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review 2020-01-03 19:56
Barbie Forever by Robin Gerber
Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy - Robin Gerber

First of all, let me just say that there is no real fault to the main text of this book. Gerber approaches the story of the Barbie doll from her background of writing the biography of Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator and a pioneering woman in her own right, even without considering her most famous invention. The problem is that this seemed like a rushed job and there wasn't any passion or attention to detail in the creation of the book.

 

The narrative here is about how inspirational Barbie is as a play doll and as an icon to many generations of women and men. Things only broke down when I noticed factual errors and omissions in many of the splendid photographs included in the book.

 

This is a sanctioned, official Mattel product put out for the 60th Anniversary of their flagship toy, how is there even one basic error, let alone enough that I stopped keeping count? The errors may seem unimportant, but a year or two difference in a date means a lot in the collecting world, especially when Gerber cites many of the better researched Barbie books in her bibliography. There are simple facts of production years and availability for outfits, dolls and accessories that are made clear as day in those other books, but are clouded here. Other photos show a potentially fascinating interior look at a design office, groups of personnel, and retail or convention displays - with only the slimmest of notations. One instance shows a full retail display of the Barbie clothing line for children that was scrapped in the early '60s without ever hitting stores - the caption describes it merely as a woman looking at a display of Barbie merchandise.

 

The book also follows the convention where the text and the photos don't pair up. The photos were obviously collected and laid out by a completely different individual and little effort was made past the opening segment of the book to pair the text with relevant photographs. Many of the photos are amazing, have not been widely available before, and deserved more attention. I did not need to hear more from Billyboy,

 

Barbie is inspirational and a lot of effort has been made by the Mattel corporation in recent years to create an inclusive array of dolls that are the best quality for the price-point and reflect all children. I'm saddened, though, that there didn't seem to be anyone attached to this book project with any real knowledge or passion of the history of the brand.

 

As Charlie Brown would say, I just can't stand it! For your time here are some shots of some of the dolls and outfits Jon and I gave each other this year:

 

A #6 Blonde Ponytail in 1960's 'Busy Gal', the portfolio under her arm contains two fashion sketches. The outfit is complete and all original except for the Navy (almost black) shoes, which are scarce.

On the right is a #4 Brunette Ponytail wearing 1959's 'Plantation Belle'. The pink shoes (not pictured) have holes drilled in the bottom to accommodate the original doll stand.

 

Finally! A Free Moving Curtis and a Christie I can play with! Curtis (who has the same face mold as Brad, but has a ball-jointed waist so he can swing a golf club) wears 1970's 'Big Business' with the wrong tie.

Seated, because her fabulous brocade pantsuit won't allow a stand, is a stunning Twist 'n Turn Christie in 1969's 'Firelights'. She has great face paint - I want to try to turn her hair back to black, but Jon won't let me, since its otherwise in perfect shape.

On the right is our Twist 'n Turn Stacey in 1972's 'All American Girl'.

 

 

Finally, on the left I have a #1 Ken in the 1964 version of 'Skin Diver', which included the hooded sweatshirt. We haven't redone the elastic on the facemask yet.

In the middle, hovering due to too-tall stands, are Skipper's friends from 1965 Ricky and Skooter. Ricky has his original swimsuit and Skooter wears 1965's 'Land and Sea' and has her original hair ribbons.

On the right is another #4 Barbie, this time a blonde with her hair trimmed and arranged loose, in 1959's 'Resort Set', her cork wedge heels have holes drilled in the bottom, too.

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review 2019-12-09 20:00
Barbie in Japan by Keiko Kimura Shibano
Barbie in Japan - Keiko Kimura Shibano

A perfect blend of information and art.

 

This is a coffee table book that is also an invaluable reference to collectors. Keiko provides an important perspective on what Barbie, the all-American girl, meant in Japan. It took a few years for dolls to be marketed specifically to the Japanese and the majority of products were identical to those produced for the American market. However, there were some clothing variations - outfits made with different surplus fabrics - and, most importantly, exclusive designs features on dolls.

 

 

Not the best photo, but on the right is our Japanese side-part Barbie dressed in #982 'Solo in the Spotlight'. She unfortunately shows that the vinyl of that period often gets greasy or darkens (compare her face and arms to the torso which retains its original color), but her hair and ribbon are intact. She, like many of the Japanese dolls found in the US outside of the collector market, was brought over by an Army serviceman for his daughter. This is likely the only Japanese market doll or anything we'll ever have.

