How to Start a Barbie Collection

by on March 7th, 2015
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Beginning a Barbie doll collection can be a daunting task for anyone, even experienced doll collectors. If you’re hoping to start a Barbie collection of your own, I’d wager that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Who could blame you? Since the doll’s debut in 1959, there have been thousands of different Barbie dolls produced-the number gets even higher when you throw in her little sisters Kelly and Theresa, her on-and-off lover Ken, and a number of friends throughout the years. The addition of Collector Barbie dolls has only increased the amount of different Barbie dolls out there! So what do you do when you’ve got that hankering to start a Barbie collection and have no idea where to begin? Let me share some personal tips from my own Barbie collecting experiences in the hopes of making the process a little easier for you.

Learn about the different types of Barbie dolls and Barbie doll labels.

If you don’t know about the Barbie doll lines themselves, collecting them can be tough. Barbie dolls are broken into two main types: Playline and Collector. Playline Barbie dolls were originally intended for children. However, there is certainly no reason you can’t collect Playline dolls-I have a few Playline dolls on my shelves, which bring back wonderful memories. And occasional embarrassing stories from my mother about my decisions to give $15.00-Barbie dolls haircuts.

Collector Dolls are dolls intended for collections. Collector dolls range in retail price from $15.99 to several hundred dollars. Before 2000, there really wasn’t an official way to differentiate different types of collector dolls. According to BarbieCollector.com, in 2000 Mattel began to use the labels “Limited Edition,” which meant fewer than 35,000 dolls were produced, and “Collector Edition,” which meant more than 35,000 dolls were produced. This guideline was changed again in 2004 with the introduction of the Pink/Black/Silver/Gold/Platinum Labels.

A brief guide to these labels is as follows, as defined by BarbieCollector.com:

Pink Label: unlimited production number

Black Label: unlimited production number, quality is a step-up from Pink Label

Silver Label: no more than 50,000 pieces worldwide, quality is a step-up from Silver Label

Gold Label: no more than 25,000 pieces worldwide, quality is a step-up from Gold Label

Platinum Label: no more than 1,000 worldwide; also includes one-of-a-kind releases, highest quality.

By using the retail prices provided by BarbieCollector.com Showcase, the general rule of thumb is this: the higher the label, the more expensive the doll. And the higher the label, the higher quality you will receive. My Gold Label dolls are much more intricate and use higher quality material for her outfits, hair, and display box than my Pink Label dolls. The Pink Label dolls are still lovely quality, especially compared to the Playline dolls, but if quality is important, look for higher labels.

These labels are also important when it comes to buying upcoming Barbie doll releases. If the doll is a more limited edition, you should pre-order from a reputable dealer instead of waiting for it to be released. I decided not to pre-order the lovely 2010 Russia Barbie doll (I couldn’t resist the gorgeous fur hat!) and by the time she was released, it was impossible to find her at any local retailers and she was going for twice the price on eBay. Thankfully, I was able to find a friend who bought an extra, but after that fiasco I never wavered on pre-ordering a doll I really wanted.

Decide on what you want before you buy.

Personally, I think this is the most important (and most fun!) step of building a collection… even if I learned it myself a few weeks after I decided to start one. I just went to the local Walmart and purchased whatever Pink Label dolls they had on the shelves. At the time it seemed like a great way to boost my collection, but I didn’t really like the dolls and got no enjoyment out of their display. They were sold within a few weeks to make room for dolls I actually wanted. So, before you buy anything, it’s important to really think about what kind of Barbie dolls you want for your collection. Don’t just buy a doll because it’s a collector label.

Some questions to think about:

Do you want only dolls that are mint in box, or are you okay with loose dolls? Do you like to pose your dolls in displays?

I keep some of my dolls mint in the box, except for those that are fun to pose, like ballet dolls. Posing your dolls is a great way to stretch your creativity. I purchased a non-Barbie ballet studio doll set and pose a few of my loose ballet Barbie dolls inside it, giving the appearance of Barbie stretching up her legs for a great opening night performance. The sky’s really the limit if you want to go this route. I have a friend who put together a miniature yellow brick road for her Barbie Wizard of Oz dolls. If you’re a bit worried about deboxing dolls, especially expensive ones, I personally find that buying them loose gets rid of “deboxing stress.”

What kind of dolls are you interested in?

If you’re a fashionista, you might enjoy the Barbie Basics Collection, which is a line of Black Label dolls and fashion sets. Or maybe you’d like to repurchase all of the playline dolls you had as a child. You might want to collect all the Barbie dolls made for your favorite TV shows or films, such as I Love Lucy or The Wizard of Oz. If you enjoy setting up scenes with your dolls, you might enjoy more occupation oriented dolls, like Student Teacher Barbie or Pan American Airways Stewardess Barbie. You could even get more creative and purchase all the ballet dolls you can find, or all the Barbie friends with red hair, or every kind of veterinarian Barbie doll out there.

Unfortunately, there is no go-to book or website that lists every single Barbie doll ever made. However, the official Barbie Collector website has a few hundred of its Collector Dolls available to view. My personal suggestion is that simply pulling up your sleeves and digging through the trenches of an eBay ‘Barbie’ search will bring up almost every Barbie doll at least once. When you’re browsing for Barbie online, on eBay or not, make up a list of dolls you wish to pursue, and go from there!

If you’re on a budget, look for secondhand dolls.

As any parent can tell you, Barbie dolls can get expensive. Buying dolls for your collection is absolutely no exception, and you may find that a doll you really want goes for over a hundred dollars or more secondhand… so what do you do when you’re on a budget, but still want a collection? Look for secondhand dolls! The biggest places, of course, is eBay.com. There are thousands and thousands of Barbie dolls listed on eBay every week. This is my go-to website for getting deals on Barbie dolls, because many of them go for under the price they are worth. I got my vintage inspired Glinda doll on eBay for about $14 a few months ago, despite its $39.95 retail price. You won’t always find such good deals, but if you’re hesitant about paying the higher price found at collector doll shops, eBay is a good bet. You may also find dolls for good prices at yard sales, estate sales, or other personal secondhand sales. I would recommend avoiding antique shops unless you know that the owners price things fairly — I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen cheap, goes-for-$8-on-eBay Playline dolls marked up to $30, $40, even $50 or more just because they’re sold at an antique shop.

I hope that these tips will help you start a Barbie collection of your own without feeling overwhelmed by the enormous amount of dolls out there. Whether you’re buying every single ballet Barbie doll ever made or just collecting Ken dolls in short-shorts for a beach scene on your bathroom shelf-remember to have fun!

About my Barbie collection: I’ve been collecting Barbie dolls since I was a little girl. I started collecting after my aunt bought me a doll from the Dolls of the World collection for my birthday, and my mother absolutely refused to let me open the box and play with her. Not that I blame her, since I had a habit of giving my Barbie dolls makeovers with scissors and markers. Since then, my collection is grown to over 100 dolls.


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