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Very Vintage Vantage ~ by Ellen Taylor

Site Owner's Note:  Hi to All Barbie Fans and Collectors--Since Ellen has joined my website, and posted some fabulous Blogs, I have decided to make a page just for her blogs.  She is a wonderful writer with amazing credentials, and writes such cool and humorous pieces on Barbie, I moved her blogs from the regular "blogs" page to this one! Enjoy!

~Teresa

 

ABOUT ELLEN:

Ellen Taylor, a passionate collector of vintage dolls, previously wrote ?The Vintage Vantage?, about the earliest Barbie dolls for Miller?s Magazine.  She currently maintains a blog called ?Of Bonds and Blondes?, comparing the similar dynamics at play that govern prices in both the secondary Barbie doll and bond markets, inspired by a 30-year career on Wall Street.  Ellen continues to indulge her love for the earliest Barbies as both buyer and seller of vintage dolls on eBay and at tri-state doll shows in the New York City area. She has also given talks on?Barbie: The History and the Hysteria? at libraries in eastern Connecticut and appeared on local television in December to discuss how Barbie rocked the international doll world after her launch at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.  Ellen estimates her Barbie collection at about 150 dolls, with her favorite issues being the #3 Ponytails (brown eyeliner), the Lemon Yellow Color Magics with high color, and the Long Hair High Color American Girls.  

Some Ginger Ale With Your Bubblecut, Anyone?

 October  8, 2017


The White Ginger bubble cut, released by Mattel in 1961 -- she of the pale pink lips, “Barbie only” body, and curiously non-matching red finger and toe nail paint-- is highly coveted by us collectors, to be sure.  But also, I will offer the opinion that she is not very hard to find. What? A hugely desired doll that is not difficult to get your hands on?  How is that possible, or even likely, in the world of Barbie supply and demand?  Simple economics would dictate that if a collector really wanted this doll, you better be prepared to dig deep into your pockets to pay for it.

But here’s the facts: A casual search on eBay on any given day will unearth at least three or four White Ginger listings.  (A hint: sometimes the seller will describe them simply as a “blonde bubble cut” so check for possible WGs lurking in there, too.).   And, despite all the extremely favorable press surrounding this doll over the past two decades, it usually won’t break the bank to buy one of these treasured bubbles. Why?  It’s all in the hair color.  You can find one ”out of box” with intact pink lips for $50 or less – no kidding.  But here comes the, well, “but”:  they will usually have a brassier yellow hair color that has oxidized from its original pale “ginger ale” blonde.  So whether or not you can find enough dollars in your wallet to add a “WG” – as they are known by the many collectors in her large fan club -- to your collection depends on how much oxidization you can accept in the doll’s hair that you ultimately choose.  Pale ginger ale =  bigger bucks; more golden ginger hue =  many bargains.


I own about a dozen White Gingers (I know, I know), and about half of them have retained their original very pale blonde hair shade, without a hint of the brassiness that often has forced out the more subtle ginger-y white blonde the doll enjoyed on original issuance.   I have paid from $75  to $500 for my more pristine White Gingers.  Yes, you can even sometimes get the unoxidized  pale WGs for a really affordable price.  Why? Sometimes a collector just gets lucky when a seller doesn’t know what they are selling so posts a Buy It Now price that is very reasonable and merely calls it a “blonde bubble cut”. Or else the doll might have a minor flaw (tiny rub to lip or a pale green shadow around the earring hole) that some buyers cannot tolerate.


For example, my $75 White Ginger had a greasy face, fairly common with the WGs, with perfect makeup and hair color and was out-of-box whereas the $500 doll came in her original box with wrist tag and accessories with perfect pink lips and a very slightly oxidized shade of blonde.   For me, the most important factor deciding what doll I buy are non-rubbed original pink lips.  That said, I recently grabbed a White Ginger with rubs on both her upper and lower lips but with a gorgeous head of absolutely unoxidized blonde hair!  (Call me incorrigible; I just love these bubbles!)


