Bild-Lilli : The Original Blonde Bombshell
What do you give the Barbie collector who has everything? If you had
about $2000 to spend, you might try a Bild-Lilli doll. This sultry German
bombshell was the inspiration for Mattels well-heeled supermodel.
She was based on a sexy post-war cartoon character that appeared in
the German newsletter Bild.
When you look at a Lilli doll alongside an original 1959 Barbie doll,
the exaggerated figures, ponytail hairdos and vivid makeup make the
family resemblance undeniable.
One seasoned Barbie collector who has fallen under the spell of these
European beauties is Patrick McGovern of New York City. As a longtime
collector of and published expert in vintage Barbie dolls, he has seen
some of the most beautiful fashion dolls in the world. He has written
for various magazines and his dolls were the subject of and models for
the stunning photography book "Barbie Millicent Roberts" by
Lately he has turned his attention to Bild-Lilli. I visited with him
this week and we had a great time talking about his latest collecting
fascination and looking at some of the examples in his collection. Patrick
is expressive when talking about the dolls in his collection and he
speaks with the authority of a collector has gathered his information
carefully and with a passion for his subject.
MC: I imagine that you first became interested in Bild-Lilli because
of Barbie. Can you tell me a little about that?
PM: Right. Well, when I first started collecting Lilli, it was around
the time it was verified that she was the predecessor to Barbie and
it seemed that every advanced Barbie collector had to have one
to have a complete collection. So, I got one
I really like it,
and I was happy just to have one. Time went on and I continued collecting
vintage Barbie and I got more and more stuff. Well, once in a while
you get bored with it, kind of like youve seen everything? One
day I noticed one was up for auction in Japan and it had not met reserve.
So I called the owner and offered her a trade. Well, I got the doll
and she was in the original packaging tube
and I realized
hey, these are really cool. So that started me collecting Lilli. It
was a change from Barbie after twenty-plus years of collecting. Plus,
it was a high-quality doll and I had not seen everything. There were
still surprises. Then over the years, I would get in and out of Lilli
and just recently, I have started getting back into it again.
MC: I have noticed that Lilli seems to be getting hotter right now.
Is that the case?
PM: Yes. Lilli is more popular right now than she has ever been. The
prices have gone up to $700-$1200 for an average doll with exceptional
examples commanding twice that. By exceptional, I mean pretty.
MC: I know you look for beauty when you decide on a doll purchase. What
do you find compelling about Lilli?
PM: OK, the thing with Lillis are the "high color" Lillis.
I like that. Another thing is in the hand painting of them. Some have
small lips that look puckered-like they are sucking on a lemon. A lot
of those arent that pretty. They have sexiness to them because
of the look, the stiletto heels. She was initially made as a mans
novelty gift. But even though they were created with a sexy look, they
can be very hard and tough looking. I just prefer the prettier, softer
looking examples. I have found that the later ones seem to be a little
bit softer. By this time they had become play dolls for children. These
Lillis are pinker in skin tone. Lillis came in all shades
tan to pink. But these later ones are very pink. They usually have fuller,
softer, rounder lips. These tend to be the later Lillis
the end of the line. The pinker ones were more attractive to little
girls and the company could make more money than if it was just a mans
gag gift. And of course, the little girl would want more and more clothes.
Also, for every doll that came in a tube (Lillis came packaged in see-through
plastic display tubes), there were two versions
the small 7"
and the larger, Barbie sized Lilli. The same outfits would come on both
sizes, but these outfits were also available separately in both sizes
later on. The sexier outfits with the plunging necklines and skintight
pants were the earlier outfits because they were marketed toward adult
men. The later outfits are where you see the nurse outfits, the stewardess
uniform, the ballerina costumes and little ski outfits.
MC: If these were made in Germany, they cannot be that easy to find.
How does one go about locating a Lilli dolls?
PM: They were initially sold in Germany but they were also exported
to other countries as well. Usually, the dolls that were sold in Germany
came with a stand that said "Bild-Lilli". The ones that were
exported generally had a stand that just read "Lilli". They
were sold in Italy and Sweden and perhaps in other European countries.
Believe it or not, some were even imported to America. Ive seen
a Lilli that was sold in a high-end store, Marshall Fields I think,
and her stand read "Lilli Marlene". She was a brunette (most
Lilli dolls are blondes). Even still, Lillis are very hard to find.
They are made of a very fragile plastic and they break easily. They
really werent meant to be played with. The makeup (face paint)
rubs off very easily with water and a rag. . You couldnt bring
these gals into the bathtub and their hair was definitely not meant
to be played with. The wigs are made of mohair. At one point they were
going to root the dolls, but they changed their mind. There really isn't
much you can do with the hair anyway. You could put it up, but thats
about it. Some Lillis have longer hair and some shorter.
MC: You obviously arent going to stumble over one of these at
the flea market.
PM: Actually, a friend of mine found one at her flea market for $3 in
a bin of old dolls. She was well played with, but they are out there.
Not many, but some were brought back from people vacationing in Europe.
Thing is, when you do find them, they have a lot of problems. They are
strung very tightly and the plastic can crack. They often have stress
cracks on the arms. The thumb breaking off is a very common problem.
They made accessories for the doll like tennis racquets, but when you
tried to put it in her hand, the thumb would break off. The dolls just
break very easily.
