Barbie Doll – 1959
This week’s Throwback Thursday looks at one of the most popular toys of the 20th century, Barbie! Elliot Handler founded Mattel Creations in 1945 in a Southern California garage workshop with co-founder Harold “Matt” Matson, combining the names Matt and El (Elliot) to form Mattel. Mr. Matson left the company due to illness in the first year; Elliot bought out Matson’s share and Elliot’s wife Ruth took over his position. The business originally made costume jewelry and decorative photo frames. Elliot began producing doll furniture with the scrap wood. Mattel Company went on to create many of America’s most iconic toys. These include such names as Fisher Price, American Girl, Matchbox and Barbie.
Barbie was invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler. Ruth’s idea for Barbie was inspired by a doll she found while visiting Europe in 1956. The German doll she bought was an adult novelty doll fashioned after a high-end call girl named Bild Lilli. This risqué doll was sold in tobacco shops and bars and was a collector’s doll not intended for children. Ruth combined the look of the Lillie doll and fashioned a doll like the paper dolls her daughter often played with. Barbie was created to portray character roles in make believe play, such as college student or career woman. Unlike the children’s dolls available at the time Barbie was the first teenage doll produced. Ruth wanted the doll to be shapely like a college age girl for role playing so young girls could envision their futures while they played.
Barbie’s first appearance was at the American International Toy Fair in New York. Original Barbie wore a black and white striped bathing suit. There was a choice of 22 other outfit ensembles offered to wardrobe this doll. Over 70 different fashion designers have created clothes for the dolls over the years. The Ken Doll came out in 1961, two years younger than Barbie and ½ an inch taller at 12 inches tall. Barbie and Ken are named after the Handler’s 2 children; Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. Barbie and Ken Carlson hail from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin.
Barbie has had over 130 different careers over the last 58 years. You name it and there is probably a Barbie doll rendition for that career: astronaut, Major League Baseball player, even presidential candidate! Accessories are numerous and available to enhance each play experience. Shoes, glasses, jewelry, gloves, sports gear, automobiles, pets, and Barbie dream houses with furniture. Until 1966 Barbie houses and furnishings were made of thick cardboard. Many of these vintage Barbie accessories are small, rare and hard to find.
The price for an original Barbie was just $3.00, when first sold. In a 2014 auction an original boxed 1959 Barbie sold for $27,450. Mattel has sold over a billion Barbie dolls since its creation. The Past Antiques Marketplace features an entire room dedicated to dolls and stuffed animals, including a variety of unopened boxed Barbie’s as well as other name brand collector dolls. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to view our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.
Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!