For Cindy Hammerquist, the Barbies in the basement are collecting more than dust; the Huntington resident once sold a vintage Barbie for $4,000. As recent as July, she sold a ’60s Barbie Ponytail No. 3 for $1,250, though she says filling the lower level of her home with hundreds of the Mattel dolls isn’t just about the money.
The emotional connect to the doll started early on for Hammerquist, now 50. “I wanted to grow up and wear tight spandex pants and drive the same car,” as Barbie, she says, recalling the Barbie Dreamhouse with the Corvette she received in 1980.
As a young adult, she found herself in a lackluster job where she realized that, “I felt more bliss rearranging Barbie’s on my shelf.” She began subscribing to Barbie collector magazines, joining Barbie clubs and attending National Barbie Doll Collectors conventions — (“It’s like a fever dream,” she says) — where she’s happily made wonderful, like-minded friends.
Hammerquist isn’t alone in her obsession: Barbie’s popularity is undeniable. According to data from Mattel, more than 100 dolls are purchased in 150 countries every minute.
Barbie, unveiled in 1959, first sold for $3, per
Mattel. She’s now on eBay for $9,300.
And like Hammerquist, she’s not one to be stuck in the same boring, old job for long. Since her inception, Barbie has embarked upon more than 250 careers including firefighter, CEO, pilot, president, journalist, surgeon and video game developer.
Despite her current fame, there were plenty of naysayers when the beloved doll was first unveiled at the New York Toy Fair in 1959 by Ruth Handler, one of Mattel’s founders. Some thought she was downright scandalous. Up until then, the market was cornered by baby and childlike dolls and then along came this saucy gal with a curvaceous figure who broke the mold.
It’s said after watching her own daughter Barbara (Barbie’s namesake) play with more adult paper dolls, Handler intuitively believed that girls would find Barbie aspirational and that she would ignite their imaginations.
Even today, that seems to be true.
From little girls to more mature types, Barbara Millicent Roberts (Barbie’s full name) holds an enduring appeal. And with Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie debuting on July 21, the time was right to reach out to a few Long Island Barbie lovers to learn why.
The Barbie expert: Cindy Hammerquist, 50, Huntington
“Barbie is my job, actually all vintage dolls are my job,” says Hammerquist whose company Fab City Toys (@fabcitytoys), specializes in vintage Barbie, dolls and toys.
Along with an eBay site, Hammerquist sells to Rosie’s Vintage in Huntington, where recently a large collection of her old school Barbies was scooped up by a delighted collector. “Dolls are a work of art and they deserve to make as much money as baseball cards and sports memorabilia but aren’t quite as big a deal,” she explains.
She buys much of her inventory at estate sales and via direct calls where she gets pleasure from learning about the doll’s background. “I can see through the condition they’re in how they were played with. You’ll open a little purse and find money in it or a written note.”
So beloved are her vintage Barbies that her first instinct when Superstorm Sandy hit was “to pack them up with all their clothes . . . all the important stuff.”
And she can articulate why she thinks many love the doll. “Life in miniature is therapeutic. It’s a little bit of the world you can control, and moving stuff around is therapeutic.”
Barbie is a fantasy. She’s rich, she’s got all the clothes, she’s got Ken and she’s gorgeous.”
— Cindy Hammerquist, of Huntington
While she sells plenty, Hammerquist says, “I allow myself to keep one of each thing. I have a small, but really special collection.” In her basement, there’s a permanent ‘80s-style disco party set up n an A-frame Barbie Dreamhouse (circa 1979). It’s coed with plenty of tuxedo-clad Kens (one in gold brocade) and multiple Barbies dressed in mod, high fashion looks — stuff that folks in real-life would covet.
And speaking of parties, Hammerquist snagged the last four tickets to the “Barbie Blowout Party” at the AMC Diamond Cinema in East Northport where she and her family will get early access to the Barbie movie on July 19.
