Friday, December 21, 2012

The Skinny: I'm Sorry, But Have We Met?

Does she look familiar? She should. Meet Bild Lilli, the doll who inspired the creator of Barbie.
Lilli Bild 1955-1960's
And meet Barbie, the doll who killed Bild Lilli. (Scandal!)
Lilli began life as a German comic strip character, and was certainly not intended for children's entertainment. She was a cartoon pinup, a sexy secretary who knew exactly what she wanted and how to manipulate men to get it (and okay, she might have been a hooker, according to some sources). Her weekly adventures became so popular that she was soon put into doll form and marketed to adults (particularly males, as gag gifts). She was commonly sold in tobacco shops.
vintage Lilli strips

The Bild Lilli doll has side glancing eyes (ever so coy!), perfect lips, and a cute little curl in the center of her forehead. She was made with a variety of outfits for any occasion, but since the doll was not intended for children, the outfits were not always sold separately. Her hair was attached to a removable scalp held in place by a metal screw (see? definitely not a toy). She was usually blonde, but brunettes were also available. Lilli even came with a miniature copy of the Hamburg newspaper than ran her comic strip.

Eventually, the demand from mothers prompted the company to switch gears, and Lilli became a popular toy for girls. She had a house with furniture (sold separately, of course)! They even made a movie. And then, Ruth Handler, president of Mattel, went to Europe. She bought three dolls, gave one to her daughter Barbara, and kept the other two for product development. She tweaked the design, created a killer marketing campaign, and Barbie was born.
Ruth Handler was no dummy. Under her guidance, Mattel bought all of the rights to the Bild Lilli character (on the cheap, as rumor has it), and consequently, Lilli died in 1964. Mattel continued Handler's brilliant marketing strategy, and Barbie went on to become the gal we still love today. Lilli, on the other hand, was a fallen woman, reduced to walking the streets...--okay, not really. Her molds were sold to various foreign toy companies, and used to make knock-off Barbies. What a way to go....

But still, a real, original Bild Lilli doll, especially one with the clear cylinder package and correct stand, is just as collectible as the first Barbie (and probably much harder to find). Even one without the package sold on eBay for $1400 in 2008.

*information obtained from:;

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