If identifying my vintage Mattel fashion doll heads was intimidating, trying to estimate the damages and decide if the dolls are worthy of repairs and restoration was even more confusing. Thankfully, we have Krista of Krista’s Doll Restoration to help us with vintage Barbie restoration.
Now that I know what dolls I have, there are all the condition issues… What’s ‘normal wear’ and what’s horrible? What’s worth fixing? (Aside from your own personal doll, when sentimental value makes restoration mandatory.)
New collectors may not realize that a doll may not be worth the cost of repair. (Unless of course it is their childhood doll!). For example: It is NOT worth re-rooting a bubblecut as a bubblecut.
Also, if a doll has been a meal to a mouse or rat and its face has been chewed and nibbled away, there is really nothing that can be done. If the doll has multiple flaws such as a bad neck split, a missing nose and green ears, it is better to invest in a replacement rather than a restoration.
On the other hand I have saved some beautiful ponytails.
One blonde ponytail had been burned on the top of its head by a light in a display cabinet. I was able to re-root this one with brunette hair (to cover the charred scalp) and she turned out beautifully.
Another had been eaten by a mouse only on the top of the head, under the hair. The face paint was perfect! Again, I was able to re-root this lovely doll and save her as well. The hole was completely covered by the new hair.
Cosmetic issues (like dirt, rubbed paint) can all be fixed. Even a nose nip or small neck split can be repaired. I can remove green ear as well. But if the doll has multiple vinyl flaws on the face (or an extensive vinyl flaw on the face) it is better to spend the money on a replacement head instead.
The PJ head has a slight green tint to her ear, but no holes for earrings. So what causes that? Is it a horrible thing for a doll?
The Mod (pink skin) dolls self destruct over time and begin to get fade spots that often turn to a greenish hue. It is also possible that the doll head was stored against some type of metal, like a metal stand, and the metal oxidized, leaving a green stain on the doll.
The brunette bubblecut has a ‘dimple’ or dent on her chin. Is that something which could be repaired? Would it be meaningful to do so? And her torso also has some dents. As that’s not vinyl, can that be repaired at all? (This torso also has one of those infamous pin-holes in the boob. What was up with those? Such a large number of dolls have them!)
I could at least improve the look of the small dent or gash on her face. The repair would probably be visible, though.
I can sometimes improve dents that are in the breasts (I remove the arms, soften the breast area with hot water, and use a chop stick through the arm hole to gently push the dent back out).
Nicks, holes and scratches on the torsos are not repairable and are better left alone (or one can replace the torso or entire body).
As for the pin-holes in the breasts, it’s funny you mentioned this! I just received a doll today that I had purchased on eBay and she has little pin hole ‘nipples.’ Long ago the doll’s original owner must have wanted to make her doll more anatomically correct! I find pin holes in other areas as well, if you know what I mean! I find it funny and charming.
Do you have any information or ballpark percentages etc on the increase in value of a properly restored doll? For example, any restored doll increases by X % or re-rooting hair adds X to the value etc.
This is a very good question, but unfortunately I don’t have any exact figures/percentages since there are too many variables involved.
For example, restoring a Skipper or Midge is not going to be as cost-effective (re-sale wise) as restoring a ponytail #1. The restoration may cost the same, but the return will be much less on a Midge or Skipper compared to a Ponytail.
Meanwhile one could say that a professional restoration on one’s childhood doll (whether it is a ponytail #1 or a Ken) is ‘priceless’ since the monetary value is not a factor. Rather I am helping someone restore their dolls’ emotional value along with their own childhood memories.
Another variable as far as resale is concerned is who did the restoration? Not only is the quality of the work important, but if it was done by a well-known restorer with a good reputation, then the resale value of the doll will increase. The doll has become a sort of one-of-a-kind (OOAK) at the hands of the restorer.
And finally, resale price depends on where the person is trying to sell the (restored) doll. These days this usually means eBay. As we all know, eBay can be very unpredictable. Prices change daily (even hourly). One day a person may realize $180 for a titian bubblecut. The next day, an identical bubblecut may only sell for $60.
Therefore your question does not have a simple answer and these types of statistics would be hard to calculate as you can see.
Take a look at my site here: Dolls with previous restoration attempts. Pictures are worth a thousand words! You will see how the doll looked when it arrived, how it looked after I cleaned up the mess, and how it looked after it was restored correctly.
Really, the only restorations I won’t do is re-root a bubblecut as a bubblecut (better to re-root as a ponytail or a swirl!) and I won’t even bother with heads that were once lunch for a rodent.
