The Barry Art Museum at Old Dominion University made history by announcing it will hold a new exhibition titled “Fashion Innovation: Madame Alexander at 100,” which will be on view from August 29 to December 31, 2023. The show seamlessly blends fashion and doll craftsmanship. Recently added to the collection is the iconic 1959 first-release Barbie Doll — an exceedingly rare doll held in high regard by collectors. It was acquired by Carolyn Barry, co-founder of the museum, through a record-breaking auction bid of $42,000. She astutely recognized the profound historical significance; this doll will debut in the permanent collection when the exhibition opens.
While this acquisition set a record for the highest auction price of a #1 Barbie, it fell short of two other notable Barbie doll auction records. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Barbie’s inception, an exceptional collaboration between Mattel and the illustrious jewelry brand De Beers gave rise to the opulent De Beers Barbie. Adorned with a delicately decorated belt embellished with an astonishing 160 diamonds, this doll elevated itself into an investment-grade collectible.
Diverging from the customary retail route, this doll was thrust straight into the auction limelight, captivating collectors with its unique allure. In 1999, it fetched an impressive $85,000, securing its position as the second-most expensive Barbie doll ever sold at auction.
However, the pinnacle in terms of auction prices was achieved by the Stefano Canturi Barbie. Distinguished by a custom-made choker adorned with white and pink diamonds, including a remarkably rare one-carat pink diamond from Australia’s prestigious Argyle mine, this doll attained a valuation of $300,000 for its gems alone. The doll crossed the auction block in 2010 and sold for just $250,000 ($302,500 w/p). Beyond its monetary value, this Barbie had a philanthropic purpose, as the proceeds were channeled toward the noble cause of breast cancer research.
Barbie’s popularity has remained strong over time, as her ability to evolve, offering diverse dolls, fashion, and playsets, has resonated with girls for generations. In addition, Barbie is one of the most sought-after dolls by collectors. Limited edition releases, unique collector’s editions, and collaborations with designers and brands, have created a sense of rarity and exclusivity.