Barbie in Australia – the Early Years

Most people are familiar with the story of the Barbie doll.  Launched at the New York Toy Fair on March 9th 1959, the doll was initially shunned by toy buyers, but, marketed to children through a television ad campaign, became a best seller.  The first doll of her kind made for children, in the USA the Barbie doll was without any real competition for the first couple of years, but many competitors and copies were soon on the market.  Adapting and changing with the times, the Barbie doll is the biggest selling doll in history and has cemented its status as a pop culture icon.  However, unlike the USA, the Barbie doll did not have the market to its self in Australia; there was competition almost as soon as it was launched.

The Toy Industry in Australia in the 1950’s and 1960’s was very different to today, where a few huge multinational toy companies dominate the market and almost all toys are manufactured in Asia.  Many local toy companies flourished and a lot of toys were manufactured in Australia.  There were many thriving independent toy shops, large department stores such as Myer and Grace Brothers, newsagents, some chemists and even some milk bars also sold toys.  Discount stores such as G.J. Coles and Co. and Woolworths were also beginning to sell cheaper, good quality toy lines.  Overseas companies wishing to export their products often didn’t do so directly, instead licensing an Australian based company to import and market the toy.  It was in this way that the Barbie doll made her way to Australia.

It was the 18th April 1964 when the Barbie doll was launched at the Toy Fair in Melbourne by Kiddicraft (Aust) Pty. Ltd., the Australian arm of the British company Kiddicraft.  Initially both ponytail and bubble cut dolls were available and sold for 27/6 (roughly $2.75).  Thirty six outfits were also available including, ‘Sheath Sensation’, ‘American Airlines Stewardess’, ‘Solo in the Spotlight’, ‘Career Girl’ and ‘Ski Queen’ ranging in price from 13/9 ($1.40) to 33/6 ($3.50).  An immediate hit, by July, Kiddicraft stated that the dolls were ‘Now selling with sensational success in Australia’.  In fact, the Barbie doll was selling so well internationally, that the Mattel factories could not keep up with demand and Kiddicraft (Aust) Pty. Ltd. found they were unable to supply their customers.  In order to meet the Christmas demand they took the almost unprecedented step of air freighting stock in.

Also in 1964, Cyclops & Lines Bros. (Aust.) Ltd., the Australian branch of the British company Lines Bros which incorporated Pedigree dolls, launched their Sindy doll.  The same price as the Barbie doll and with her own wardrobe of fashions ranging in price from 19/11 ($1.90) to 35/- ($3.50), the Sindy doll was just as popular as the Barbie doll, selling well even before the award winning Sindy television ad campaign had begun.

For many a child and parent, the Sindy doll may have been a more popular choice than the Barbie doll.  In 1964, culturally, Australia was closer to England than to America.  The Barbie doll with her very middle class American wardrobe may not have been as appealing as a doll with British sensibilities and a slightly hipper wardrobe.  The Barbie doll’s mature figure may also have been deemed inappropriate by parents, prompting them instead to buy the less shapely Sindy doll.  Whatever the reasons, both dolls and their wardrobes sold extremely well.

In 1965, dolls were added to both the Barbie doll and Sindy doll ranges, and new competitors entered the fashion doll fray.  The Barbie Wig Wardrobe and Cut and Colour sets (10 guineas) were released, together with the Barbie doll’s best friend Midge (27/6), boyfriend Ken (29/11) and little sister Skipper (27/6) while Barbie’s wardrobe contained fifty fashions as well as Ken and Skipper fashions.  The Sindy doll’s boyfriend Paul (29/11) and his wardrobe joined the Sindy line which was so popular, Cyclops & Lines Bros. (Aust.) Ltd. were unable to meet the demand for dolls, having to also resort to bringing stock in by air freight.

In October 1965, the Little Tuppence doll was launched.  Made by the New Zealand company Lincoln International and distributed through their Australian branch, Little Tuppence was a cute eight inch high fashion doll with her own wardrobe of twelve fashions.  Smaller and more childlike than the Barbie and Sindy dolls but still with a sophisticated wardrobe and accessories, Little Tuppence was an immediate success.  Selling at a slightly lower price than the Barbie and Sindy dolls (25/-, roughly $2.50), her outfits cost from 15/- ($1.50) to 29/11 ($2.90).  Advertised in a TV campaign and in in-store promotions that included girls dressed as the doll, Little Tuppence also sponsored an entire episode of the popular Johnny O’Keefe show ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, and eventually had her own five minute TV show called the ‘Little Tuppence Club’.

