Today in History... Barbie makes her big debut

American businesswoman Ruth Handler (1916-2002) had an idea while watching her daughter play with her collection of dolls.

Handler noticed that her daughter enjoyed giving her dolls adult roles. At the time, most toy dolls were representations of infants.

Using Bild Lilli, the German comic strip character-turned-fashion doll, as inspiration, Handler took to the drawing board.

The end result was the Barbie doll, now one of the most famous toys in the world.

Today, Barbie - full name Barbie Millicent Roberts - is still manufactured by the American toy company Mattel, Inc and remains an important part of the toy fashion market.

But her reign hasn't been without its controversies.

The doll's waist size was recently widened to counter accusations of promoting an unrealistic body image to young girls. And numerous lawsuits, often involving parodies of the doll and her lifestyle, have surrounded her over the years.

Feminist icon or bad role model? Barbie was invented by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler
Feminist icon or bad role model? Barbie was invented by Mattel co-founder
Ruth Handler

In contrast, other commentators insist that Barbie's wide range of careers, including presidential candidate and deep sea diver, make a her a symbol of modern women's liberation.

Nevertheless, thanks to a career twice as long as Madonna's, Barbie's legacy remains undiminished - and the doll has been valued as collectors' item for many decades.

This was proven at Christie's in September 2006, with the sale of what was thought to be the largest single-owner Barbie collection ever auctioned.

Consigned by a Dutch fashion designer Ietje Raebel, more than 4,000 Barbies strutted onto the auction block. The sale was attended by collectors from across the globe.

The collection included practically ever Barbie ever produced, from 1959 to the 2000s, with an estimated total worth of $185,000.

Among the mint-condition dolls was the first ever Barbie, wearing a zebra striped swimsuit and white sunglasses.

Barbie #1 realised a final price of $6,000 - a far cry from the $3 she was worth upon her 1959 debut in New York. It sold to an anonymous bidder.

In other collectible toy news, a number of one-of-a-kind teddy bears designed Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Marchesa and other celebrities auctioned at V&A last month.

And a vintage Japanese toy robot stole the show at Dan Morphy's February 26-27 auction in Pennsylvania, US, selling for $52,900.


Images: Сергей Бережной

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