As Teresa wrote in an earlier discussion of the White Ginger beauty on this site, this popular bubble cut has many different looks, depending on when in the cycle she was sold.   WGs that were sold early in her 1961 issue have thinner faces, like the other blonde, raven and titian bubbles that year.  Her lips are bright pink and rarely oxidized to white, as you see in the later Platinum Bubbles, and they often enjoy unfaded smoky shadow over her teal colored  eyes.  Other WGs have bright blue eyes.  Rarely, if ever, have I found a White Ginger with cheek blush that remains on her face.  Sometimes a WG is confused with a Platinum bubble which usually have chubbier faces due to the larger neck knob on the Midge Barbie bodies, circa 1963.  Of course, as Teresa discussed, there are all kinds of transitional White Ginger-to-Platinum dolls lurking about from 1962.  Their eyes may be more blue than teal and less smoky shadow remains over the eyes; the lips usually have oxidized to white.  And the closer to 1963, the doll’s nails will be pink/coral instead of red.  


White Ginger  “purists” like me use these four defining factors when determining if a blonde bubble is truly a WG:  thinner faces, pink lips, red finger and toe nails, Barbie (only) bodies.  And often, but not always, they have smoky shadow above their eyes.  But why red nails on a doll with pink lips anyway?  Perhaps the fact that most 1961 bubbles had red nails and red lips, too.  That said, you can find a raven bubble from 1961 with the thinner face and pink lips, but most of those black-headed bubbles had Lucy red lips and nails.  (And they are stunning and way underpriced – but that’s fodder for another column.)


Until then, I will continue to scan blonde bubble listings on eBay in the hopes of latching on to that pinnacle of White Ginger perfection, a very pale blonde doll with original pink lips and tons of smoky shadow to offset her pale facial vinyl and pastel-hued lips.  Be still my heart!  But you ask how many WGs do I need, anyway?  A fair question but, hmm, I think I am not going to answer you.  


Ellen  Taylor



Oh Barbie, Our Barbie, Of What Hair Color Art Thou?

 May 2017


If you ask almost any person on the street just what color hair adorns a Barbie doll’s head (new or vintage), you will undoubtedly, and immediately, receive the reply, “Blonde”.    If the person sneers at the mere thought of a Barbie doll, they might add the epithet “bimbo!”, or the average man might even proclaim “bombshell!”, with a twinkle in his eye.   And while the first Barbie dolls sold in 1959, the #1 and #2 ponytails, were indeed dominated by blondes, by a ratio of 3:1 over brunettes, Mattel added a redhead ponytail to its production line in 1961 with the #5 titian ponytail, as well as a first-issue redhead bubble cut the same year.   Many people would be astonished to learn that  Barbie, in fact, was available in three hair colors by her third year of production.

(Above:  Blonde #4 Ponytail)


I received my first Barbie doll in about 1960; I was ten years old, so already at a relatively older age for doll play.  She was – yes! – a blonde #4 ponytail.  Until I was an adult, I never knew there was a Barbie who had those black-and-white “ geisha” eyes of the 1s and 2s.  Yet, I was at an age when it was reasonable to expect I’d have seen a #1 when the first Barbies hit toy shelves in March 1959. I never saw one until I began to find a few well-played-with vintage dolls in the late 80s, in antique toy stores or consignment shops -- not that I was ever lucky enough to cast my eyes upon an abandoned #1 in a dusty corner at a secondhand shop bearing a meager price tag of, say, $5.00 !  If only….!   (And of course, even if I had, she would likely have been a blonde!)  And yet I did have a titian bubble cut among my three childhood dolls.


One day a few years later, in the early days of the internet, I saw, for the first time, a #5 titian ponytail on one of the “listserves” on Yahoo that used to be communication boards for followers of a variety of interests.   I was besotted.  What luscious deep, copper penny red hair adorning a ponytail’s head!   What dark teal blue “come hither” eyes!   I had to have her.  I was not working a full-time job at the time, instead staying at home to raise my young daughter.   But my very understanding husband loaned me the $300 I needed to send to the redhead ponytail’s owner in Texas.  This was how business was done in the mid 90s: No PayPal!  No eBay!  No credit assurances needed!   I sent the money by personal check and the seller then shipped the doll to me.  That was the “Wild West” world of the pre-eBay internet; your word was, well, your “blonde”, I mean your bond.  Deals were transacted daily.  No fees (I can’t say that too often).  It’s amazing to imagine that world now.  Back then I heard of very few people who lost any money or received fraudulent dolls or ensembles, even without “buyer’s money back guarantees”.  We were just a community of vintage collectors who loved our fashion icon.   Anyway, back to hair colors.  Now I had my first redhead ponytail, though I was aware that Barbie could have red hair; as I mentioned, I had been given a first-issue titian bubble back in 1961.  But I lost my three childhood dolls around 1979 so I was jubilant when I found vintage dolls in antique stores (1980s) or on line by the mid-1990s as the internet evolved.   To this day, the redheads of any Barbie issue are my favorites.


