Collecting Ken- Its a Guy Thing
Male fashion dolls have been around for a long time. One of the first popular ones in the U.S. was Buddy Lee. This ground breaking little guy modeled many work uniforms and outfits for Lee Jeans and other companies from the late 20s to the early 60s. Originally used as gifts to businesses or as "point of purchase" displays, they were later marketed and sold to children as playthings.
In the late 50s Vogue Dolls introduced an older teenaged brother for their Ginny doll named Jeff (11") . This baby-faced doll had a wide array of period fashions to choose from. He was not a very popular doll for the company and was retired in 1960.
Then in 1961, Mattel introduced a boyfriend for their wildly popular Barbie doll and the world first met Ken doll. With the exception of 1968, he has been an important part of the line since his inception. That was the only year that Mattel did not release a new Ken doll. That was only because he was being redesigned to reflect the more realistic tastes and fitness-minded esthetics of the late 60s.
Since then, male fashion dolls have come and gone. There was Megos Broadway Joe Namath with his wild Mod outfits. Other companies had short-lived boyfriends for their 11.5 " female dolls.
Tuesday Taylor had her beefy beach bum Eric, Tammy had her brother Ted, boyfriend Bud and her Dad, Lisa Littlechap had her hubby Dr. John, Sindy had her Paul and Toppers Dawn and her 6" friends had 4 groovy guys to choose from. Mattel has had male dolls with interchangeable clothes in many of their other lines including The Sunshine Family, The Hearts and the Rockflowers to name a few.
In 1964 Hasbro saw the need for a boys doll with interchangeable military uniforms, outfits and accessories and invented the "action figure" G.I. Joe "Americas movable fighting man!" Like Ken doll, this guy has also stood the test of time and can still be found on toy shelves in almost every corner of the world. Other male action figure style dolls of note are Ideals Captain Action, Megos Action Jackson, Johnny Hero, and the varied series of 12" molded plastic figures by Marx.
Male celebrity dolls have also had short runs over the past 30 years. Some of these have had extra fashions made for them as well. Michael Jackson, Andy Gibb, Donny and Jimmy Osmond, Robin Williams as Mork, Hammer, Star Wars 12" dolls, The Six Million Dollar Man, Sony Bono and Megos KISS dolls all have reflected the fashion looks of the music and movie industries.
With Barbies beau celebrating his 40th. Anniversary this year, more and more collectors are turning their interest to the worlds "longest running" male fashion doll. Many male collectors are entering the hobby who have memories of him as a child or who appreciate the fine design, tailoring and historical representation of the vintage, later and newer Mattel collectible fashions.
One of the most visited and well-developed doll sites on the net is indeed devoted to "Keeping Ken".
Ken doll collector Jef Beck maintains this intensely fun, entertaining and educational website. Jef has also written the recent series on Ken dolls history for Barbie Bazaar Magazine. I snagged Jef after his trip to the National Barbie Convention and we talked about his interest in Ken doll and his perceptions the hobby.
MC: How did you first become interested in collecting Ken dolls?
JB: I started collecting Ken in early 1998, and more so in 1999 after the press started to report about Barbie doll's 40th Anniversary. It made me reflect back on having Ken dolls as a little boy. It triggered something inside of me to recapture those memories of playing with Ken as a child.
The first thing I did was try to locate a picture of the first Ken doll I remember having on Christmas day of 1969. It was the "New Good Lookin' Ken". It was my sister Brenda's present that year. I got a Mattel "Big Jim" as my Christmas present but I liked her Ken doll better. It was a vivid memory, so it wasn't long before I found a picture on an eBay auction. This particular doll was NRFB and a bit pricey because of the one-of-a-kind body mold used (things you discover later as a collector), so I ended up buying a loose doll with the same 1968 head mold for half the price. I finally did locate and purchase this version in 2001. He is also a loose doll (not in box) and was pricey.
Most Ken collectors know that this Ken is more valuable since it is a "one-of-a-kind" version. This body mold is called a "Pink Bendable Leg", and is used only on this doll. He wears a mustard-colored nylon Nehru style shirt open to the waist and multi-color nylon batik print shorts.
Interesting is the box he is packaged in. It is similar to the Bendable Leg Ken box, but without the lid and is shrink-wrapped in plastic for a wide-open feel. A sticker is attached on the front to the shrink-wrap with the name. The New Good Lookin Ken was also available as part of a Gift Set exclusive to Sears. The Gift Set Red White & Wild #1589 (Box Date 1969) has Ken dressed in the original outfit plus another separately carded outfit to dress him in.
