My mother has a photo of me as a child with my favorite doll, Suzie, tucked under my arm. She is covered in pink fuzz, like a newborn’s bunting. I was about six in the photo. Forty years later she sits in my curio cabinet with the rest of my doll collection, nary a bit of fuzz upon her body. I don’t think she’s worth more than a penny to anyone but me, but the others in the case are another matter. I’m finding I did pretty well investing in dolls over the years. I should credit my godmother who bought me my first Madame Alexander when I was around 8 years old – -for a mere $7 at the now defunct Woodward & Lothrup. The doll outlived the store. Now there’s a testament!
Even though I have always referred to my doll collection as my daughter’s college tuition fund, as with any collectible, I collected these dolls because I wanted to own these dolls. You have no guarantee with any collectible, and I think that applies even more to dolls. The prices will rise, or even stay the same. Or, years later, you may find them in antique malls below the original cost-which will make you want to pull your hair. How can it be so? So, make sure you want the doll before you open your pocketbook.
When adults collect dolls, it can be serious business. As I write this, a “Miss Camille” doll is selling on eBay for around $6,350 – -and the reserve price has not been met despite the bidding war going on with it. You never know why sometimes. For all of my years as a collector, and I’ve never heard of Miss Camille. Even collectors can’t know everything about everything. We’re always learning…always. It’s part of the fun.
Categories of Collectibles
Dolls become collectible for a number of reasons, and fall into several categories: modern, vintage, character, artist, cloth and composition dolls (which may also fall into other categories, and be collectible for other reasons)…and the list goes on and on. If you wish for it, someone is making it right now. In the doll world, you never need settle. In any category, you can find a thread of collectible to follow.
Nostalgia always plays a role. The Dawn doll from the ’70s and the Jem dolls by Hasbro in the ’80s are both great examples. Dawn was put out as a legitimate doll, and little girls scurried to own the pint-size version of Barbie. Dawn was considered a bit more of an ingénue, while her counterpart Barbie was busy tooling around town with Ken and arranging the plastic furniture in her fold-up house, or riding around with Ken’s friend in her little Corvette. Dawn gave parents an alternative as she was much more sweet and gentile, and not so quite, well, developed.
Seriously, Barbie has to put on her jeans prone on the bed, pulling up the zipper with a coat hanger. I guess in a lot of ways, except for her Playmate build, she was close to reality at the time. It was the ’60s and ’70s, remember?
My great aunt saw the potential for Barbies from the start. She was at least 60 when she advised each of her nieces to buy the current Holiday Barbie and put it away unopened until they needed the money. She recently passed, and I can only imagine what the inside of her house was like. I saw her a few years ago, and these Barbies lined bookcases and closets. Others were piled one atop the other. In her mind, Barbies were safer than CDs and, certainly, stocks. At least she was an adult who actually followed her own advice. Also rare and far between!
Barbie as Market Mainstay
Nostalgia plays a bit of a role in the Barbie market, but in my opinion, the “Barbie” market almost drives itself. There for a while I could not find a “Holiday Barbie” months before the holidays started. I went so far as to get on mailing lists. Still, I never saw a single Barbie for my efforts. Now it has eased up, and you can find a Holiday Barbie at cheaper than original rates at almost any antiques shop.
Now a vintage Barbie-from the ’60s, for example, or the newer series of Harley Barbies-that’s another matter entirely. Don’t expect to buy one cheap…anywhere, unless you’re very, very lucky. But it happens. I went to a yard sale, and to my surprise, I found an original Barbie case, opened it up, and found some Barbie knock-offs, along with an original Barbie. It was marked at $5. I was so afraid someone was going to notice me, and realize this was so off the mark, and not sell it to me that I actually clung to it. I told my flea market-going friend, and tried not to let my eyebrows or eyes move.
It was our secret. So, I got both the case and the original Barbie for all of $5. I ended up giving both to my sister in law who has an entire room devoted to Barbie and all of her kin. (She has a lot of kin!) My theory with dolls, and any collectible, is that it should go to the person who would love it most. Whenever there is a holiday or special event for my sister in law, I seek out paper dolls, plates or the like to fill in the gaps in her Barbie collection. I’ve found light kits, traveling bags and the like…mostly oddities.
On Christmas, when I gave her that original Barbie find, my mother was a bit mortified. I was giving a very used present in my mother’s eyes. My mother is not a collector. She abhors dust and clutter. My sister in law was thrilled, as I knew she would be. One collector knows the mind of another.
Kim Remesch is a Baltimore journalist with nearly 25 years experience. She authored a syndicated column on antiques & collectibles. She has operated an antiques & collectibles business for several years as well, both on site and through eBay.