But our story does not end with these three hair colors:  blonde, brunette  (really more akin to a raven black), and titian, after the famous Venetian artist Titian (pronounced: Tih-shun; his Italian name was Tiziano Vecelli)  who was renowned for using bold colors in his works and especially favored among his subjects women who had red hair.  (Wikipedia defines “titian” as “a tint of red hair, most commonly described as ‘brownish orange’”, apparently after the hue of many women’s coiffures in Titian’s paintings.)  


But red wasn’t the only new color introduced in 1961; White Ginger bubble cuts, with their very pale blonde hair, were also added to the product line that year, as were the sable brownette bubbles. Both were subtle variations of the more common yellow blonde and dark or raven brunette.  White Gingers were identified by that moniker on the outside of their boxes, though sometimes with a separate stick-on label, but a brownette’s box mysteriously leaves off the name of the hair color; it says merely #850 (space) BUBBLE CUT”.  You can also find ash blonde and platinum or champagne bubbles from 1962 onward. And then in 1962 and 1963 Mattel expanded its palettes of hair colors for the bubbles and ponytails, adding ash blonde and a more subdued brownish redhead to the #6 and #7 ponytails, while in 1964 came the platinum swirls.  This was a champagne platinum with pink lips and never intended as a mere blonde.   None of these shades were oxidations of the original hair colors of blonde and brunette that left the Mattel factory for toy stores in 1959 to 1960.   Those “derivative” hair colors would come later in 1967 when Mattel produced a dramatic change in the Barbie facial mold with the more teenage-looking Twist n’ Turn (TNT) Barbie.   


The TNT’s original hair shades were Sun Kissed (pale blonde), Summer Sand (ash), Go Go Co Co (brownette), and Chocolate Bon Bon (raven brunette).  Some claim they also issued a redhead or titian TNT. I sometimes question whether they produced the titian TNT since it was never assigned a colorful, descriptive modifier like “Sun Kissed” such as the other four TNT shades. It had been assumed by most experts and collectors I knew in the 90s that titian was more likely an oxidation of the Go Go Co Co hair shade.   Indeed, in Christopher Varaste’s indispensable book, “Face of the American Dream:  Barbie Doll 1959 – 1971”, he notes the four original TNT hair colors but then, under the topic of “oxidized hair colors”, shows an official TNT trade-in box, with the sticker “Ash Blonde” on it which contained an “untouched” titian TNT.  In that way, Varaste puts the possibility out there that this titian began her life as an ash blonde, perhaps Summer Sand?   Interesting that Mattel marked the doll “ash blonde”, also not one of the “official” TNT hair colors.


You will also notice on eBay and in vintage Barbie reference books a plethora of alternative hair colors never conceived of by Mattel for its TNT line, like platinum blonde, pink lilac, black cherry and perhaps, as I suggest, titian.  They were all rather enchanting shades that evolved over time, as with the oxidation of the Sun Kissed to platinum and pink lilac and I’d guess Chocolate Bon Bon was the “base” color for the Black Cherry or Eggplant dolls you sometimes find on the secondary vintage markets today. It’s also possible that the titian TNT was an oxidized Go Go Co Co brownette.  The question of whether Mattel truly manufactured a titian TNT will remain unanswered.  


But we who love vintage Barbie certainly know by now that our girl was never intended to be merely some “dumb” blonde tossed thoughtlessly on the doll market – au contraire!   We become intoxicated with adoration when we gaze upon the exotic faces of our #3 or #4 ponytails or first-issue bubble cuts and thrill to the subtlety of her many dreamy hair colors, from raven to black cherry to platinum to redhead to, yes, all the many variations of blonde in between.  


Whatever Happened to Gene?

December 27, 2016

In 1995, Ashton Drake, until then largely a manufacturer of collectible porcelain dolls which were typically replicas of real people, made a big splash in the fashion doll world with the launch of its dramatic 15.5-inch tall Gene doll, created by doll artist Mel Odom.  Gene’s backstory was that she was a fledging movie star ingénue in the 1940s and her extensive wardrobe was made up of exceptionally well-designed ensembles to represent each stage of Gene’s life in New York and Hollywood, as well as reflecting costumes worn in some of her movies.  


