Barbie is probably one of the most recognizable toys to American children. But did you know that Barbie is actually of German descent? Inspiration for Barbie came from a similar doll by the name of Lilli, who was originally a cartoon character from a German tabloid newspaper called “Bild Zeitung” (Picture Newspaper). Lilli was considered a character of ill repute and was sold it tobacco shops and bars throughout Germany, often given as a souvenir at bachelor parties.
As the story goes, Barbie’s creator (Ruth Handler) first came across Lilli while traveling in Europe with her husband, Elliot, and their two kids, Barbara and Ken. Ruth was fascinated by Lilli and purchased several dolls to bring home. She and Elliot owned a small toy company named Mattel, and eventually Ruth persuaded Elliot and his all-male staff that little girls would love the idea of playing with an adult doll.
In 1958, Mattel bought the Lilli patent from its German owners and set about producing their own Americanized version. A year later, Barbie debuted at the International Toy Fair to mixed reviews. Many doll buyers refused to purchase the doll, while others though she was too provocative. Yet to little girls, it was love at first sight. Mattel sold over 350,00 Barbie dolls in the first year alone!
If you’re fortunate enough to come across an original Barbie doll, you might just be surprised at what they’re worth. My father came across one at a yard sale last fall and purchased her for $4. She was in good condition, but missing all of her original accessories. I didn’t think much about the doll when he first contacted me about her, but as I began to research her, my expectations began to rise.
You can buy nearly any original Barbie accessories online, so I purchased an original Barbie Box, zebra swimsuit, stilettos, earrings, and booklet on eBay. I couldn’t bring myself to pay $200 for the only original #2 Barbie stand listed at the time, but I managed to find a similar vintage stand for a fraction of the price that would suffice. I went as far as mailing Barbie off to a “Barbie Restoration Specialist”, who cleaned the doll, washed her hair, and gave Barbie a new ponytail band. I estimated the extra investment would increase the value of the doll to $2500.
Once listed for auction on eBay, Barbie immediately began to attract interest. By her second day online, she had more than twice the number of watchers than anything I had previously sold. By the morning of the last day, Barbie had reached $3000 in bids. As the last few seconds ticked down, the price jumped again. My father’s $4 garage sale Barbie sold for $3938! As a grown man, I must admit that I now like Barbie, too.
The original article can be found in the October 2012 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/issues.html