Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Birthday, Barbara Millicent Roberts

Did you know that is Barbie's full name? Neither did I. Barbie turns 50 today.
That photo is my own #1 edition Barbie doll, purchased in 1959 when I was 12 years old. I was really a little too old for dolls at the time, but I was passionately into sewing and designing clothes, so I thought Barbie would be a great little manikin for me. I made a million outfits for her. This original version of Barbie looks very much like the German Lilli doll that she was modeled after—a little more worldly looking than the later Barbies who were much softer in appearance.
Why have I kept my Barbie all these years? It was not love or sentiment. It was that I knew a long time ago that it is a collector's item, being a real #1 edition. If it were in perfect condition and I still had the box and sunglasses it would be worth some serious money. As it is, I don't know exactly what her value is. Doing some research on eBay tells me that the fact that her hair is in near perfect condition and she has her original bathing suit, shoes, earrings and especially, that stand, that was only used for the very first dolls, makes her fairly collectible. One of the shoes is split, which is a minus, however. I have considered selling her on eBay several times, but she has become my "ace in the hole" as it were. I always think that if something catastrophic, of a financial nature, happens I can sell her. When there was a question about whether Emily's insurance would cover her bills for giving birth to Sofia I considered selling Barbie. The insurance came through and I didn't have to. Isn't this wierd? At some level I don't even like her, but she has taken on a very symbolic significance for me!
When Emily was a little girl I thought I would never buy her a Barbie. My feminist sensibilities were offended by the body image issues and sexuality that Barbie represented. When push came to shove, however, she wanted one, her friends had them and she ended up with a couple. She was never all that enamored of Barbie and hers were discarded after a relatively short time. In retrospect I think it was a good course of action just to not make a big deal of it.
So, it is with a certain sense of ambivalence that I wish Barbie a very happy 50th birthday. After all, the older she gets, the more she is worth! Maybe she'll end up supporting us in our old age or sending Sofia to college. Or maybe everyone will come to their senses and she won't be worth a dime.


  1. Our daughters had Barbies too - tons of accessories - even the camping van and car - and they loved them. I sewed all sorts of clothes for them - knit tiny sweathers on round toothpicks - oh the fun we had. Our youngest daughter still has the stuff - and one day she got it out when a friend came over recently with a young daughter and HER Barbie. It was fun to see the difference in the clothes, "our" Barbie had polyester pant suits and lots of hippie clothes - it was fun.

  2. Did you see Kyra Hicks' Black Threads blog about Barbie? She did a Barbie quilt. See:

    I didn't have a Barbie, but I put up a picture of my dolls last Friday, too.

  3. I wasn't a big Barbie fan when I was a kid because they couldn't ride my Breyer horses. My daughter now has a few, but only plays with them when friends come over. I agree with your "don't make a big deal out of it" attitude.

    I find the biggest problem with collectibles is finding someone to buy them. They are only worth as much as someone is willing to pay, no matter what the price guides say. Your girl is pretty amazing though.

  4. I'm so impressed you've still got the shoes. I didn't sew back when I got my Barbie, so I spent a lot of time carefully choosing the next outfit I wanted for her--they only came at Christmas or my birthday. I guess I learned some lessons about putting off what I wanted and using what I had.

    My daughter's experience was about the same as yours. She had one or two, but really couldn't see the point, so Barbie got relegated to the back of the toy shelf.

    Happy birthday, Barbie!

  5. My sister in law is a feminist. Her and my brother's political opinion in younger years would have caused them serious problems in the McCarthy-era. And what happened? Her daughter desperately wanted a Barbie.
    She got one.

  6. Anonymous5:47 AM

    Isn't it funny how Barbie looks exactly like Lili? The Brats dolls don't have nearly as much in common with Barbie and their designer was sued by Mattel. Thanks for showing me the Lili. I wonder if this came up in the legal paperwork over the Brats.

  7. I hated the doll with my name. But I loved making wardrobes for people at $1 an outfit. I have a Skipper in a box; maybe it's worth something!

    I also have a Ginny doll and several Madame Alexander dolls.

    I never really played dolls. But I did make a lot of clothes for them.