Auctioning off a glamour girl

Barbie and friends under the hammer

BESS MANSON
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014
Barbie
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
FASHION ICON: Actioneer Bettina Frith with Barbie and Ken, which feature as part of a large collection going under the hammer.

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Barbie has been dressing up and hanging out with the kids for more than 50 years. Now a collection of the doll with more hairstyles than Rihanna is up for sale at auction.

Among the collection going up for auction are Barbie's friends, including her beau, Ken, and Midge, her frumpy friend, designed after concerns that Barbie was just too darn sexy. 

Barbie Millicent Roberts from Willows, Wisconsin, gives a coy sideways glance. Her hair is set just so, her outfit the height of fashion, her figure impossibly well proportioned.

What would she say if only she could talk?

Probably something along the lines of: "Say, like, where's Ken?"

Barbie - the last word in fashion dolls - has taken up residence in the dusty back rooms of Dunbar Sloane auction house in downtown Wellington. She is there in her hundreds, in all manner of guises, from one produced in 1962 to the tall and tanned Malibu Barbie.

After all, she came in many incarnations. She was recreated with different personas reflecting the times. There was Christmas Barbie, Skiing Barbie, Star Trek Barbie, Flight Attendant Barbie, Twist 'n' Turn Barbie produced at the height of the Beatles era. There is even a lingerie Barbie - a collector's doll, surely.

She hit the disco dance floor in the 1970s as Superstar Barbie and started her own band - Barbie and the Rockers - in the 1980s.

She frequently changed her hair colour and style. She has had more than 150 careers in her lifetime, with an appropriate outfit to go with each, naturally.

She was a woman who liked to keep at the forefront of fashion in every respect.

Among the collection going up for auction are Barbie's friends, including her beau, Ken, and Midge, her frumpy friend, designed after concerns that Barbie was just too darn sexy. Indeed, there has been much objection over the decades to Barbie's unattainable body with exaggerated dimensions.

The hundreds of Barbie dolls on auction, mostly from the 1960s, are among thousands of items in a toy collection that would make Santa's grotto look like a right coal shed.

Many of the items have been put up for auction by the Armstrong family. Peggy Armstrong and Denise Jackson penned Toys of Early New Zealand, so you can imagine how comprehensive the collection must be. It represents 100 years of toy accumulation.

Modern railway toys with every bell and whistle are going under the hammer - tracks, trains, buildings, signs. It's a train geek's dream.

Bettina Frith, auctioneer and valuer, says the collection of Barbies is one that doesn't come along very often.

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The quality of the earlier dolls, and in particular their clothing, is top drawer. Barbie was no slouch when it came to her wardrobe.

All the major designers have clothed Barbie, Frith says, with bigwigs like Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Chanel and Christian Dior dressing her up.

"Fashion was the appeal," Frith says.

"Imagine being a little girl and being able to dress a doll up in adult fashion. That was always the appeal when I was a girl."

The story of Barbie's entry to the world is well documented. Her inventor, Ruth Handler, was inspired to make a three-dimensional doll to dress in women's fashions after seeing her pre-teen daughter, Barbara, dressing up paper dolls. She and her husband, Elliot, who were co-founders of the Mattel toy company (batteries-not-included), took Barbie to the New York Toy Fair in 1959. And so the doll that launched a thousand outfits - and more - was born.

According to Mattel, there are more than 100,000 Barbie collectors world-wide. Ninety per cent are women, average age 40. Forty-five per cent of them spend upwards of $1000 a year on their plastic idol.

Vintage Barbie dolls are the most valuable at auction. While the original Barbie was sold for US$3 in 1959, a mint, boxed Barbie from the same year fetched US$3552.50 (NZ$4065) on eBay in October 2004.

The doll set a world record at auction in 2006 when a Barbie in Midnight Red from 1965 sold for £9000 (NZ$17,660) at Christie's in London.

Frith reckons a single 1960s Barbie from the Armstrong collection could fetch somewhere between $300 and $500 at the auction on July 23 and 24, though that could go higher.

Sindy, Barbie's English counterpart, is also in the sale. Sindy was the less sophisticated doll. Barbie had boobs. Sindy was more child-like and more subdued when it came to her wardrobe.

A schoolgirl Sindy, complete with satchel and contents - including an ink bottle, pen and books - would also sell well, she says.

But Barbie remains the star of this show. That adaptable gal who has it all.

Just ask Entrepreneur Barbie. Armed with a tablet, smartphone and briefcase and lord knows how many friends on Facebook, there is no end to what she can morph into. But hold the lingerie stuff. It just ain't right.

Dunbar Sloane will auction the Armstrong family doll and toy collection on July 23 and 24.

ALSO UNDER THE HAMMER

■ Modern railway toys with assorted trains, tracks, buildings, signs.

■ Dolls houses of all shapes and sizes.

■ Antique bisque dolls.

■ Mickey Mouse items.

■ Star Wars dolls.

■ Other action and character dolls from shows, including Mork & Mindy, CHiPs and Happy Days – The Fonz, anyone? 

- The Dominion Post

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