No better than she should be

Is it worth it? The Golden Anniversary Barbie: pounds 299 for number 19,788 of a limited edition. Not that limited, then...

Natasha Hayman
Saturday 04 April 1998 23:02

BARBIE started off as a fashion model, went to college in 1963, became a surgeon in 1973 and graduated to fighter pilot in 1990. 1998 even produced a dentist Barbie. But she attains her apotheosis with this magnificent, pounds 299, Grace Kelly Barbie, the Golden Anniversary model which celebrates 50 year of her manufacturer Mattel. Incroyable, you may shriek. But for Barbie enthusiasts, the Golden Anniversary doll may well be the jewel in the Crown of their collection of Barbies in national dress, Barbies as movie characters (check out the Eliza Doolittle Cockney Barbie) and kitsch Fifties reproduction Barbies (as if your common or garden Barbie wasn't kitsch enough). While the plebian Barbie retails at pounds 4 to pounds 10, her grander relations cost from pounds 30 upwards. But can the GA Barbie really be said to pay her way?

It's not an entirely ridiculous question; the first ever Barbie, simply attired in an elegant one-piece, can now reach up to pounds 1,500. But according to Freya Simms of Bonhams Auctioneers, it's not necessarily the original cost that makes something valuable. What makes a Barbie collectable is her rarity, whether she comes with her original packaging and accessories, and perhaps most of all, whether she is a "fashion icon representative of her time". Irony of ironies, once you remove the Barbie from her elaborate packaging and start to play with her, she begins to lose her value. There's a lesson there for little girls everywhere, I think.

Although the GA is molded from bisque porcelain, instead of ordinary plastic, she is wearing an Isabell Kristensen-style frock (see Why Are They Famous?) in red velvet with with fifty red roses and a trim which "flares dramatically at the bottom into dozens of shiny gold metallic pleats". Even the most indulgent observer would hesitate to describe her either as a fashion icon or indeed as representative. But GA's Barbie real problem, her secret shame, is that, far from being "limited edition", as Mattel claim on the box, she is one of a cast of thousands (this little baby is number 19,788). Mattel won't even tell us how many are being made. It's all rather sad.

So from a collector's point of view, GA Barbie is a bad bet. In her defence, it has to be said that she is a beautiful doll and if you've lots of spare cash the Golden Anniversary Barbie would make a lovely playmate.

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