BX Plastics (Australia) Pty. Limited released the Tressy doll late in 1965.  Marketed under license, the English company Palitoy version of Tressy was the doll sold here, not the USA American Character Doll Co. doll.  The Tressy doll had a feature that set her apart from other dolls.  A strand of hair could be lengthened or retracted for the ultimate in hair play.  The most expensive of the teenage fashion dolls, Tressy sold for 37/6 ($3.75) while her eleven outfits ranged in price from 17/3 ($1.75) to 31/- ($3).  Heavily advertised before Christmas, Tressy starred in her own thirty second TV commercial.

G.J. Coles and Co. Ltd. stocked the Ideal Tammy doll and the Tina Cassini doll by Ross Products.  The Tammy doll sold for 15/- ($1.50), considerably less than the Sindy doll that she closely resembled.  It’s somewhat ironic, as the Sindy doll was based on the Tammy doll and many collectors see the Sindy doll as an inferior copy.  The Tammy doll had several outfits in her wardrobe which also sold for 15/-.  Tina Cassini, a doll similar in proportion to the Sindy and Tammy dolls, sold for 25/-, while her designer wardrobe was priced at 15/-.  Woolworths stocked Princess Patti, a doll very similar to the Barbie doll but of inferior quality.  Available in 12 different outfits for 7/6 ($0.75), she also had 24 additional outfits at 5/- each ($0.50).  A range of Susie Goose Toys furniture, the perfect scale for teenage fashion dolls was also available.  A four poster bed, wardrobe and dressing table all sold for 50/- ($5).

Kiddicraft introduced bendable leg dolls to the Barbie doll line in 1966.  Their trader ad’s stated: ‘Demonstrate to your customers how the legs operate on a ball joint just like a human leg’.  Barbie ($4 or non-bend leg $2.79), Midge ($4 or non-bend leg $2.79), Ken ($4.25 or non-bend leg $3), Skipper ($2.79), Skooter ($2.79), Ricky ($2.79) and Tutti doll ($2.45 – $4) were all available and new fashions for all were added to the range.  The Sindy doll’s little sister Patch ($2.55), the Tammy doll’s sister Pepper ($1.25) and the Little Tuppence doll’s pal Posing Penny ($2) were also released and outfits were added to all lines.  GJ Coles added the Fifi doll – yet another Barbie doll look alike – to their range of dolls.  Fifi sold for 75 cents and her outfits, many of which were copies of outfits worn by the Barbie, Sindy and Tammy dolls sold for 50 cents.

In 1967, 4 different one minute commercials introduced the new Twist and Turn Barbie and her Mod cousin Francie to Australian children.  Each doll had their own wardrobe of ‘swinging outfits’.  By 1969, Mattel had established Mattel Australia in Melbourne, Victoria and a full range of TNT dolls and their celebrity friend Julia were available.

While not every doll or accessory in the Barbie doll line has been available in Australia, the Barbie doll range has consistently been one of the biggest selling girls toy range here.  Barbie’s early competitors didn’t last long,  most were gone from shelves by 1970, but many more were to be launched in the following decades.  Of all the competitors only the Sindy doll has stood the test of time, surviving in one form or another to the present day, however not all incarnations have been available in Australia.  The Bratz dolls by MGA and launched in 2001 and Mattel’s own Monster High dolls have been the only real competition for the Barbie doll in recent times, but as popular as they are, the Barbie doll is still holding her own, here in Australia and overseas.

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The Barbie doll and her competitors: (from left) Tressy by Palitoy, Skipper, Barbie by Mattel, Little Tuppence (front) by Lincoln International, Sindy, Patch by Pedigree, Tammy, Pepper by Ideal and Tina Cassini by Ross Products.


Quick Post: Celebrity Doll Fix Ups

Every so often a doll comes along and you have to ask, ‘what were they thinking?’ when you look at the way the doll is styled.  The Mattel Grace Kelly Rear Window and Cinderella Lady Tremayne are two such dolls.  Rather than pass them by, I decided to give them a quick and easy make over.

I’m not really a Grace Kelly fan but I love celebrity dolls and this doll is absolutely gorgeous.  However, the hair on mine was atrocious (I ordered it from an overseas dealer, so didn’t get to see it before buying). It looked nothing like Grace Kelly’s hair in Rear Window – and there’s a picture on the box – or in anything else for that matter.  So, it was time for a quick makeover.  Thankfully, it was an easy fix.  I dampened the hair and scraped it back from her head and secured it loosely with a dental band.  Because I hadn’t wet it too much, the gel already in the hair reset and holds the style quite well.  It’s close enough to the style in the movie and the doll looks so much better now.

