Collector with his collection: Growing (1990)... Growing (2000)... Growing (2010)!
In October 2022, I was interviewed by Sophie Tarrant, a freelance writer from the UK, for a magazine story she was working on in regards to Barbie collecting. I feel Sophie's questions were thoughtful and very well asked. I share them, along with my answers because it gives great insight to me as a longtime collector and lifelong fan of Barbie
So first things first, tell us how your interest in Barbie began, do you have an earliest memory associated with her?
I was a young child in the 1960s (born in 1961, the year the Ken doll made his debut), and it seems I was always aware of Barbie, from earliest memory. My sister is ten years older and she had Barbie dolls. Because I had high interest in her dolls, when she outgrew them as a teenager, she gave her whole collection to me—Barbies, fashions, and cases (I believe I was 5 years old).
At the time it was socially unacceptable for boys to play with dolls but I was fortunate to have parents and siblings with open minds. (My mom always said, “A doll is a toy and a toy is meant to be played with by all children.”)
What in particular is it that you loved (and still love!) about Barbie?
She’s beautiful! From the get-go I’ve naturally been attracted to aesthetic beauty (it’s no surprise I grew up to be in the beauty industry, first as a make-up artist and then long-time hairdresser). As a child with an eye for beauty, I simply fell in love with Barbie and all those gorgeous fashions to dress her in.
I saw on your website that your love of Barbie started as a child – did you have a favourite Barbie back then, and if so, is she still your favourite, or have other ones in the collection risen to the top spot since?
I was a young child in the mod era of the late-1960s and early-1970s, so the world of Barbie I played in reflected those times. The dolls were dressed groovy in mod outfits, such as mini-skirts and go-go boots with bright colors and geometric patterns. It’s hard to pick one particular favorite because as a child I liked them all, and as an adult collector these are the dolls I covet, and currently display on shelves.
But if I had to pick one favorite it would be the Malibu Barbie and Ken from 1971. For me as a kid they epitomized the golden “California Dream” and perhaps one of the reasons I live in Southern California today
Was there a particular doll that you always coveted as a child, and if so, did you ever get her? If not – have you managed to find her and add her to your collection since?
There’s not one particular doll I coveted as a child. I have managed to get most of the dolls I remember from childhood in my collection today. As an adult collector I think the “Holy Grail” is to have an original (vintage) Ponytail Barbie from 1959 or 1960 (these are the first Barbie dolls characterized by the top-knot ponytail and zebra-striped swimsuit). It’s funny, I’ve been an avid collector for 35-years and never felt a need to have her until this year. I finally got a 1960 Ponytail Barbie this past September!
Tell us about your collection in general – did it naturally grow from playing with and owning Barbies when you were younger, or did you make a specific decision to start collecting them?
The pivotal moment of Barbie collecting occurred exactly on my birthday in September 1987. As a birthday present a friend gave me the Barbie & the Rockers, a new wave band comprised of six dolls. This reignited a love for Barbie I haven’t felt since I was a child. These birthday dolls grew into a collection that numbers in the thousands today.
If you could add any item to your collection, what would it be? What is the number one item you’d love to find?
I have two dolls that are number one on my “must find” list: the 1971 Live Action Christie and the 1978 Fashion Photo P.J.
I want them to complete the lines I already have (for example, I have the Live Action Barbie, Ken and P.J. but not Christie, the 4th member). Plus, both dolls would be nice additions to photograph for the Barbie book I’m writing. The thing is they are hard-to-find, and if you do find them can be very pricey and other collectors will eagerly snatch them up!
Do you have similar collections from any other toys/series from your childhood?
Yes, Barbie collecting evolved into an extensive compilation of dolls, action figures, board games, children’s books, and other toys. The majority of these are from the 1960s and 1970s when I was a child. This toy collection inspired me to write my first book, From ABBA To Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the 20th Century.
Tell us about your books; what first sparked the idea of working on them?
From ABBA To Zoom is my only published book. My fascination with the wide-range of toys I was collecting was the genesis for it, as I wondered, what are these things I’m collecting? It began as notes in a journal, leading full-on to a pop culture encyclopedia packed with 3,001 entries.
In promotion of From ABBA To Zoom, I gave countless interviews with media outlets, including television, radio, newspapers and magazines. I was labeled an “aficionado of American pop culture,” the “Man of POP,” and appeared as a “pop culture expert” on the Discovery Channel’s Pop Nation TV show to talk about the history of Barbie. I also did book signings and other public events around America.
What’s your favourite thing about being part of the doll collecting community, and about being an expert in the field?
The doll collecting community is very supportive, kind and like-minded as everyone shares the same enthusiasm I have with Barbie. I’m not very surprised that there’s a majority of male doll collectors out there. (I wasn’t alone, other boys played with dolls too.) The community makes me excited about Barbie collecting and I can’t wait to share my book with all.
As a long-time collector I’m well versed on Barbie, so researching and writing a book about her has made me more knowledgeable. I’ve enjoyed answering other collectors’ questions and helping them figure out what “unknown” doll they have (not to brag but I usually know who it is).
Finally, please share any details you’d like us to include about upcoming work or projects – for example, if you have any more books in the making, or photography projects, etc?
I’m currently finishing-up my next book titled, Behold the Valley of the Dolls: A Barbie History in Portraits. In March 2018, I began a project of photographing the entire Barbie collection, capturing each doll with a beautiful portrait. This project was the vision for my book, which along with the photographs is the history of Barbie. It contains over 60 years of Barbie and friends, from 1960 to 2021, featuring hundreds of key dolls and doll lines. If you have a favorite Barbie doll, it’s probably in the book!
And I need to add, Behold the Valley of the Dolls has been a lot of fun to work on, and made me fall in love with Barbie collecting all over again.
Though my focus is getting Behold the Valley of the Dolls published, I’m excited about other projects the book will lead to. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my doll photography because you never know what new project will pop up!
A Barbie History in Portraits
I invite you to visit Sophie Tarrant's website "See Sophie Stitch" by clicking on the tab!