Gene was sold alternately as a dressed doll in a beautifully tailored gown or suit, with accessories that closely mirrored the attention to detail seen in the earliest, highest quality years of Barbie (1959 to 1967), or as “Simply Gene” dressed in a modest two-piece cotton swimsuit of shorts and a strapless top, with her logo “Gene” printed all over each item.   


Gene sold for about $80.00 in her dressed-box incarnation with the later swimsuit model retailing for about $55.00 in the late 90s.  She had a painted hard vinyl face with applied lashes, dramatic eye paint, and perfect red lips.  Her hair styles were often reflective of those postwar ‘dos from the late 40s, so some often look a little dated now.  Or sometimes they were pulled back from the face (“no bangs”) or with straight of sideswept bangs with curly chin- or shoulder-length tresses that you might see worn by young women today.   Her hair colors ranged from a white platinum (2000) to raven black to copper red to paler strawberry blonde to chocolate brown to golden blonde.  In other words, except for her larger size, Gene bore a lot of similarities to Barbie.

Also like vintage Barbie, the different Gene dolls and ensembles were given evocative names, like “Premiere”, “Red Venus”, “Monaco”, “Hello Hollywood”, “Love Saves the Day”, “Goodbye New York”, “Love’s Ghost”, “Cleopatra”, and “Sparkling Seduction”.  And Gene sold well.   In my opinion -- and I suspect many other fashion doll collectors would agree -- one of her biggest draws was the beautiful tailoring of her ensembles which you could buy separately from the doll, using the same business model put forth by Mattel in 1959 with Barbie.  The main exception was that while Gene was usually sold wearing an exquisite ensemble, Barbie most often was marketed wearing either her black-and-white zebra or red helenca swimsuit and little girls bought her outfits separately.  I suspect that many vintage Barbie collectors also were drawn to Gene in her heyday from 1995 to 2000;  as noted, Ashton Drake used a similar business model to the one seen in Mattel’s factories.  High quality dolls, lovely hair styling, exquisite attention to detail in her designer fashions and accessories – all at a reasonable market price.  And yet, after roughly five years, Gene basically disappeared from store shelves. Perhaps that overstates Gene’s sales arc;  by 2000 her popularity slumped considerably, at least.  I think it is fair to say that the Gene “buzz” faded in her last decade until mass production ended in 2010.   Why?

I don’t think you can simply say she was the latest victim of Barbie’s multi-decade reign atop the fashion doll kingdom.  This was no Tressy or Little Miss Revlon or the later Mdvanii; Gene was slightly different. Larger, yes. But while she undoubtedly was created to appeal to the legions of fashion doll admirers, I don’t think Ashton Drake’s intention was to topple Barbie from her throne as were the blatant attempts by earlier competitors, all who failed.  Gene was created to “live” alongside Barbie.  Vintage Barbie collectors could also fill their remaining doll shelf space with Gene.  Remember, this was 1995 and Barbie’s best days were 30 years behind her. Which is to say, Mattel made their highest commitment to Barbie’s workmanship -- to the quality of her ensembles and the heavier body weight and exotic facial design -- from the years of 1959 until 1967 with the introduction of the mod era with Twist n’ Turn Barbie.   No longer did they use fine fabrics like satin, brocades, silk, or taffeta once the mod era arrived.  Mod Barbie lovers must concede that even their first TNT doll was dressed in a cheaply made polyester two-piece swimsuit with raw edges, with no attention paid to the exquisite finishing details like lace facing of arm holes or hand sewn zippers that you see on many of the vintage sheaths.    And Gene featured nearly the same commitment to workmanship and accessories as seen in vintage Barbie (note that the mod outfits do not come with tiny accessories like alarm clocks, felt doggies, water bottles, car keys, microphones, or tiny brass compacts tucked away in soft corduroy or velvet hand bags!)  Mattel began to abandon its devotion to high quality and, frankly, the artistry seen in the earliest ponytails, bubble cuts, and American Girls, as early as 1967.   Never again would its dolls have the design, the exquisite tailoring, and the commitment to quality seen in the vintage dolls.   All of a sudden its fabric of choice was polyester for the cheaply made outfits they sold for the TNTs, the Hair Fairs, the Standard, Julia, Twiggy, Casey, and Francie.  I realize this might put me at odds with the many collectors who love TNTs and Francie but I stand by this opinion. But I digress.  

