Barbie movie a gift for lifelong collectors and spiking interest in the world’s favourite doll

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Chrystal Palmer was given her first Barbie doll when she was seven years old.

The Holiday Barbie was a dazzling riot of big hair, big earrings and a long, velvet gown with puffed sleeves.

Chrystal Palmer with part of her Barbie collection.Credit: Simon Schluter

It was Christmas 1991, and Palmer thought the doll, a present from Santa Claus, was amazingly glamorous and beautiful.

But while other kids tossed aside their Barbies and switched to Pokemon or rollerblading as they grew older, Palmer maintained her passion for the toy for more than three decades.

She has more than 1000 Barbie dolls at her Mont Albert home, in Melbourne’s east, including the 1991 gift, and they still make her happy.

She said finding a new doll online could be magical, as could dressing an old one in a different outfit.

Margot Robbie in Barbie.Credit: Alamy

“It takes you to another place where you don’t have to worry about what’s happening in the world around you,” Palmer says.

Palmer’s children, Chanelle, 10, James, 8, and Lily, 6, have their own toys – including Barbies – but their mum’s Barbies are off-limits due to their rarity and fragility.

Chrystal Palmer with the first Barbie she had as a girl.Credit: Simon Schluter

“It’s a displayed, not a played-with collection,” Palmer says. “With the vintage dolls, you can’t replace them by walking into a toy store and just buying one.”

And her children’s interest in Barbies has waned. “At her last birthday, Lily didn’t ask for a Barbie,” Palmer says. “She said, ‘Mum, you can look after my Barbies’.”

Palmer also hasn’t taken her Barbies to the primary school where she teaches, judging that her grade six students are “well beyond dolls” and not interested.

The Barbie movie appears to have driven interest in the dolls themselves. Another Barbie super-collector, Geelong’s Karen Valentine, has noticed on eBay that a 2015 doll – a reproduction of the original 1959 Barbie – would typically sell a few months ago at around $75, new and in a box.

But recently, the model has been sold on eBay for between $150 and $200.

Valentine, who owns 600 Barbie dolls and is treasurer of enthusiasts group the ABC Doll Club, recently returned from a Barbie convention in Florida, where she bought a rare 1972 Barbie sewing centre play set.

Karen Valentine (right) and sister Wendy playing with Barbies circa 1980.Credit: Karen Valentine

Valentine said she enjoyed seeing the costumes in the Barbie movie based on past Barbie outfits, and the message it depicted of girls being able to aspire to anything they wanted.

She intends to see the movie multiple times, to spot accessories, sets and costumes she recognises.

“It’s got all these details that collectors will notice,” she said.

Palmer, who has also seen the movie, said Barbie star Margot Robbie was a “beautiful, gorgeous Barbie” with wit and intelligence.

Barbie collectors and enthusiasts at a convention in Adelaide in June.Credit: Karen Valentine

She said the movie brings to life controversial dolls, some of which Palmer owns, including a pregnant doll from the early 2000s and a 1970s doll whose bust would grow if you rotated her arm.

Palmer also said some secondhand Barbie prices have risen along with interest in the movie: for example, dolls based on fairies and mermaid-themed Barbie movies from the early 2000s.

Palmer, as an administrator of the Australia Collectable Barbie Facebook page, said her most precious Barbie was the oldest one she owns, a 1962 swimsuit model bought off another collector.

Palmer imagines “who may have played with her and what adventures has she been on”.

She once spent $1000 on a Medusa Barbie, with its fishtail gown and little snakes attached.

One of the rarest pieces she owns is a doll depicting fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, of which only 999 were made. And Palmer has already bought, for $30, the new Robbie doll, based on the movie.

Valentine’s ABC Doll Club has been running for over 30 years and meet regularly in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide.

She said up to 30 people attended meetings at Kew Library in Melbourne’s east, and bring their dolls and discuss collecting and buy and sell.

She said the youngest member is 15 years old and the oldest in their 80s. “There are people who were too poor for their parents to afford Barbies when they were children,” Valentine said.

“Some are creative and alter Barbies’ hair and clothes, some make dioramas, while others make and sell clothes for Barbies.”

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