        Grace Kelly, before and after.  Who thought that original style was a good look?

I love to collect Australian dolls/celebrities, but Cate Blanchett’s hair looked nothing like this doll’s original style in the movie Cinderella. I started by looking for stills from the movie and then set about trying to match them, without having to do too much to the doll.  Once more, I just dampened the hair, then used a dental band, drinking straw and bobby pin curlers to set the hair in a more appropriate style.  Again, the gel already in the hair was enough to hold the set.  It’s not an exact match to the movie, but it’s much, much better than the factory style and much more elegant.  So don’t walk a past a doll that doesn’t look exactly as it should, take the plunge and try restyling.  A doll can be greatly improved with very little effort.

Cinderella Lady Tremayne before and after.  The after is much closer to the style in the movie and much more elegant.

Quick post: International Women’s Day and Barbie’s birthday

Today is International Women’s Day so I thought I’d remember a woman connected to the doll world – Ruth Handler.  Making history by being the creator of the most famous doll in the world – Barbie – Ruth also made history in other ways. She played a huge part in the creation and running of Mattel at a time when women were scarce in the workplace, and when they did hold down jobs, were relegated to the typing pool or tea trolley.  Later in life, she worked to improve the lives of breast cancer survivors by improving prosthetics for those who had had mastectomies. And of course, the doll she created has inspired girls worldwide with slogans such as ‘we girls can do anything!’

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And tomorrow is the Barbie doll’s ‘birthday,’ the day Barbie made her debut at Toy Fair in New York in 1959.  So happy 59th birthday Barbie!

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Miss Colleen

This week I’m looking at another doll that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to research.  Miss Colleen is a cheap fashion doll sold in Australia, and possibly Europe, in the mid 1970’s.  She’s not the same quality as the Barbie or Sindy dolls, she’s what collector’s call a ‘clone’ or ‘copy’, but is an interesting doll nonetheless.  Her body and legs which are roughly the same proportions as the Barbie doll’s, are made from a lightweight hollow plastic, while her arms are a flexible, rubbery vinyl.  Her waist twists but her legs don’t bend.  Her hair is made from a poor quality fibre and is sparsely rooted.  Miss Colleen has three hair colours, brunette, yellow-blonde and a distinctly apricot-blonde.  She has either blue or brown eyes, the blondes mostly having blue, the brunettes mostly brown, but rarer blue eyed brunettes and brown eyed blondes do exist.  What makes her a bit special though, is that her face mould is very similar to that of the Barbie doll’s 1960’s cousin, Francie.


A brown eyed yellow-blonde, blue eyed yellow-blonde doll, blue eyed apricot-blonde and a hair comparison of the two blonde tones.


Two brunette dolls, one tanned with brown eyes and one with the rarer blue eyes.

I received my first Miss Colleen as a Christmas present from a family friend around 1975 or 1976, and although she wasn’t a favourite doll – she just wasn’t the same calibre as my Barbie dolls so only got peripheral roles in my doll play (doll waiting to get her hair done at the salon, customer, etc., never a career of her own) – she was still well taken care of and well loved.  My first dolls were clones too, so no doll was neglected or overlooked.  This doll came in a pale green one piece swimsuit and cream sandals (similar in style to those Mary Quant’s Daisy doll wore) but came with two extra outfit pieces, a pair of white nylon flares and a red and white polka dot sundress.  I haven’t seen a similarly packaged doll since.   The NRFP (never removed from package) dolls that I have come across are sealed in a plastic bubble secured to a card showing a range of Miss Colleen fashions.  Blonde dolls wear a red one-piece swimsuit with white pumps, the brunettes a blue one-piece swimsuit and white pumps.


My original Miss Colleen and extra fashion pieces and two NRFP examples.

My original doll is marked ‘Made in Hong Kong’ across the shoulders, but others may have no markings.  Some of the brunettes, like my original, are quite tanned. I’d love to know if my original doll is perhaps earlier or later than the other dolls, accounting for some of their differences, but there is no company information or copyright date on the packages I’ve seen.

Twelve fashions are pictured on the NRFP examples I’ve seen and together friends and I have eight of them.  However, fashions not pictured have been found packed and labelled ‘Miss Colleen Fashion Outfits’, so the question is, how many other fashions were available? Again there is no company information or date on these packs. I’m also guessing that Miss Colleen’s fashions were sold under several other names as well, which seems to be the norm for clone dolls and fashions.


