When her young son suddenly became ill, Sandi Holder was working in a hospital emergency room, dreaming of becoming a pediatric nurse. She knew she’d need to make a drastic career change to be at home with her children, but what she didn’t realize was how much her favorite brunette Bubblecut Barbie from the 60s affect that endeavor. Barbie played such an important part of her growing up years, why not surround yourself with both one of your most beloved toys and one of the most popular collectibles? What started as a hobby in a garage became a successful career with the opening of Holder’s own store Doll Attic in 1989 followed by her first Barbie auction in 1999. Since 2006, Holder’s held the world record selling price for a Barbie doll. She sold the #1 Blond Ponytail Barbie in pink silhouette dress box sold for more than $25,000. That’s not bad for a doll that originally sold for a mere $3 in 1959.
Interesting, no? For girls like me who grew up playing with Barbies nonstop until the getting-too-old age of 12 I couldn’t pass up the offer to review Holder’s new book, Barbie: A Rare Beauty. Barbies are a huge part of my nostalgic childhood memories and will always have a fond place in my heart. Forget any political incorrectness or gender or racial discrimination; though Barbie may have the physically impossible ideal figure, Barbie was never meant to have much of her own story. Creator Ruth Handler designed Barbie’s life possibilities to be endless. Beyond playing with my mother’s Barbie doll’s from the 60s, I didn’t know much about the doll’s history so naturally I found the book, which is designed as a coffee table book, fascinating. While Barbie is also a fashion icon – always up with the current trends – she was always years ahead of woman’s breakthroughs in the workplace. In fact even though the Ken doll was introduced in 1961, he and Barbie never actually got married. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of wedding dresses over the years or the politics behind Barbie were always perfect, but since the first Ponytail Barbie in the classic black-and-white striped one-piece swimsuit Barbie’s come in all shades of blond, brunette, and red hair colors and eventually African-American, Asian, Latin, and European versions.
So what then is so rare about Barbie? I didn’t understand the meaning behind the title at first, but as I read on I realized that Barbie: A Rare Beauty was designed with the ideal layout for Barbie novices like me. It begins with chapters on the history of the doll in short passages and visual examples for each decade. Once that foundation is laid, Holder is able to discuss individual Barbie themes within the evolution of the doll herself, from occupations, fashion, family, and at last a chapter on the rare, one-of-a-kind, and highest-prized collectible items she’s seen in her two decades of collecting experience. Though I would’ve liked a little less detailed physical description in the photo captions and a little more explanatory information on the Japanese market that Holder makes several references to throughout the book, it’s stunning visually and with the plethora and variety of photos Barbie: A Rare Beauty is the perfect coffee table book for Barbie novices and collectors alike. Highlights for me were seeing photos of some of my favorites that I actually owned growing up: Dance Magic Barbie (1989) and Happy Holidays Christmas Barbies #3 and #4 (1990-1991). Another interesting tidbit? Ken and Barbie were named after Ruth Handler’s own children.
Anyone else have fond memories of Barbie?