On the other hand, take a look at dolls I’ve restored which had very bad flaws on the tops of their heads but I was able to cover them up with re-roots.
This doll had a huge rodent hole in the top of her head but perfect face paint (I did not take a before photo! I can’t believe I forgot to do that). She was originally a blonde but when re-rooted as a titian the big hole was no longer visible.
How long does it take to do things like paint restoration, rerooting etc.?
Re-rooting is extremely time consuming, and re-rooting a full head often takes me a few weeks to complete! While it is not difficult to do, it takes patience to root one plug of hair at a time. Each plug of hair is hand-knotted so it can be brushed and styled. The hair I use is very smooth and fine (beautiful, new saran hair), and I must take care not to tangle the skien as I work.
I find the most enjoyable part of restoration is the face re-painting. I enjoy mixing the colors to get an exact match of the original colors, and I am now (after all of these years) able to paint the features correctly the first attempt.
It has taken lots and lots of practice over the years. I really love it. I love watching the dolls come alive, and my goal is to always make them look completely original (correct colors, smooth paint, and correct lip and brow shapes).
That’s a huge investment of time! And the detail work… Just trying to decipher and read the markings on the dolls, inside the head openings, that stuff is tiny and hard to read! Your eyes must go crazy with all the detail work!
Yes, I must wear magnifying binoculars! I even have a pair with battery operated lights on each side.
Well, after struggling with the other markings I was so exhausted I didn’t dare take the heads off the other Barbie doll bodies — I also didn’t want to risk damaging them.
You can! It won’t hurt them if you are careful! I have instructions for removing the heads on my site. My website just keeps on growing as I add new information weekly.
Weekly? That’s a lot of information… No wonder I am confused trying to absorb this all!
Yes, this is why I created my site — To help educate the collector.
Gone are the days when collectors relied only on dealers to supply their Barbies. Now eBay is available to everyone. The problem with eBay, however, is that there is a lot of misinformation in many of the listings (either intentionally or unintentionally). Hopefully my site will help the collector make better informed decisions.
And while I don’t think the confusion stops people from collecting, it definitely brings to light the need to focus on an era or type of doll. My site is designed to help collectors who have chosen to focus on the vintage Barbies.
Are there any clues for buyers to look for to see if a doll has been repaired/restored rather than is ‘all original’ etc.
With a correctly done repaint it should be very hard to tell — but the new paint will be a bit shiner than original paint. It may be necessary to view the doll through a loop or magnifying binoculars.
If the re-paint was not done correctly, one may see globs and texture on the paint (see the links above for extreme examples), and the shapes and colors may not look right (brows too dark, lips too large, etc.).
If one is unsure and does not mind taking a chance on ruining a nice restoration, then there is the ‘alcohol test’ (rubbing alcohol will remove any new acrylic paint).
I see listings on eBay where a bidder has asked a seller if s/he has performed ‘the alcohol test’ to determine if the face paint is original or not. Many sellers don’t want to risk ruining a beautiful restoration by smearing the paint with alcohol.
Therefore it is best to look at the doll through a loop and check the smoothness and shine of the paint. That will normally tell you if there has been a paint touch up or not.
Are the Mattel reproductions of the classic Barbie dolls clearly marked somehow? Or do novice collectors run the risk of making mistakes with them?
Yes, Mattel has done a good job marking the dolls and outfits so that it is clear they are not the original vintage. One must always be careful with the smaller accessories (gloves and hats and things) but Mattel has done the best they could with this.
Do you know anything about other fashion doll accessory repairs, such as vinyl cases, clothes etc.?
No, I stick to the dolls only and want them to arrive fully nude.
I don’t repair the boxes or cases (though I do have a new way to preserve the graphics on the old cases if someone has one they want to transform).
The fashions are often better left unwashed. Most of the old dyes are not colorfast, and the fabrics used were often real silk and very delicate brocades. I always recommend that people consult a good dry cleaner when it comes to the clothing. I recommend people call an antique store to get a referral to a dry cleaner that specializes in vintage/antique garments.
Krista works on an appointment system to limit restoration projects to only what she can realistically handle. If you’re interested, contact Krista at her website to get more information and to make your doll’s spa appointment.
You might want to contact her soon, as she returns each Fall to Italy for the Italian Collectors’ Fashion Doll Convention in Calenzano (just outside of Florence). There she not only demonstrates restoration but takes in international dolls for spa treatments.
[All photo copyrights belong to Krista and Krista's Doll Restoration -- except for the photo of Krista which is copyright, De Agostini, 2003]