How do you describe your collection?
I’m a long-time toy collector. As a youth in Kansas City, I had a huge collection of Barbies, lunchboxes, games — you name it. When I moved to San Diego about 10 years ago, I downsized my collection. I now mainly concentrate on the Barbies because it’s always been the heart of my toy collection.
My Barbies range from the ponytail Barbie that was first released in 1959 with the iconic black- and-white swimsuit, to today’s dolls. My love is the mod Barbies of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those were the ones that I played with as a kid, with the gogo boots, the miniskirts, and the flip hairdos. Those are my favourites.
I have about 2,000 dolls, including her family and friend dolls.
When and why did you start your collection?
I have loved Barbie since I was a little boy.
I have two sisters — an older sister and a younger sister — who had Barbies. This was in the 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, it wasn’t socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls. I was very fortunate to have a family with an open mind. My mom always had the attitude that a doll is a toy and kids play with toys. They bought me a Ken doll and my sisters would also let me play with their dolls. They weren’t as interested in their Barbies, and my younger sister was somewhat of a tomboy. I would actually make her play dolls with me.
For my 26th birthday in 1987, a friend gave me the Barbie and the Rockers set of seven dolls. The Rockers were very new-wave. It was the MTV era. When I graduated high school, I just didn’t give Barbie much thought anymore, although I always loved her. Once I got the Barbie and the Rockers gift, I realized how much I loved Barbie and missed her. It all started from there. The next week, I bought more dolls from the local Walmart and Toys R Us. Eventually, those seven dolls became 2,000 dolls.
At that time, I would go to antique malls and flea markets for vintage dolls. Some of my friends would go home to their families at Christmas-break and return with their dolls for my collection. At an appointment, my dentist said, “I have something for you,” and brought out a handful of Barbies and Barbie’s Friend Ship United Airline carrying case. Things like that started happening. I still have everything my friends have given me; they are the heart of my collection.
It’s always fun to find something in person, but eBay has been really good for things that I have never been able to find in stores or at flea markets. The thing is, when you find them in person, sometimes you can get them at really good prices. At Goodwill you can sometimes find vintage dolls for $5. It’s not quite that way on eBay, especially these days. On eBay, you’re gonna pay. They are getting really expensive as kids from the ’80s have grown up and started collecting.
How do you display and store your collection?
I’m pretty limited for space. Living in California, you only have so much money so you can only have so much space, right? The majority of my collection today is in a closet. It’s a large closet, but it’s still a closet. Someday I hope to have everything out on display.
For the dolls I do have on display, I have what I call the twin towers — two shelving units. They are filled with the 1960s mod Barbies and a selection of my favourite dolls from the 1970s and 1980s. I have about 200 dolls out right now.
I keep track of my collection in a Microsoft Word document. The document helps me keep a pretty good sense of what I have. I wrote a book titled From ABBA to ZOOM in 2005. I’ve been writing another book for the past five years called Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie History in Portraits. It’s a history of Barbie that includes photos of my doll collection. The book is basically finished, I’m just looking for a publisher.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
I think for most collectors, the Holy Grail is the iconic ponytail Barbie with the black-and-white swimsuit. I had been collecting for many years, and I didn’t have one until last year. I received it for my birthday; she’s beautiful.
My personal Holy Grail I actually got this past Christmas. Last year was really good for me. It’s a 1970s Live Action Christie. I wanted her forever — she’s so hard to find and can be hundreds of dollars on eBay. I always got outbid. She wasn’t cheap, but I have her now.
I do have a list of most-wanted Barbies, in part because I wanted to photograph them for the upcoming book. If I could have one right now, it would be the 1978 Fashion Photo P.J. doll. She’s Barbie’s friend, a fashion model. She doesn’t look like any of the other dolls that were produced in 1978. She has a disco flair about her. I have not seen her come up for sale for under $1,000. It’s just crazy. She’s one of the dolls I hope to find at Goodwill one day. Maybe I’ll get lucky.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a Barbie collection?
Buy what you love. Even if she’s not perfect or not in mint condition, if she touches your heart, buy her.
Enjoy your collection. I take them all out of the box. I’m not one of those collectors who keeps everything in the box. I’ll take them out of their boxes and change their clothes if I feel like it.
Research what’s out there, but just because somebody else has something it doesn’t mean you have to have it. It’s a fun world and it’s endless. There are so many Barbies.
Just enjoy it.
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