition. Many of these exclusive to Barbie price guides are available on platforms like Amazon, such as Illustrated Price Guide to Collectible Barbie Dolls by Carol Manos and Susan Paris, Warman's Barbie Doll Field Guide: Values and Identification by Sharon Verbeten, and more.

One of the most important factors is to learn how to understand Mattel markings and other details that can help to identify a truly rare example of Barbies:

Markings and Stamps

Usually, Barbie doll is marked on the right side hip. The trademark shows the date the doll was first patented or copyrighted. Any other markings found on other parts of Barbie's body were used for assembling the doll rather than confirming it's production date.

Feet and Hands

Usually vintage Barbies have holes in the bottom of their feet and the models. If your Barbie also has a stamp saying "Made in Japan" or "Japan" it means it was made between 1959-1972, because those models were manufactured there. All later models were made in Mexico or in the Far East, in Hong Kong or Taiwan and are not considered vintage.

Early Barbies have divided fingers, while after 1968 the fingers were not completely separated. Hands can vary from doll to doll, so look closely at how they were made and from what material.

Barbie's Hair Colour and Hairstyle

Hair style and a hair colour can make or break your doll's price. It is important to compare and recognise the hair pigment of your Barbie. Is it Blonde, Platinum, color magic, brunette or any other variation. It is important to also see if you have an original hairstyle, especially if your model has side bangs or braids. Many collectors re-root Barbie's hair if they become frizzy, loose shine or simply because they want to give their models a refreshed look.l

Barbie's Neck knob

This little detail can actually help you date your doll, as many of the earlier models has smaller knobs. Later barbies also have fuller faces.

Mattel markings on a vintage Barbie doll's hip

Mattel markings on a Barbie's hip. Image: Value My Stuff

markings of a vintage Barbie doll's foot

Mattel markings on a underside of a Barbie's foot. Image: Value My Stuff

Value your Barbies at Value My Stuff?

While the above factors undoubtedly play a role in affecting the worth of your Barbie, even the most meticulous and observant amateur is prone to making mistakes. The only way to acquire a truly accurate estimate of an item’s value is to seek professional appraisal, and thus narrow the margin for error as much as possible. Luckily here at Value My Stuff there are specialists in the field that are readily available to provide expert valuation for your Barbies today!

To make sure that our specialist can give you as accurate estimation of your Barbie doll's value here are some tips on how to submit your doll's for valuation. Take good and detailed photos of Barbies body, especially the face, hands and bottom of the feet. Take a good quality photo of the markings on a Barbie's right hip. Take a look at Barbie's hair and also take a good photo of it. Photos of the packaging, outfits and any accessories belonging to your Barbie are also very important. If your Barbie is still sealed in the box take a photo of the seal.

Take your time describing your doll. Remind yourself when and how did you get it and write if it was ever taken out of the original box. The more information our specialist will have, the more precise your valuation will be.

Do you have any Barbies in old moving boxes at the attic! Now it is time to see what are they worth!

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