MC: What do you find compelling about Ken dolls?
JB: After doing quite a bit of research, I discovered that there was no information on Ken. It intrigued me that there was an "overload" of Barbie information and none on Ken. How could this doll, which has only been around two years less than Barbie, not be just as important or as collectible?
I found it interesting that a NRFB #1 Barbie doll from 1959 could sell for $5000+, and a #1 flock hair Ken from 1961 was selling for $250. I figured it was a smart investment to start collecting before his 40th Anniversary in 2001. I felt other collectors would start to realize this. It became a personal crusade to bring the Ken doll out of Barbie doll's shadow as a viable collector doll. Ken doll's 40th Anniversary in 2001 became the target date for me.
Imagine a team sport event and place yourself on the "away team". This is the first season for the away team who, because of lack of exposure, are termed the "underdogs". Ken collectors are the "underdogs" but are on a winning streak.
To answer the question simply, I find Ken compelling because he is like an undiscovered collecting entity. The field is so fresh and new! Prices are still low, but are now skyrocketing as the team plays each season. Many Ken doll versions I purchased just two years ago have doubled or in some cases tripled in price as more Ken doll collectors join the team.
Personally I make it a rule to be collector specific. I don't collect Barbie simply because I want a manageable collection. It is imaginable to achieve my goal of having every version of Ken produced. It would be impossible to do that with Barbie.
I also collect Ken simply because he was the childhood toy I remember most. Collecting to me is recapturing your childhood memories. Barbie didn't play as big a role as Ken did in my childhood, and she still doesn't today as an adult. I do have some Barbie's, but they are paired with Ken in Gift Sets. Often people will send me Barbie dolls or I receive them as gifts because people assume that collecting Ken must involve Barbie. Not so in my opinion. I would much rather receive a Ken doll than a Barbie doll!
I wish Mattel would realize that Ken has a larger following that they think he does. The average Ken collector has Barbie as part of their collection, so my collection does not follow the norm. On the other hand, a true Barbie collector usually doesn't include Ken in their collection. If he is there he is usually the "token escort". This is really the only division between the Barbie vs. Ken collector.
Many Ken collectors collect more for the enjoyment of it since Ken is seldom seen in the higher end Barbie Collectibles. The average Ken collector follows the collecting creed "collect what you like"; not collect what is popular.
Mattel is finally integrating Ken into the Barbie Collectibles line, which is making the Barbie collector realize that he does have a considerable collectibles factor. This is great news to the Ken collector because we are finally seeing great Ken products being produced with us in mind.
MC: Where are some of the places one can find Ken dolls to add to a collection.
JB: The typical places like online auctions, doll shows, doll bulletin boards and garage sales. The National Barbie Convention, which is held each year, is also a great place because it is more specific.
MC: As a collector, what do you look for when deciding to make a purchase?
JB: First, I had to decide what type of collector I was. NRFB (Never Removed From Box), MIB (Mint In Box) or OOB (Out Of Box or "loose"). I am all three types and I always collect at least one NRFB Ken doll version. I usually like to have a loose version to examine.
The second thing I do is determine value. If you buy from an established doll dealer, remember the dealer must make a profit. It may be best to buy from a reputable dealer especially when buying Vintage Ken items. I have found several doll dealers I trust for Vintage items, and don't mind paying a higher amount because I know the item will be authentic.
Of course you can still find Vintage items at lower prices if you teach yourself about the item you are looking for. Coming prepared with knowledge is one of the most important things involved in a purchase.
MC: What do you consider the hardest to locate items?
JB: As far as the actual dolls go, vintage Dressed Box Ken dolls are the most expensive and hard to find. These were released between 1963 and 1965 and can range in price from $400-$650 on the secondary market. There are 14 known versions that are dressed in a Mattel Ken outfit. Known outfits used are Campus Hero, Casuals, Dr. Ken, Fraternity Meeting, Holiday, King Arthur, Prince, Sailor, Ski Champion, Time for Tennis and Touchdown. Also Ken in Holland, Mexico and Switzerland.
I think there is a tie between the most expensive (and HTF) secondary market value Ken costumes. One is 1965's "Here Comes The Groom" #1426. Here Comes The Groom #1426 was available 1966-1967 and was made to compliment Barbie's "Here Comes The Bride" #1665. The outfit features black zippered pants with white pinstripes. The gray tuxedo jacket with tails has a half lining with a fabric white flower attached to the lapel. The white wing tipped collar shirt was dressed with a gray fleece double-breasted vest with white buttons. This was finished with a gray silk ascot with elastic band with pearl. The accessories included black socks, black shoes, gray plastic top hat and gray plastic flocked gloves.