MC: So, aside from breakage and overall condition, what are some of
the things you look for in a Lilli doll when you are shopping for one?
PM: One of the charming things about Lillis is that their makeup is
hand painted. And its not perfect. You could look at the most
mint Lilli you have in a tube and you will find the lips arent
completely even on each side, theres a little indentation, maybe
a bit of paint misplaced. Almost always, the eyeliner appears to be
a little crude.
MC: That must provide for lots of variations in the dolls. Much like
PM: Right, each Lilli looks very different. Most of them have a certain
thin, wispy brow, but I have seen them with brows that almost meet in
the middle because the line is so long. But, you will know an original
Lilli brow when you see it because it is very hard to repaint the brows
on that doll. Lillis also have hand painted lips. Even though I am a
"picky" collector, I will accept a few "less than perfect"
things with Lilli because they are so hard to find and even harder to
find mint. Ill accept a touchup on a lip because she was hand
painted anyway. . I would have more problems buying a Lilli without
brows than without lips, as it would be a lot harder to duplicate the
brow paint. You dont want to call attention to the restoration
of a doll.
There always seems to be some little area that is missing original paint.
You can clean up Lilli dolls pretty well. If their hair is a mess, it
restyles and smoothes into place much easier than a vintage Barbies
MC: What are some of the harder to find Lilli items?
PM: Everything Lilli is hard to find. Its very difficult to find
her clothes. They were not mass-produced like Barbie outfits. Ive
been lucky that I have friends overseas who will let me know about auctions
or if they find something. Its much easier to find Lilli clothes
in Germany and Sweden. Its still hard but easier than it is here.
MC: What about the dolls themselves? Are most of them blondes?
PM: Right, most are blondes. Then there are people who say a few brunettes
and redheads were made as prototypes. I dont think these are prototypes.
I think they were just made in lesser quantities. But. Predominately,
the dolls are blonde. The redheads could also be oxidized brunettes.
MC: What about documentation of these dolls? With Barbie we have the
old Mattel catalogs to go from and the countless collector books on
PM: A good starting point would be "Barbie-The First 30 Years"
by Stephanie Deutch. She has a large group of Lillis in that book. If
you are lucky enough to know someone who has one of the original Lilli
catalogs, many of the outfits are pictured in there. The Swedish distributor
Brio, published catalogs that also showed Lillis outfits year
by year from 1955-63. Also, when you find a Lilli outfit, it will usually
have snaps that were not used by any other manufacturer. They are unique
"press snaps" that are marked PRYM. However, there were some
Lilli outfits made that did not have any snaps at all. In this case,
the seasoned Lilli collector can look at the quality, tailoring and
stitching of the garment.
MC: So whats your favorite item in your collection?
PM: Its the first Lilli I ever got. Its a pink Lilli dressed
in a little yellow outfit. I didnt know it at the time how exceptional
she was until I really started collecting Lillis and realized she still
is the prettiest Lilli I own. Maybe I got spoiled by the first Lilli,
but that is my favorite outfit too. I have a Lilli chair that I really
like. Ive seen different colors of them, but this one is a unique
embossed 1950s salmon-pink colored vinyl. Its very cool.
MC: What other accessories were made for Lilli?
PM: Not many. There is that "butterfly" 50s chair, the Steiff
dogs which have been found with "mint in tube" Lillis. Nobody
seems clear about how that partnering came about. It is not clear if
3M Doll Company (the makers of Lilli) made the chairs. There was a simple
wooden swing that was made for Lilli. It is speculated that these were
used to display her swinging in a car window or from the dashboard.
And there is a vinyl case that was made by 3M Doll Company and shown
in the catalogs that could be used to hold a doll and her fashions.
MC: How has the Internet changed Lilli doll collecting?
PM: The Internet has opened up the Lilli field to everyone now. Its
easier to find stuff now. EBay has brought a lot more to the market
place. However the competition is very fierce. Ive noticed a real
increase in the interest in Lillis. Its a double-edged sword.
Now you can find the stuff, but there are a few collectors who seem
to be on a mission to own everything and they are willing to bid astronomical
prices. So, its actually not easier to collect them because it
is no longer affordable. Lilli prices are higher than ever right now.
MC: Are the smaller 7" Lillis in the same price range as the large
PM: While they are popular, the small ones do not seem to have the intense
interest as the larger ones. So, they are priced less as a rule.
MC: What about the outfits? Is there a range of prices?
PM: For a simple, common outfit like a shorts set or cotton Capri pants
with pullover and belt, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400-$500.
Something more elaborate like a gown might go for up to $700. As far
as the dolls
the range for an average, nude Lilli is $800-$1200.
An exceptional dressed Lilli can command $2000 and up. MC: Thanks for
all the great insights Pat. Obviously, this is an expensive doll to
collect. Any advice to offer someone who may want to add one to their
PM: Save money. Just kidding. Actually, a beginning collector should
consider a flawed and less expensive doll. One with a lip rub can be
professionally touched up. Because these dolls are hard plastic, a good
doll restoration artist can also fix plastic cracks and even replace
broken thumbs so the repair is virtually undetectable. Even examples
that look a mess can be restored to look beautiful.
All dolls and outfits photographed for this interview are from the collection
of Patrick McGovern.