 

On the left is a blonde bubblecut in #993 'Sophisticated Lady'.

 

The side-part hairstyle and her make-up were more conservative than the growing 'mod' fashions in the United States. Other variations were a Skipper with brown eyes, Francie with more exaggerated twinkling brown eyes and a brown-eyed, fashion queen Midge without freckles.

 

 

Aaand the focus is off. But, seated on the left is a standard American Girl with the modern pixie cut in #955 'Swingin' Easy'. She is seated at the Susy Goose 'Barbie Vanity' that is fun, but incredibly brittle. With her are another bubblecut in #940 'Mood for Music' and Skipper in #1901 'Red Sensation'.

 

There were a few wholly exclusive outfits for the Japanese market, including beautiful kimonos with accessories. Anything found from this limited market in good condition holds considerable value.

 

This book is packed with information and exquistie photography. The book is made with lovely end-papers and other bonuses that make it a beautiful addition to any collection on top of the information it contains.

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review 2019-12-08 20:36
The Story of Barbie by Kitturah B. Westenhouser
The Story of Barbie - Kitturah B. Westenhouser

First things first: the book is out of date, of course. The book is still worth looking at for two reasons: 1. it is a concise account of Mattel's early history with an understandable emphasis on Barbie including information gained by interviews with Ruth Handler and many influential, longtime employees; and 2. as a snapshot of collecting as it approached it's late '90s zenith before the internet brought the roof down.

 

I'd never read any long-form review of Mattel's history so that was entertaining, but it was the attitudes of ~1994~ that really kept me in the book. The book is divided into chapters from the history and the biography of the company and Ruth Handler to chapters on the Japanese factories, to quality control, and spotlights on fashion, shoes, and characters. The book is a mine of information on the early period, but Westenhouser sporadically covers the late '70s, '80s and early '90s as well, particularly the beginning of collector-exclusives and her bizarre obsession with the Steffie face.

 

The woman really, really loved that face.

 

 

The famous Steffie face, serving as the face of the Miss America doll from 1972. Next to her is a #775 Drum Major Ken

 

I had to laugh when she gave Barbie's toddler siblings Tutti and Todd a chapter, but Francie got relegated to 'other friends'. I quote: "...some collectors claim to prefer Francie...." as if they must be lying. She also called Twiggy "shapeless". It was kind of hostile and really stuck out compared to the fawning profiles she gave of other Mattel products, including 'Crystal Ken' and 'Totally Hair Barbie'.

 

I'm sorry, my biases are showing as well. I'm a complete Barbie nerd now. Oh well.

 

At times she would really wax poetic when talking about the great things Barbie is doing in areas once blocked by the iron curtain or the breathtaking beauty of the Whitney doll (which had a Steffie face, obvie).

 

The best pieces of information came in the the myth-busting the interviews with Mattel employees supplied. Most of this information is common in newer books on the subject or, of course, on the internet. But collectors for years would have struggled with identifying legitimate variations in dolls and clothes versus accidental 'Frankenstein' Barbies caused by head-swapping play, or even dealer fraud.

 

Mattel was a business and they were making toys. Quality control was top-notch in the first decade of production, but they were not wasteful. If an improvement was made to the mold of a limb or face, if their were leftover accessories, or if colors of hair ran out, and orders needed to be filled, the factories used old stock that was lying around. There were also whole series of 'pak' clothing items designed to use up leftover fabric from discontinued designs.

 

The first wave of African American dolls made by Mattel for the Barbie line were a version of Francie followed by Christie and Julia. Their hair often turns up a vivid shade of red instead of black, because of oxidation. I thought it was a failure of the saran fiber, but it was actually because these dolls used leftover Color Magic 'Midnight' hair. Time and contact with an acidic environment turned the hair from black to red. I'm totally going to experiment on turning my dolls hair back to black.

 

There's also a lot of time spent talking about the technical achievements of making the doll in the first place and then altering the design for bending legs, rotating joints, "winking action", and other milestones, while keeping the doll's proportions intact. There was a nice section on prototype dolls and outfits, again, providing some support for collectors who are interested in acquiring such things and how to spot fraud.