Some of Miss Colleen’s fashions as shown on her pack.


A Miss Colleen fashion not shown on her pack and a fabric variation of the same outfit.

Being a cheap doll, there was probably no advertising produced for Miss Colleen, but one assumes there must have been trade information and catalogues for ordering these dolls, although I’ve haven’t yet found any in trade publications.  I’d love to find any information about this doll, as well as other packaged outfits and a doll packed with extra outfits, like my original doll.  If you have any information or dolls and fashions, I’d love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment or contact me through the contact page at the very end of my blog.

Tammy Family Repair and Restoration

I thought I’d write a post on repair and restoration and when I started going through before and after photos for it, I realised that several have been on Tammy dolls.  So, here’s a whole post on repair and restoration of Tammy and her family.

I don’t mind if my dolls are not mint.  In fact, I love dolls that have had a life, a previous owner who has loved them a little bit too hard (or a brother that has inflicted some torture), and I’m happy to restore them and if necessary, repair them and bring back their former glory. I’ve been given a few Tammy/family dolls, and have also bought a couple cheaply, that fall into this category.

I was given this Pos’ N Tammy whose head had parted company from her body.  The end part of the neck that fits into the body and holds the head on had torn off, but luckily the neck was still quite long, so I set to thinking.  I decided to try silicone to reattach the head.  I used a general purpose silicone – the sort that’s used to seal around shower bases, etc. – and just put a thick bead around the very end of the neck.  I let it cure for several days until it was completely set.  The silicone was flexible enough that I was then able to force the head (the silicone stayed in place and squeezed through the neck hole) back into the body.  The head still twists and it has been several years since this repair and it’s still holding well.

I bought Tammy’s mum with a couple of other dolls at a very good price.  Mum’s hair was loose and she had a purple ink stain across her face, but I was hopeful of making her lovely again.  I used pimple cream containing benzyl peroxide on the stain.  It was just a matter of applying it very carefully (part of the stain was near her eye so it was important to keep it away from the eye paint) and placing her in the sun for a while (and watching like a hawk, checking every so often to make sure no damage was done).  It faded very quickly, I think it only took a couple of days, with one reapplication of the cream.  I then studied photos of her original hairstyle, did my best to get her hair as close as possible (although it had been slightly trimmed) and she’s gorgeous once again.

This doll came to me as just a head, but I think, by her lip colour and the way the vinyl has faded, she may be the harder-to-find Hong Kong produced Tammy.  She’s also a brunette, so I really wanted to save her.  I eventually found her a body which came with legs, but was missing arms (and unfortunately it’s not a Hong Kong body).  I managed to track down some arms, but they are from a cheaper clone doll, so hopefully they’ll be replaced someday with the real thing.  I then gave her hair a spruce up and set, and although her head, body and arms don’t exactly match, she’s gorgeous and I love her anyway.

This New Pepper came in the lot with mum and she’s had a few hair plugs cut and her face has yellowed slightly.  Rather than re-rooting her (I like to keep restoration and repair to the bare minimum) I decided to just give her a comb over!  I re-styled her hair and set it with glad wrap and warm water.  A good clean, and she’s pert and perky again.

Finally, I was given this lovely girl and all she needed was a good clean and hair reset.  One side of hair looks to have had a slight trim, but once set in the original style, it’s hard to tell.  She has such wonderful, high-colour face paint and now she’s beautiful once more.  So, with a little effort and imagination some gorgeous girls to add to a collection for very little cost.

Magical Mystery Mary Poppins Sindy

I think you’d have a struggle to find anyone who hasn’t seen the Disney movie Mary Poppins, released in 1964, about a magical nanny in London at the turn of the 20th century.  Like most blockbuster movies of today, Mary Poppins had a host of film tie-in merchandise, including books, records and dolls.  One of these dolls is a bit of mystery and I’ve been researching it for over a decade now, without much luck. But let’s start at the start and work our way through to the mystery doll.

