Here at the Neville Public Museum we care for an extensive doll collection. This collection houses dolls from around the world including Barbie dolls. The Barbies in our collection range in date from the 1950s through the 1990s. Through time the materials used to make barbies changed. Here are a few examples from our collection.
This Barbie was received as a gift from the Neville Public Museum Corporation. It was purchased from Georgia Rankin, a Barbie collector from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in the 1960s. The black and white swimsuit worn by the doll is the original outfit traditionally worn by dolls manufactured from 1959-1961.
This picture shows one of the newer Barbies in our collection. It's a part of the Hollywood Legends Collection/Collector's Edition and represents Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.
Although both of these dolls were manufactured by the same company, they were created using different materials. This means we have to care for these dolls in different ways. Glinda the Good Witch was manufactured in the 1990s and was donated in her original box. The change in plastic used in manufacturing allows us to store the doll in regular collections storage.
The Barbie from Georgia Rankin is not stored with the other dolls in our collection; she is actually stored in collections cold storage with lower humidity. This is because the doll was made using earlier plastics.
The plastics used for Barbie dolls manufactured in the 1950s and early 1960s used PVC, which is brittle. In order to make Barbie flexible, they added a plasticizer when the doll was being molded. As these dolls age, the plasticizer can ooze out of the doll and form a tacky slime across the surface. This is why some dolls can appear to be wet. Warm and humid environments can cause the oozing to occur earlier. By storing some of our Barbies in cold storage we are able to slow this process and preserve them longer.
James Peth, Research Technician