 

The only real disappointment I had was an omission in her chapter on the cardboard play structures for Barbie from the mid 1960s. There's no mention of the brilliant 'Skipper Schoolhouse', though she mentions at length the creativity of the other structures. I don't own any yet, except for the first Dream House which was a very simple design, but the later structures created this multi-dimensional world with walls, pass-throughs, sliding doors and even theater curtains, while still remaining a toy that folded flat AND held tiny accessories safely. That's some great paper engineering. The 'School House' featured a classroom and playground with 'working' swings, slide and monkey bars, and I doubt many survived.

 

There was also no mention made of the vinyl/plastic houses that started being produced in '66. This stands out because she talks a lot about dolls up to the 1993, so it seems like a deliberate snub.

 

This is a good book for someone wanting more of a grasp on Barbie's history and cultural context. It also has a very good section in the back on cleaning vintage items. She does advise picking up certain supplies at Toys 'R' Us, wah-wah. This is a quick read, just be aware that some of her analysis, especially of the outfits, should be taken with a grain of salt. A lot of research has been done on this collectible and it is surprising how long certain myths prevailed. A 2nd edition was released in 1999, if I ever come across it I might have to see how quickly things changed in four years.

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review 2019-12-07 20:21
The Collectible Barbie Doll by Janine Fennick
The collectible Barbie doll - Janine Fennick

This is the 2nd edition, updated for the 40th Anniversary of Barbie in 1999. 

 

The author states right out that a single book can't hope to comprehensive about everything related to Barbie, but somehow other books managed to get a lot closer than Fennick does here. Well, that's not fair. The emphasis of this book is the 'collectible' Barbie doll, which in the late '90s meant a lot of the stuff, starting in the '80s, where things were deliberately made for a collector's market. The book talks a great deal about the start of the later play-line stuff that became collectible (such as the international series) and the never-meant-to-be-removed-from-the-box Holiday Barbies, the porcelain editions, dolls with actual designer clothes from Oscar de la Rente, etc. Almost half the book is about that.

 

I'm not into that. I grew up with parents who told me I was potentially ruining my Hot Wheels or Magic: The Gathering cards by playing with them. I like collecting toys that...were toys. So take my criticism of the book with that in mind.

 

 

The times they are a changing. A New 'n' Groovy 1969 Talking PJ in her original outfit and a 1972 Mod Hair Ken wearing #1829 'Red, White & Wild' chat with #797 Air Force Allan and #972 Friday Night Date Midge.

 

The parts of the book that covered the vintage years were only the briefest surveys and didn't offer any useful insights - it didn't even cover the insights from previous books. A beginning collector might enjoy the book and appreciate the part at the end about collector's etiquette, which boils down to being careful about what you buy, but not being a jerk about it. As buyers, you have a right to inspect merchandise and ask reasonable questions, but too much 'tire-kicking' is rude (especially without intent to buy) and, definitely, if you ask for a best price, don't act as if you're entitled to anything less than what the tag says. Many dealers expect to discount, but in the collecting world it pays to be polite.

 

With Barbie's 60th anniversary coming to an end this year, I'm hoping to find some updated books that go beyond the usual Mattel PR campaign.

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review 2019-12-05 20:13
Barbie, The First 30 Years by Stefanie Deutsch
Barbie, the First 30 Years: 1959 Through 1989: An Identification and Value Guide - Stefanie Deutsch

This is the first edition from 1996, two subsequent editions have been released. If you have gone as far down the rabbit hole of Barbie collecting as I have you will want to check this author out. This book has minimal text - extended captions to the photos along with irrelevant values - but the photos are extensive and worth the price of admission.

 

Even as outdated as this book is the author's breadth of coverage is amazing. Sure, there are websites out there now that have all of this with perhaps better resolution and more accurate information, but as a single catch-all guide to classic vintage (pre-1973) and the new vintage of pre-'90s this book is hard to beat.

 

 

Barbie wearing 'Wedding Day' #972, flanked by Ken in 'Tuxedo' #787 and best friend Midge wearing 'Orange Blossom' #987. A classic group.

 

Especially noteworthy are the pictured dolls, accessories and clothes of Barbie's predecessor, the German comic doll Bild-Lilli. Ruth Handler had famously long wanted to create a fashion doll for kids, but it wasn't until she saw and bought some Bild-Lilli's in Switzerland that she was able to convince Mattel to start on a proto-type. You never see solid information on these dolls or their accessories.

 

 

A more modern wedding day. Skipper wears #1910 'Sunny Pastels', Ken wears 'Best Buy #9128', A Talking Barbie wears #3361 'Sweetheart Satin' and a Hair Fair Barbie wears a groovy clone fringe dress and accessories.

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