If you’ve ever visited the “new” Stittsville Flea Market on Carp Road, you’ve stumbled on the Barbie collection that belongs to Elizabeth Kondruss, pictured above. There are over 20,000 dolls and accessories in her collection, making it one of the biggest collections in Canada if not the world.
Here’s an interview I did with Kondruss about what’s in her collection and why she’s such a fan of the iconic doll. All photos by Barry Gray.
GG: How many Barbie dolls are in your collection?
EK: I have a least 20,000 individual pieces (and counting!). Dolls, clothes, accessories, houses, playsets, furniture, cars, vans, trains, planes, bikes, Harleys, horses and many other animals, cases etc. Also other items like colouring books, stories, activity books, reference books, games, puzzles, pictures, movies, child-size play structures, furniture and suitcases.
I haven’t finished counting everything and I only have about a quarter of my collection on display. One day it will be most or all on display. I could easily fill the whole building.
GG: Any idea what the collection is worth?
EK: As to what my collection is worth, my standard anwser is “What someone will pay me for it”. It is insured. The market for Barbies is just like everything else: up and down.
(Editor’s note: some very rare Barbie dolls can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Mattel says the highest ever paid for a Barbie doll was over $300,000 for a one-of-a-kind collectors doll in 2010.)
GG: Do you have a favourite item in your collection?
EK: My favourite will be hard. Barbies from my parents and grandparents are favourites. Also the first Barbie I bought myself was a 1972 Walk Lively Miss America for $2.72 at Freimen’s at Westgate Shopping Centre (one of Ottawa’s old department stores).
I got a 1964 Scooter (Skipper’s friend, Barbie’s little sister) and clothes from my grandparents. There’s a 1965 Tutti (Barbie’s little sister), the Susie Goose Canope Bed, and also a 1971 Malibu Barbie.
GG: What about particularly rare or unusual dolls?
EK: The 1964 Barbie Airplane was made for Mattel by Irwin toys, also the hot rod. The pink silhouette boxed dolls – these were store displays or salesman’s samples and not for sale. I have an 1966 midnight color magic Barbie never played with … just to name a few !
GG: Why do you collect the dolls?
EK: I have been interested in them my whole life. I got four paper routes at nine years old, and at 12 I started babysitting, and at 16 got a retail job (to earn money to buy the dolls).
I am from a very artistic family, both personally and professionally – photographers, architects, seamstresses painters, etc. I have always loved fashion, and almost went into fashion design, but I would have had to leave town. If you look at Barbie through the years she does reflect the changes in fashion over the decades.
It is also interesting to have a collection because everywhere you go you can look for items. It’s like a treasure hunt. Also when you do find something it can be quite exciting; when you travel to places you can look for neat little shops or antique markets. I have found some dolls in unlikely places.
One of those unlikely places was at Algonquin College around 1978 or 1979. My father was a marketing professor. I took retail management, so most of my teachers were his friends. In one of my classes I had to set up a display at a retail store. There was a room at the college full of retail and merchandising items, including a 1972 busy hands Steffie still in the box, slightly damaged. I did not have her in my collection, so I went to the teacher and asked if I could buy a brand new doll and switch it, he said “ok but don’t tell anyone!”
GG: Are there any dolls that you’re searching for add to your collection?
EK: I still have to find some rather rare vintage items, like a #1 Blonde Ponytail and #2 Black Francie, and I don’t have all the new ones yet. There are too many to get all at once, and there are others that are in different parts of the world which are hard to keep track of. As long as Barbie is made there will always be more on my wish list!
I also buy collections from other people and keep what I need and put the rest up for sale, It can be a long process sometimes, but fun.
GG: Are there a lot of Barbie collectors?
EK: There are a fair number of collectors, more in the U.S. and abroad than in Canada, and I do keep in touch with some of them, trading news and stories about things we have found.
GG: Are any items in your collection for sale?
EK: I have probably 1,000 Barbies for sale both in and out of the box. Some are for play and others are for collectors. I have Barbies from the 60s (only a few) right up to the present for sale. Some women who visit don’t collect but they want the doll they had a child for their daughter.
I also sell Barbie houses, cars, furniture, accessories and clothes, which are hard to find in the stores.
I do not sell anything I do not have in my collection. I also do restorations and appraisals
GG: How long have you been in Stittsville?
EK: I have lived in Ottawa and then the Stittsville area most of my life. I have a husband, two boys and three cats (two new addtions – strays that addopted us – in the last five months). The family is fine with my collection. They all grew up with collections of some sort. With the family being in the antique business there were always lots of things.
They are more pleased that I was able to turn my hobby into a business. I sell, restore and appraise dolls. I don’t sell anything I don’t have in my colelction, and when I buy collections I keep what I need for my collection and sell the rest.
My dream one day when I retire is to have a nice bungalow with a big walk-in closet for all my clothes and shoes and a building on the same property for a big Barbie museum. It would have a store with a play area for the kids, a workshop and storage. I want open up all the toy houses and set it up like a city with the dolls in the cars or going shopping or to the pool. Not like a traditional museum, but fun and alive.
GG: What’s your relationship with the Stittsville flea market?
EK: The Flea Market & Kondruss Galleries is a family-owned business. When the old Stittsville flea market closed in 2004, we downsized our store, closed the auction hall and moved our storage and workshop to make a flea market. We opened January 5, 2005, and many of the vendors have been with us since the beginning.
You can visit the Barbie Museum inside the Stittsville Flea Market and Koundruss Galleries building located at 2079 Carp Road. It’s open Wednesdays (10am-4pm), Saturdays (10am-4pm) and Sundays (9am-5pm).