By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
To say she has a hundred Barbies would be an understatement.
Debra Miller keeps more than 1,000 Barbies on display in her North Bell County home. They're in a Barbie arena, a second-floor bedroom that's devoted to the collection.
The dolls that aren't waving from inside their original casing, stand at salute from within a series of glassed-in cubby shelves that decorate the back wall.
Larger items, like Barbie's Dream House, car, boat and motorcycle, sit on the tops of the room's dresser, buffet and bookcase.
Sitting inside drawers and underneath the bed and office desk are still more Barbie things: the board games, the outfits, collectors books, baseball caps and posters.
And yet Ms. Miller claims she is 'desperately seeking Barbie.' That's the phrase that titles the business card she gives to fellow Barbie collectors. 'I don't have everything yet,' Ms. Miller said, pointing at the Barbie world she created. 'This is fun for me. Every time I get a new doll, I go to bed, saying 'I'm so glad to have this.' It's like I'm a kid again, and there's nothing like being a kid again.'
She hasn't been attached to Barbie since childhood.
'I put them down when I got to be a teenager,' Ms. Miller said, smirking. 'I was interested in other things - like boys.'
But she didn't get rid of the Barbies. She packed them away neatly, she said, in a nice box.
'I moved them with me out of my parents house,' Ms. Miller said. 'And they stayed in a closet somewhere until 1990 or 91.'
She was referring to the time her pet snauzer ran away from home.
'She got out and gone for a week,' Ms. Miller said. 'I got so upset that I started cleaning out my closets. I found my old Barbie set.'
And then she said dozens of Barbie memories came unbidden to her thoughts.
'All the little shoes, and clothes, and the old Barbie pony tail,' Ms. Miller said. 'I remembered everything and how I loved them.'
Her love affair with Barbie was rekindled.
'I wanted more (Barbies),' she said. 'So I had to figure out how to get them.'
From her work experience as an employee recruiter, Ms. Miller decided that newspaper advertising would be her best option.
'I started putting up ads for people ready to part with their Barbies,' she explained. 'I heard from gals in their 40s who kept them for sentimental reasons and from mothers who were ready to get rid of their daughters' dolls.'
So little by little, Ms. Miller's Barbie collection grew. She went to estate sales, auctions and garage sales, always on the lookout for anything Barbie. And when eBay became a reality, Ms. Miller, said her means of locating rare finds were greatly increased.
'I'm not interested in dolls that have been played with, the worn out ones,' she said. 'My interest is the vintage Barbie. Its value peaked in 96 and 97, but people are still bidding on Barbie on Ebay, so it's holding value.'
Her concern is that her generation of Barbie collectors will dwindle.
'I'm worried that people will lose interest,' Ms. Miller said. 'That's why I try to network with as many young collectors as I can.'
Ms. Miller went to first Barbie convention last summer.
'It was in Dallas, and it was so much fun,' she said.
She learned that there's all sorts of Barbie competitions, one's she never would have imagined.
'There are seamstresses who make Barbie outfits, ones for dolls and ones for people,' Ms. Miller said. 'Then the ladies who made the life-size dresses will get up and model them and have a Barbie fashion contest.'
Ms. Miller didn't participate, but she said the show was fun to watch.
It was her first convention; she wasn't familiar with the rules or collection categories. But the judges ended up awarding her their top prize for her 1967 still-unopened Beautiful Blues Barbie gift set.
'I paid $1,800 for it, but it's worth about $4,000 now,' Ms. Miller said, explaining that there are collectors' manuals that list the various kinds of Barbie merchandise and their values. 'Any of the outfits (from the gift set) that are loose are worth between $400 and $500.'
The victory earned her the right to participate in the 2009 Barbie Convention at Kansas City, Mo. It's an invitation Ms. Miller will gladly accept.
'Barbie's turning 50 next year,' Ms. Miller said, noting that the Barbie doll debuted in March of 1959. 'Of course, I'll be there.'
Her entry for the 2009 convention will be a diorama of Barbie's Fashion Shop.
'It's in Japanese style,' Ms. Miller said. 'I made all of the outfits from authentic Japanese fabric.'
As for the future of her Barbie collection, Ms. Miller has no specific plans.
'Eventually, I'll have to start sorting stuff and give it up, but I don't want to,' she said. 'So for now, I'm going to sit in here and enjoy the Barbies, in my own private spot.'