Last year, I found myself the owner of a box of Barbie dolls. My sister and I turned them into a project. Julie made each doll a new wardrobe. I fashioned hats, handbags and necklaces and made each doll a cardboard box “cottage.” We donated 40 doll sets to organizations that provide gifts for needy families during the holidays.
When we decided to do the same project again this year, we began collecting dolls. I soon learned the complications of purchasing pre-owned Barbies on the secondhand market.
Having lots of easy to find blonde dolls, I began shopping for brunettes, African American dolls, and dolls with a Latino or Asian look. But ethnic Barbies on the secondhand market cost three times more than the blondes. While I understand supply and demand, I am not willing to pay $10 or $20 plus shipping for a used doll when a new one would be cheaper.
Second-hand markets are flooded with used Barbies, and yet sellers expect to be well paid for them even when they aren’t really worth anything. I suspect that most of these dolls never get sold. Those that do are probably purchased by buyers that are as equally uninformed about the dolls as the person selling them.
Thrift store sellers and shoppers alike know that any toy from the 1950s or 60s is a hot commodity. Most people will look to the toy itself to discover when and where something was manufactured. In most cases this works fine. But it does not work for Barbie.
Turn over your naked Barbie doll and you will usually find a date imprinted either on her back or her butt. The marking will very often read “©1966 Mattel, Inc.” When doll sellers and buyers see this, they get excited, believing they have found a vintage and therefore, more valuable doll. But wait just a minute folks…..
Think about it. What are the odds that you will find a 50+ year old toy in such good condition? And here you are, believing that you have discovered a half dozen of them all at once? Sorry, but these are not the dolls your mom and grandma played with as a kid.
There are hundreds of dolls for sale on secondhand markets that are listed as “vintage” or “1960s” which clearly are not. That’s because THE DATE ON THE BACK OF BARBIE IS NOT A MANUFACTURING DATE. It does not indicate when your Barbie was made. The imprinted date is only a copyright date that indicates when that particular body style was first designed. Because Mattel has used the same Barbie bodies for decades, Many dolls carry the same 1960s imprints regardless of when they were actually made.
So how do you know if you have a vintage Barbie or not?
Old dolls – the dolls collectors seek – are not pretty by todays standards. They have a much more refined and sophisticated beauty. They don’t greet you with big eyes and a huge tooth revealing smile. Vintage Barbie’s expression is standoffish. She has more of a Mona Lisa grin than an actual smile. And her hair style is much more modest and natural.
It’s pretty easy to distinguish an older doll once you’ve seen a few. When it comes to determining exactly which modern doll you have, Mattel does not make it easy. With so many different styles of Barbie and all of her friends having been created over the years, identification is difficult. You can surf Barbie websites until you learn to recognize different dolls or until you happen to stumble upon an identified picture of yours. There are a few websites that will attempt to help you. But unless you aspire to become a Barbie expert, this probably won’t be worth your time.
What you can assume though, is that if your doll is one of billions with long blonde hair and/or a pretty face, she is not a 1960s doll. Does that mean she is worthless? Not necessarily. If you have a boxed doll, many collectors will be interested regardless of the dolls age. But most loose modern dolls that you pick up at a garage sale or the local thrift shop will have very little value to doll collectors. You can, without reservation, go ahead and give them to your daughter to add to her toy collection.