Probably the most common of the vintage Mary Poppins dolls is the doll produced by the US firm Horsman Dolls.  This doll was issued as a single 12” doll, a gift-set with extra outfits or in a set with her little 8”charges, Jane and Michael.  Jane and Michael were also sold separately in a two doll set.  There was a re-issue of the single Mary Poppins doll for Horsman’s fiftieth anniversary around 1971.  These Mary Poppins dolls have long, very dark hair tied in a bun at the nape of the neck.  The dolls are marked ‘Horsman 1964’ on the body.  The doll is mostly found wearing the mauve and white day dress, blue coat, blue hat with flower trim, a carpet bag, a mauve umbrella, black stockings, and black shoes, but the extra outfits included a blue striped nursery dress and white apron with Mary Poppins logo on the bib and the white dress with red trim from the ‘Jolly Holiday’ movie scene, white stockings and white shoes.  These dolls and fashions are easily found on online auction sites.

The Horsman dolls and advertisement. Note: Mary’s hat is not original and Jane is missing her socks and original hair ribbon.

In Canada, the Reliable Toy Co. issued several Mary Poppins dolls all using their Tammy doll.  Marked ‘Reliable’ in an oval cartouche and ‘Canada’, across the shoulders, these dolls have long black hair tied in a bun and beautiful high-colour faces.  They were sold in several outfits including a red and white polka dot dress and a red dress, blue coat, white lace scarf, blue hat with red flowers and white lace trim, red bag and white ankle boots.  They’re a little harder to locate, but still can be found on online auction sites.

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The Sindy doll played Mary Poppins for the New Zealand market.  Pedigree/Lines Bros produced the doll exclusively in New Zealand around 1965.  The doll appeared in the 1965 Pedigree catalogue described as: ‘Mary Poppins doll, by arrangement with Walt Disney Productions Incorporated – the doll from the famous film.’  The doll was the basic Sindy doll with either brunette or coffee coloured hair in the usual bob style with red Alice band, but with the hair tied up in such a way as to look like a bun.  The doll came with a blue and white striped working dress, a white apron with Mary Poppins logo printed on the bib, black stockings, black shoes, a lilac ‘good’ dress, a blue hat with floral trim, a blue coat and a carpet bag.  Some of these items are identical to those issued by Horsman.  Her box reads ‘Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins Complete with working dress and apron By Pedigree’ along the side and ‘Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins Sole N.Z. licensee Lines Bros. (N.Z.) Ltd. Panmure’ on the end.  These dolls are quite hard to find and command a good price when they do come up for sale.

And that brings us to the mystery doll.  This Sindy-style Mary Poppins doll has been found in Australia but as yet is unidentified.  Quite different to both the New Zealand doll and the Horsman doll, the doll uses the Sindy doll head and body but with very long dark brunette hair.  This doll has a hollow pink vinyl body marked ‘MADE IN HONG KONG’ in the small of the back.  The head is smaller than the standard vintage Sindy head and is made from a very hard, creamy pink vinyl. The head may be faintly marked ‘Made in England’. The eyebrows and the lashes painted at the corner of her eyes are a very dark brown.  The lips are a deep coral pink and all these dolls have very bright rosy cheek blush.  The hair is almost black in colour and falls well down to the dolls buttocks.  On unplayed-with dolls, the hair is twisted into a bun at the nape of the doll’s neck.  The doll’s outfit is very different to that of the other Mary Poppins dolls, an ankle length red and cream striped short sleeved dress with an umbrella logo and ‘Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins’ printed in red, on the length of a cream apron.  She wears black stockings and black lace up shoes.  A collector who played with this doll as a child also remembers the doll having an umbrella and a hat.

So far, no boxed or even complete doll has been located so a full list of accessories and the doll’s manufacturer remain unknown.  However, in the book ‘Collector’s Guide to Celebrity Dolls’ by David Spurgeon (Collector Books ISBN 1-57432-243-5) a 19” doll with soft body and vinyl head is pictured wearing a similar dress and an apron with the same logo as the Australian doll.  This doll is listed as having no markings and the maker is unknown.  An old Joy Toys trade ad shows a bed doll in a similar outfit.  As Lines Bros.  (Pedigree doll’s parent company) part owned Joy Toys at the time, it is my theory that these dolls were a joint venture between Lines/Pedigree and Joy Toys.  There was a Pedigree factory located in Melbourne so perhaps these Mary Poppins Sindy dolls were produced here, exclusively for the Australian market.  If anyone has any information on these mysterious Marys or a boxed example, please let me know.  (See contact form at the end of this blog or hit the comment button.)

Quick Post: Gong Hey Fat Choy

It’s Chinese New Year, or if you prefer Lunar New Year, and what doll is more appropriate than a dragon?  Monster High Jinafire Long is the perfect doll to celebrate this occasion.  May the year of the dog be a good one for you. Happy New Year!

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