Barbie was originally a cartoon character created by German cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien for a “filler” on June 24, 1952 for the newspaper Bild-Zeitung in Hamburg, Germany. She became very popular as a curvy gal who knew what she wanted and went about her business to get it. She was classy, sassy, fashionable (his wife Erika helped with the fashions) and desirable, much like the Ms. Dietrich of the 1930s movies (have you ever watched the movies Blue Angel or Blonde Venus?)
A short time later Reinhard decided to produce a doll of this character and it was Ruth Handler who created and produced a doll to his satisfaction.
On August 12, 1955 Barbie was first sold in Germany, she was usually found in smoke shops and a few toy stores. Later Barbie was exported to several countries, even the USA (these have a doll stand with only “Barbie” on them), the regular stand says “Bild Barbie”. Barbie’s original stand is just like “younger-cousin” Barbie’s, it’s round and the dolls foot has holes that fit on to a prong of metal. She was accompanied by a miniature copy of the Hamburg newspaper Bild-Zeitung and the cartoon continued to run in the real journal every Sunday.
Barbie’s miniature newspaper, Bild-Zeitung Barbie’s entire packaging was designed by Mrs. E. Martha Maar (mother-in-law to the owner of the Hausser company and owner of a doll company 3 MMM Dolls), it consisted of a clear oval tube with the doll on a Barbie round stand as the bottom and a lid. The doll is unmarked. Her stand had her name on it.
Barbie was produced in 7 1/2 to 8″ or 11 1/2″ tall, her shoes and earrings are molded on, she has a painted face with side glancing eyes with white irises, high v like narrow eyebrows, red lips and fingernails. She is all plastic with limbs attached inside by coated rubber bands. Her hair is a cut-out scalp that is attached by a hidden metal screw that was not meant to be played with and is in split curl bangs and a ponytail (Note: this was intended for adult males as a party or gag gift) usually found with blonde hair, however Brunette’s were also sold. She came as a dressed doll, with additional fashions available separately. Her fashions have push together snaps usually marked on the inside snap with “PRMY”. The Barbie doll was also cloned and copied by other doll makers, see them on this page.
Note about those Eyes: The Shinto religion has a belief that all things possess a spirit, including dolls, so they are made with “side-glancing” eyes, so they can’t look you in the eye and they have a ceremony to destroy unwanted dolls so the spirit cannot come back to do vengeance on the former doll owner. Today they have a “Thanksgiving Ceremony” to destroy unwanted dolls at the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Japan that takes place on the Sunday closest to October 15th and is held annually. Don’t panic, historically important dolls are selected and put into a museum nearby 🙂
This is the doll that Ruth Handler found while shopping in Europe in 1956 and was exactly what she had been thinking of producing. She bought three dolls; gave one to daughter Barbie and the others she gave to her designers at Mattel. The rest is pretty well-known history. Barbie debuted at the New York toy fair on March 9, 1959. Mattel acquired the rights to Barbie in 1964, thus her production ceased.
The Barbie head molds however were sold to a British Hong Kong firm named Dura-Fam Ltd. which produced the same 11 1/2″ doll which is found marked “Hong Kong”. Another set of molds were leased to Chang-Pi Su Co. who reduced them to 7 1/2 – 8″ and released them as “Cherie”. More blank molds went to Fab-LU (Luften, Ltd.) who sold a doll called Babs, Marx used them too and had a doll called Bonnie, a larger 15″ doll called Miss Seventeen “A Beauty Queen” and a 7″ doll named Miss Marlene. Sak Industries, Inc. used the mold and sold a doll named Babbie, and an Australian firm Haro-Mate Ltd. sold the dolls marked “Hong Kong” and carried the registration number of “British Patent #804566 and U.S. patent #2925684. Most of these dolls come from the 1960s.
All this of course causes confusion to the collectors of a true Barbie who can command a price just as high as Number One Barbie’s if not more.
Author Note: We do not know if Marlene Dietrich ever noticed the uncanny resemblance of Barbie, if she was truly the inspiration, or even if she collected dolls. In Billy Boy’s book on Barbie he suggests that Bridget Bardot may have been the inspiration or another of the blonde bomb shells of that era, but I think they came after Bild Barbie and perhaps she was THEIR inspiration.