Barbie’s rich resume built over 60 years

Barbie's rich resume

This Barbie No. 2, with box, sold for $6,325 at a recent Theriault’s auction in Chicago. Image courtesy of

CLEVELAND – Barbie turned 60 on March 9.

Barbie creator Ruth Handler, and husband, Elliot Handler, founded Mattel Creations in 1945. She was inspired to design the Barbie doll after watching her daughter play with paper dolls. Most dolls made for children were baby dolls, not fashion models. The first Barbie was introduced at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. This date is considered her official birthday.

Barbie’s look was inspired by Bild Lilli, a German doll based on a comic strip character that Handler bought in Europe in 1956. Mattel purchased the rights to Bild Lilli in 1964. (Bild Lilli dolls from 1952 to 1964 have their own collectors.)

The original Barbie, No. 1 as she is known by collectors, is easily identified in its black and white striped bathing suit. It had copper tubes in its legs and holes in its feet, enabling it to be upright in a stand. No. 2 Barbie, released the next year, no longer had holes in her feet and sported a different wire stand. A Barbie No. 1 with a brunette ponytail recently auctioned for $4,600, nearly double its high estimate. And, depending on rarity and condition, her fashion accessories can sell for more than a vintage Barbie itself.

Barbie was a “Commuter” in 1959 and a “Busy Gal” in 1960, both ambiguous terms for the “Career Girl” (1963) trying to find her footing. Over the years she has been a Fashion Editor (1960), Nurse (1961), Stewardess (1961; she became the Pilot in 1990), Surgeon (1973), and Veterinarian (1985). She entered the Board Room in the 1980s and 1992 as a Business Executive and CEO. She joined the military in 1991 as a Navy Petty Officer, the Marine Corp in 1992, became an Army Medic in 1993 and a Paratrooper in 2000. Barbie was also a Teacher (1985, 1992, and other years), Doctor (1988), UNICEF Ambassador (1989), Police Officer (1993), Pediatrician (1994), Firefighter (1995), Dentist (1997), Chef (2007), News Anchor (2010), Computer Engineer (2010), Architect (2011) and Presidential Candidate (2012). And she is still learning and exploring new careers.

The Barbie pictured here is dressed to party. She is a No. 2 with a blonde ponytail and is wearing the brocade and fur “Evening Splendor” ensemble made from 1959 to 1964. This doll, with box, brought a whopping $6,325 at a recent Theriault’s auction in Chicago.


By Terry Kovel

Terry Kovel is one of America’s foremost authorities on antiques and collectibles. She is the well-known columnist and author of more than 100 books on antiques and collecting. The 2019 edition of Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide is available at and local bookstores. This all-new 51st edition of Kovels’ popular annual price guide features 16,000 prices and more than 2,500 photos, larger than ever before, on items in categories most sought-after by collectors. New this edition – 300 marks to help identify and date pottery, porcelain, glass and other collectibles.

About Kovels, created by Terry Kovel and her daughter, Kim Kovel, provides collectors and researchers with up-to-date and accurate information on antiques and collectibles. The company was founded in 1953 by Terry Kovel and her late husband, Ralph. Since then, the Kovels have written more than 100 books and hundreds of articles about antiques, including the best-selling annual Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide. Their nationally syndicated antiques and collectibles column is distributed by King Features Syndicate to many newspapers nationwide. The website,, online since 1998, offers more than a million free prices, and includes a free weekly email, “Kovels Komments.” It gives readers a bird’s-eye view of the market through the latest news, auction reports, a Marks Dictionary, readers’ questions and answers and much more.

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