Tucked away behind a locked glass cabinet in an out of the way antique store on Grand Lake, Letha Fisher keeps her collection of vintage Barbie dolls.
“I love antiques, especially Barbie dolls,” said Fisher, owner of Antique Alley, located south of Grove.
The fashion icon that made little girls swoon turned 50 on Monday. Manufactured by Mattel and introduced at a New York toy fair on March 9, 1959, Barbie is an American star.
She has had over 100 careers, including presidential candidate, astronaut, homemaker and NASCAR driver. She drives a pink convertible Corvette, among her many vehicles and has owned over 50 pets including dogs, horses, ponies, cats, a parrot, chimpanzee, panda, lion cub, giraffe and a zebra.
Fisher fell in love with doll collecting after attending a doll show in Kansas City. “The memories just flooded back as I stood there looking at Barbie dolls,” Fisher said. “The next thing I know I was collecting Barbie dolls again.”
Fisher said there are over 100,000 Barbie collectors and 90 percent are women over the age of 40.
Her full is name is Barbara Millicent Roberts and her hometown is fictional Willows, Wisconsin, she said, referring to Barbie.
After living in Kansas City for 18 years, Fisher moved to the Grand Lake area and opened Antique Alley in August. The store is one of the largest antiques stores in the four-state corner of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. It is a heaven for treasure hunters looking for architectural salvage, furniture and house wares and other collectibles.
Fisher, a Barbie and doll collector has attended several Barbie conventions across the county.
With a collection of 600 dolls, Fisher has an original Barbie doll referred to by collectors as a No. 1.
The blond ponytail doll was manufactured in 1959 and is wearing a vintage red, white and blue stripe dress, called “Cruise Stripes” with red open toe pumps. “The outfit was sold as an accessory in 1959,” Fisher said.
A signature detail about the doll is holes in the bottoms of her feet allowing her to stand upright when placed on a stand.
The original Barbie doll that came in a box is dressed in black and white zebra stripe swimsuit, she said.
The first Barbie doll sold for $3.00 and was marketed as a “Teen-age Fashion Model,” and was available with either blonde or brunette hair, she said.
Fisher said there were around 350,000 Barbie dolls sold during the first year of production and collectors will pay around $1,200 for a doll from that year.
A 1959 Barbie still in its original box was sold for $3,552.50 on eBay, according to a collectibles Web site.
“The most paid for a Barbie was over $25,000 and that was for a doll in its original box and had other accessories with it,” Fisher said.
The rarest Barbie is the second in the series and does not have holes in the bottoms of her feet, she said.
Fisher got her first Barbie with she was four years old. It is on display at the store. The doll is dressed in a gold sheath dress and is called Golden Girl and is listed by collectors as belonging to the fourth series.
Ruth Handler, the wife of one of the Mattel founders, is credited with the creation of the doll using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her model, Fisher said.
Barbie also has a wide range of friends including Hispanic Teresa, Midge, African American Christie and Steven. Her siblings and cousins included Skipper, Tutti, Stacie, Todd, Kelly, Krissy, Francie, and Jazzie.
Although loved by girls for decades the popular fashion icon has had her share of criticisms, including the idea the dolls promotes an unrealistic idea of body image for a young woman. Also in September 2003, Saudi Arabia outlawed the sale of Barbie dolls, saying that she did not conform to the ideals of Islam.
Monday, in honor of Barbie’s birthday, Fisher spoke about her collection to a group of area Girl Scouts, many of whom brought their own Barbie dolls.
Fisher explained to the girls that Barbie had changed with the times just like the fashions she wears.
“The new Barbies have a friendlier face,” Fisher noted. “Their eyes look straight at you. Vintage Barbies look to the side.”
She told the girls that she prefers vintage Barbie dolls because she grew up with them.
Her face, her wardrobe, and her activities have been updated to suit the times.
One thing was apparent on the faces of the Girl Scouts in attendance - Barbie still appeals to the newest generation of girls.
Sheila Stogsdill can be reached at (918) 787-9581 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org