Barbie’s Dream House in Laguna Woods – Orange County Register
Designed by Laguna Woods resident Robert Reyes, the Barbie collection includes these original dolls from 1959. Prices for the original dolls have risen since the release of the movie “Barbie.” (Photo by Mark Rabinowitz)
Robert Reyes in Barbie heaven.
He’s seen the movie “Barbie” four times.
His bedroom is filled with glass cabinets displaying Barbie and Ken dolls from the toy’s 64-year history.
And books and magazines about Barbie and her creator, Ruth Handler, lie about the house.
No, Reyes is not a fan of Little Barbie. It’s not “Cuckoo”. He certainly didn’t grow up playing with dolls (which didn’t happen at home in El Paso, Texas, he says).
The 62-year-old Laguna Woods resident, who holds a doctorate in education administration, is a huge fan of history, and knows the value of nostalgia, especially old games. In fact, he is researching “the importance of play and the history of games” for a coffee table book.
Right now, Reyes especially knows that demand for and prices for vintage Barbie dolls have skyrocketed since the movie’s release. According to some reports, prices have risen by about 25% in recent months.
Before Reyes started collecting Barbie dolls and all their accessories, he laughed at their fans, he says.
“I thought people who loved Barbie were cuckoo. I just didn’t get it. Now – in terms of art and design – I absolutely love it.”
Reyes has about 500 dolls, he says. This includes all the Barbies and Kens, plus Barbie’s BFF Midge, Barbie’s little sister Skipper, Skipper’s friends Scooter and Ricky, and even Francie, Barbie’s “MOD’ern cousin” from Britain.
He has two Barbie Dream Houses, a Barbie and Ken Little Theater, Barbie MacDonald’s, a Barbie Dress Shop, a Barbie Campout tent, a Barbie Goes to College set, plus a few vinyl Barbie bags.
Reyes gets most of his pieces from EBay, but also from a couple of local dealers who specialize in all things Barbie.
He got his first piece just seven years ago, when a friend owned a local thrift store that sold Barbie dolls from the 1970s. It was a 1979 vinyl tote bag complete with a Barbie doll and mini wardrobe. He paid $20.
This purchase set Reyes on an unexpected new path. He began researching the toy, so much so that he has now become an encyclopedia of Barbie facts and figures. Most of all, he says, he “became a believer in Barbie dolls.”
“It’s a beautiful doll. It’s an American icon, a work of art,” he says. “It’s the best-selling toy in America to this day.”
His collection includes the oldest dolls, the ponytailed Barbie dolls: the original, Barbie No. 1, and Barbie No. 2, both released in 1959.
The original Barbie had holes in her feet so she could be placed securely on the doll stand. No. 2 did not have those holes; It came with a wire stand instead. Both dolls had arched eyebrows and came in black and white striped swimsuits.
The first dolls command high prices among collectors these days — more than $27,000 for Barbie No. 1 dolls, in mint condition, in the original box and never played with, according to reports.
It was also reported that a museum in Virginia recently paid a record $42,000 at auction for a 1959 first edition Barbie doll. Reyes says she was originally a display doll only, made exclusively for department stores.
Reyes has some historical pieces in his collection — a Tillie the Toiler paper doll and Lilly, a German plastic doll that closely resembles Barbie.
Handler, the creator of Barbie and co-founder (with her husband) of the toy company Mattel, was inspired by the cutout dolls that her daughter Barbara played with. Tilly, a newspaper comic character who began in the 1920s and later became a paper doll, was an early depiction of an independent working woman.
The prototype for Barbie was Bild-Lili, who began as a gold-digging comic strip character in 1952 in Germany and became a plastic doll in 1955. Handler found the Lili doll while on vacation in Switzerland in the summer of 1956, when she and her daughter passed a toy store and saw the doll in the window.
The rest, as they say, is Barbie history, and Reyes will be more than happy to tell you all about it.
These days, Reyes hopes to sell some of his collection: “I’m running out of space, and I only need one of each collection, not multiples of them.”
Not that his partner, Patrick Kennedy, is complaining.
“He has his own cave where his Barbies live, and he doesn’t take them out and play with them, and they don’t encroach on the living space,” Kennedy says.
“It’s probably a huge opportunity” to sell now, Reyes says.
He recently had an auctioneer visit him and buy some Barbie No. 1 and No. 2 dolls. Reyes bought Car No. 1 for $13,000, he says, and hopes to get at least $32,000 each at auction. He bought second place for $6,000 to $7,000 and hopes to double his money.
The auctioneer also acquired Dream Houses 1 and 2, a college collection, a clothing store and a theatre. Reyes paid between $300 and $500 for each set and hopes to get at least $1,000 apiece.
Ultimately, Reyes wants his works to go to museums, to preserve what he calls “a piece of American culture and history.”
And he will keep some dolls for himself.
As for the movie? Reyes says it offers something for everyone.
“If you hate Barbie, you’ll like the movie. If you like Barbie, you’ll like the movie.”