Is she excited? “Oh, yes!”
The best-selling Barbie was the
1992 Totally Hair Barbie, according to Mattel.
The Barbie cabinet: Patricia Cudak, 78, East Patchogue
A latecomer to Barbie, Cudak started collecting Barbies when she was 45, and now owns about 25 (and one Ken) though she had to sell about a dozen before downsizing to a condo.
“When I was a girl, my sister had them but I was too old to play with Barbie. But they were just so pretty,” she says. As an adult, she decided, “I can play with Barbie no matter how old I am.”
When she spotted them for sale at toy store FAO Schwarz, then located at Roosevelt Field, she couldn’t resist. “They just grabbed me. I saw them and just fell in love with them. I think she made the world a better place for women, and made little girls think more about what they want to do when they grow up. I thought about that even when I was younger — they showed her as a doctor or a vet, and you never heard anything about that then.”
Today, overnight visitors to Cudak’s home will stay in “The Barbie Suite” which houses all her special dolls in a curio cabinet. “Sometimes, I walk into the room and say, ‘Good morning’ to them,” she says, laughing.
Among her best-loved: Amelia Earhart Barbie (Cudak took flying lessons); Maya Angelou Barbie; Bob Mackie Barbie, the Vera Wang Bridal Barbie, Motorcycle Barbie and Queen Elizabeth (“I really respected her,” says Cudak, “although the doll looks more like Helen Mirren.” Also on display, the Barbie Christian Louboutin shoe collection and much more. She plans to add the Down syndrome Barbie to the posse as well.
But truth told, her most precious Barbie of all is not a collectors’ item. One Mother’s Day decades ago, Cudak heard her two daughters, “laughing and carrying on like maniacs in their room.” Turns out they were hard at work customizing an “inexpensive” Barbie to look like their mom. “They knew I loved Barbie, so they gave her a haircut, and because my hair was starting to change color put streaks in her hair with some kind of pen, added sunglasses and made little shopping bags.”
Cudak was extremely touched. “I was so surprised and happy. I think I cried. They know that to this day, that’s my favorite Barbie.”
Barbie aims to be the “most diverse doll” on the market, per Mattel.
Generations of Barbie lovers: Grandma Cathy Borruso, 61, mom Teresa Gabriel, 36, and daughters Eva, 8 and Layla, 6, Commack
Growing up, Gabriel and her sister had plenty of basic Barbies and loved playing with them. But her mom, Cathy Borruso, 61, was a huge fan of collector-edition Barbies along with Barbie holiday ornaments. These according to Gabriel, “sat unopened on a shelf staring at me.”
When she had her daughter Eva, Borruso as a doting grandma, loosened the rules and according to Gabriel said, “Go ahead and open them.”
There’s a major Barbie craze at the Gabriel house with a basement playroom filled with about 100 Barbies, along with Ken, Skipper and Chelsea, and “every kind of vehicle … helicopters, ambulances, cars,” says Mom. And she approves.
I love how it has changed with the generations and now it makes girls see that they can be anything, from a sports star to an astronaut. They literally never get sick of playing with them.”
— Teresa Gabriel, 36, of Commack
So enamored of Barbie is Layla, that she requested a Barbie-themed bash for her last birthday. Her mom owns A Latte Fun, an indoor play cafe in Huntington Station, and was delighted to oblige. Clever grandma fashioned a life-size Barbie box (a perfect fit for Layla) and baked a homemade cake, complete with a real Barbie inserted in the middle, ensconced in a frosted ruffle skirt.
As for the girls’ thoughts on the icon? Eva likes, “her accessories, her little phones, bags and shoes.” And she enjoys playing with mom and grandma, who “help us brush their hair and change outfits to make them ‘fashiony.’” Layla found career inspiration from “veterinarian Barbie. She has a cat, dog, hamster, turtle and an orange dress,” explains the girl. Should Layla embark on that career, she says she will care for, she says, “pandas.”