The second costume has to be 1966's "Business Appointment" #1424. Business Appointment #1424 was available 1966-1967 and is considered rare. It has a navy/white tweed overcoat with navy buttons and navy lining. The rest of the accessories included two vinyl black gloves and the black vinyl functional briefcase. Also included were a black felt hat and a miniature copy of the Mattel Daily newspaper.
MC: Do you have any favorite items in your own collection
JB: My Favorite Ken version is my "memory" Ken "New Good Looking Ken" (1969)
The first Ken I collected was "Earring Magic Ken" (1992)
Favorite "swim line" Ken "Sun Jewel Ken" (1993)
Most interesting Ken I have found is the Olimpico Ken (Venezuela 1988)
First African American Ken "Sunsational Malibu Ken" (1982)
Fastest and best selling Ken "Harley Davidson Ken (1998)
First ethnic Ken "Hawaiian Ken" (1978).
MC: Can you offer any advice to new folks interested in starting a collection of Ken dolls? Any pitfalls to watch out for?
JB: One thing you have to remember that Ken is a toy developed for a core consumer. The Pink Box Play line is developed for little girls and is where Ken is most represented. His appearance in the Barbie Collectibles line is geared mainly for the adult collector. You have to like the "Pink Box" Barbie play line dolls!
If you are just starting to collect you may want to start your collection with something specific like an era or head mold or maybe even starting a Ken clothing collection. Buy what you like, not what you think you need at first to eventually round out your collection.
Be wary of online auctions, which use words like "recalled", "banned", or charge ridiculous shipping charges. While certainly easier and less time consuming, online auctions are nothing compared to an actual doll show where you can see most everything close up and have the chance to barter!
MC: Has the Internet changed the way you collect?
JB: Yes, the Internet has provided an easier outlet to mass a collection faster, and the bulk of my personal collection has been from online auctions. I still attend doll shows in my area, but find the number of doll shows has dwindled recently. I think the Internet has helped reputable doll dealers to showcase what they have available easier and faster. It also provides quicker communication between doll collectors.
MC: Can you tell us about your website and Ken series in Barbie Bazaar?
JB: I published Keeping Ken [http://www.manbehindthedoll.com] in August 1999. I started the website at first to showcase, and more importantly, keep track of my collection. I spent a long time collecting information and created an encyclopedia for collectors to identify their Ken dolls by providing model numbers, box dates, original costume descriptions and pictures of every Ken doll ever produced from 1961-present.
After I unveiled the website, I noticed that there was a collector base for Ken "shadowed" by Barbie collectors. The site became more of a proving ground to bring Ken from the "accessory" stage and out of the shadows. With Ken doll's 40th Anniversary, the Ken collector base has exploded tri-fold just since 1999. You may notice that on my updated value page that the most obvious increase in secondary market value is in Ken dolls available in the very recent past. Notably, Ken dolls box dated 1997-1999. While the dollar amount may seem minimal, the percentage of increase tells the story.
While analyzing these results, I attribute two major factors in their increase. One is supply and demand. There was simply not enough supply to meet the demand of each version made by Mattel; for collector or consumer. I base this assumption by the supply available (especially during peak sales times). I also attribute it to the growing Ken collector base. The Ken collector base is growing at a steady pace. Most new collectors are adding these recent dolls to start their collections. I did the same when I started to collect. It was easier to find the recent Ken dolls, then start dabbling in the other Eras.
I think it is harder for the new Ken collector to find these "old stock" Ken dolls in stores like I did. So the new collector must resource other areas like eBay, which drives prices higher. Some words of advice: "Buy it now". Unless Mattel increases production of Ken vs., Barbie dolls (which seems unlikely) I can only see this trend continue. My articles for Barbie Bazaar magazine became a natural extension for content considering that 2001 brought Ken doll's 40th Anniversary. I chose to submit my articles for consideration to them because I respect the magazine and the publishers. My articles basically take you through every domestic (and some foreign edition) versions of Ken.
I provide more content than I do on the website by including what was happening during the production dates and provide more detail about each version. It also gave me an opportunity to showcase, in photography, the Ken dolls out of their boxes. This added a great feel to the articles.