So here was Gene in 1995, hitting the market with considerable success by looking a lot like a larger version of the earliest Barbie, in terms of her facial sophistication and gorgeous ensembles. And I think Ashton Drake’s intention was to present doll lovers with a new generation of a high quality fashion doll with separate outfits you could buy, complete with charming and nicely manufactured accessories like tiny teddy bears, or hat boxes, or violins sold with her ensembles, much like the 900 series Barbie line.  So what happened?

My reply can be covered with two words:  Madra Lord.  Madra, introduced in 2000, was created to be Gene’s competitor for movie roles once our girl landed in Hollywood.  Ashton Drake described her as a “villainess” and her hard facial “snear” affirmed that characteristic.   Evil and conniving, she was presumedly intended to expand the Gene story to allow for more dolls and clothes to be sold.  But I never liked Madra and never bought one and soon lost interest in my Gene collection.  I didn’t “get” the new entrant into Gene Marshall’s universe and certainly would have been happy if Ashton Drake had continued merely to create and sell more Genes along with her beautiful clothing.  How could you warm up to such a nasty looking doll as Madra?  Of course, this is all just my opinion but I would be curious as to the total sales figures for Madra compared with Gene.  Nearly 17 years later, I still feel the introduction of Madra led to a gradual buyer disinterest in Gene, likely resulting in lower sales and an abandonment of her production by 2010.  So I admit I was surprised while researching the internet for this article to discover that, in fact, Gene continued to be made until 2010 when production was largely shut down.  

In the interim, Ashton Drake stepped out of the business of manufacturing and selling Gene in 2005, after making the doll (and the evil Madra!) for ten years. At that point, doll designer Jason Wu took over production of the Gene line for Integrity Toys for her last five years.  Gene’s face changed after Wu came into the picture with a somewhat softer visage with less exotic eye makeup.  Gene was later briefly resurrected in 2013 with Mel Odom standing by her side at the IDEX (International Doll Expo) in Orlando that spring, now ramped up as a resin ball-jointed doll, a half inch taller and retailing for $550, by JAMIEshow Dolls. USA  Yowza!  Only about 200 dolls were sold under her sub-moniker “Phoenix”, with a small limited edition release.  They are now sold out.   A second Gene Marshall “J’Adore” followed that summer, with the final Gene “White Orchid” then sold as a Gene Basic doll.  Gene’s final-final swan song came in 2015, marking her 20th anniversary, in Chicago with the “All That Jazz” Gene doll.

I admit I was surprised to hear that Gene continued to be made and released after 2000, albeit in fits and starts.  I hardly heard any “chatter” in doll chat rooms about new Genes coming forth once Integrity Toys assumed oversight of the product line through the last half of the 00s.  As noted, I have found no data detailing sales numbers of Gene from 2005 to 2015, but I would guess they were far smaller than those that our 40s movie star attracted in her first decade.

Maybe my interest in Gene merely waned at that point, as my focus shifted to Tonner’s Tyler Wentworth and Sydney Chase as well as to Madame Alexander’s Alexandra Fairchild Ford doll, both of a similar size to Gene.  And always my love for the vintage Barbies cast a shadow over all my other flirtations with newer fashion dolls, ultimately bringing me back to Barbie again.  And again.   I recently found my old box of Gene dolls from the late 90s and it briefly revived my interest in the doll for much of the same reason I continue to love Barbie – her lovely, exotic face and hair styling as well as glamourous and beautifully-tailored clothing.   As Genes have become less popular, her price has fallen so that you can now easily buy the first Gene “Premiere” for about $65 when at its highest demand in maybe 1999, I sold my original Premiere for close to $300.  A basic Gene in swimsuit fetches about $20 now and “Red Venus” Gene (one of the first three Gene dolls) will set you back only about $25 right now on eBay.  So I grabbed some more of the earliest Gene dolls this fall.  They are lovely, well-crafted fashion dolls and you cannot argue with the fact that they are an exceptional value-for-money right now.   For those reasons alone, Genes provide an attractive complement to fashion doll collections right now.  For less than $500 – about the cost of just one very nice #3 ponytail Barbie – you can probably build a collection of ten 1990s Gene dolls.  Of all the fashion dolls that have come to market since Barbie’s launch nearly 58 years ago, trying to get a slice of the Barbie sales “pie”, Gene is arguably the best value and the closest competitor in terms of beauty and quality.  Long lost Gene?   Not so much; maybe just stuck in the back of our closets, temporarily forgotten, as mine were.   


 

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