Leap into a Barbie world at auction

Barbie-mania is rampant ahead of the release of Greta Gerwig’s new film celebrating and subverting the plastic sensation.

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One of a pair of unique vintage gelatin silver prints of Barbie and Ken by Floris Neusüss, which sold in 2021 for €1300 at Galerie Bassenge.

If you’re looking to snap up a doll of your own – or are even thinking about selling one on – auction is the place to be.

Created in 1959 as the first alternative to baby dolls, Mattel’s Barbie quickly became a sensation. The leggy doll was described as a teen from Willows, Wisconsin. Profession? Fashion model. Initially offered only in brunette or blonde, many variations have followed over the years. 

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This Barbie is a droid. It is one of a rare series of Star Wars Barbies, each of which featured a different Barbie dressed not just as Princess Leia, but also Storm Troopers or, in this case, C-3PO. It was one of several from the series that came up at Stacey’s in May, and this example was knocked down for £110.

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These Barbies are…Girls Aloud. Sold for £130 at British Toy Auctions in Runcorn last month, the lot comprised a complete collection from the Fashion Fever set. All were unopened in mint condition and each doll was still attached to their cards.

Controversy has always swirled around Barbie and what she represents, but her market rules are straightforward. As is the case with many vintage toys (and other antiques and collectables), value is down to quality, rarity and condition. Though age may play a part, it is not crucial for a top price – the Lorraine Schwatrz Barbie, which sold at auction for around €6700, only dates to 2010 (although it does feature real diamond jewellery).

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Vectis Auctions sold this boxed collection of four Barbies during its online Dolls & Teddy Bears sale on June 6. It included a 50th Anniversary Glamour Doll and a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders brunette, all offered in Excellent Plus to Near Mint condition with Fair Plus to Excellent boxes. They made £110.

The current record stands at $302,500 for Stefani Canturi Barbie, also from 2010, which went under the hammer at Christie’s New York in the same year. It was specially made and featured an elaborate necklace made with real diamonds.

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In 2016, Special Auction Services sold this World of Barbie Bus Stop point of sale display dating to c.1968. It featured four different Barbies plus the bus stop in its original card display case and cellophane. It fetched £1800.

There is value in the 1959 original. The top recorded price for a mint condition first edition example – featuring the telltale holes in the bottom of her feet – is $27,450, far more than her original retail price of $3. Other high prices for vintage examples include Barbie in Midnight Pink from 1965 (around €8,500) and Barbie in Midnight Red (€15,317), the highest price on record when it sold in 2006.

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This collection of vintage Barbie and Sindy (her little sister) dolls including a Hotel Continental folding briefcase from 1970s or 80s is offered at Leighton Hall Auctions in Staffordshire with an estimate of £30-60.

Boxed examples will always be preferable. Often the more limited the edition the higher the price, including obscure early releases.

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He’s just Ken. But he helped this Barbie lot reach $3000 at a US auction house in 2021. Leonard Auction of Illinois sold this assortment of c.1960-70 Barbies, Skippers and Kens. It included a coveted original straight legged Ken doll, which had brown flocked hair as well as casese with assortments of clothing and MCM dolls furniture.

Auctions are an ideal place to find a range of Barbie’s at different levels of the market, from bargain basement to top tier. Auction houses will often offer a condition report or at least give the chance to view in person.

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If you aren’t looking for collector pieces (or perhaps are looking for the odd diamond in the rough), there are plenty of lots like this, which appeared at Reeman Dansie in Essex in June. Featuring around 15 Barbies – including a Dr Barbie, bride Barbie and one Sindy – it was knocked down for £38.

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