UK

First edition Barbie among ‘rare’ items to go on display at museum exhibition

The special piece, which dates back to 1959, will be displayed alongside more than 180 ‘rare, unique and innovative’ dolls.

Exhibition curator Danielle Thom holds first edition Barbie doll
Exhibition curator Danielle Thom holds a first edition Barbie doll Exhibition curator Danielle Thom holds first edition Barbie doll (James Manning/PA)

A rare, first edition Barbie is to go on display at an upcoming Design Museum exhibition which will mark the 65th anniversary of the world-famous doll.

The special piece, which dates back to 1959, will be displayed alongside more than 180 “rare, unique and innovative” dolls.

Barbie: The Exhibition, which will run from July 5 to February 23 2025, will seek to tell the story of the brand and how it has impacted culture throughout the decades.

Exhibition curator Danielle Thom holds a rare first edition Barbie doll
Barbie: The Exhibition Exhibition curator Danielle Thom holds a rare first edition Barbie doll (James Manning/PA)

A one-of-a-kind talking Barbie prototype and the popular Totally Hair version are also among the more than 250 items that will be on display, as well as Barbie outfits, accessories and dreamhouses.

Barbie was first launched in 1959 after its creator Ruth Handler wanted to craft a different narrative for her daughter Barbara.

This exhibition will look back to this inception point as well as considering the story of Barbie through a design lens including fashion, architecture, furniture and vehicle design.

The first edition doll that will be on is display – known by collectors as the “Number 1 Barbie” — is now highly sought after.

It sees the classic blonde Barbie in a black-and-white bathing suit and features holes in the feet where it would have been fixed to a stand.

Visitors will be able to see the doll close-up alongside archival footage of the first Barbie TV commercial from 1959.

Dolls, dresses and dreamhouses will go on display at the Design Museum exhibition
Barbie: The Exhibition Dolls, dresses and dreamhouses will go on display at the Design Museum exhibition (James Manning/PA)

The exhibition will also provide an insight into the production and marketing of the doll, showing how it developed from Barbie “the doll” to Barbie “the brand”.

The doll’s changing appearance in relation to evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation will also be explored.

Through a partnership with Mattel, the London museum has acquired some of the pieces from the toy company’s archives in Los Angeles.

Sam Jacob Studio has designed the exhibition landscape while Danielle Thom has acted as the curator.

Thom, said: “The Barbie universe is expansive and exciting, and it’s thanks to the meticulous work of talented designers over the past 65 years.

“Barbie is arguably one of the most globally recognised examples of world-building through product and graphic design, and in turn she has inspired many designers and artists to respond to her history.

“The design story of Barbie is a rich topic for our museum to put under the spotlight.”

More than 250 items will be on display, as well as Barbie outfits, accessories and dreamhouses
Barbie: The Exhibition More than 250 items will be on display, as well as Barbie outfits, accessories and dreamhouses (James Manning/PA)

Kim Culmone, senior vice president of Mattel, said: “Since her debut in 1959, Barbie has become an international icon and inspiration that continues to spark conversation, creativity and self-expression around the world.

“This exhibition will tell the story of Barbie through a design lens including fashion, architecture, furniture and vehicle design, which are all spaces where she has left a mark on culture during her remarkable 65-year career.

“We can’t wait for fans and audiences to experience this exhibition with the renowned Design Museum this July.”

It comes after the live-action Barbie film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling dominated at the box office last summer, becoming the biggest film of 2023 after out-earning 2022’s biggest hit, Top Gun: Maverick.

The film won the Golden Globe for cinematic and box office achievement and is also nominated for a host of Oscars including best picture and best adapted screenplay.

The exhibition will open at the Design Museum on July 5 2024 and tickets are on sale on the museum’s website.