The News-Post of Frederick
FREDERICK, Md. - Paula Bowie shares her two-bedroom Frederick apartment with 135 pounds of Barbie.
In doll math, that means Bowie owns 300 Barbie dolls _ a collection worth about $5,000, she said, taking a quick inventory of her dolls Wednesday afternoon.
Bowie received her first Barbie doll in 1967, when she was 11 years old.
That gift from her parents now sits in a glass display case, even though her sister chewed off a Barbie finger when they were children.
"She was so jealous," Bowie said with a laugh.
Back then, no one was allowed to play with her Barbie, and the same still goes for her collection, she said, because each doll holds a special meaning.
"This one reminds me of my aunt," Bowie said pointing to a Barbie dressed in a purple pantsuit with gold buttons.
A number of her Barbies are dressed in elaborate costumes. Some wear glittery wedding gowns, while others are attired in sports gear. One even sings.
"They just give me so much company," Bowie said, holding a doll wearing a long, emerald green gown.
The dolls have kept Bowie company since her husband died on Christmas Day 2010, she said. He encouraged her to start the collection.
"He said, `I want you to have a hobby of collecting, too,'" Bowie explained.
He collected sports memorabilia, she said.
Each doll is cataloged in a giant three-ring binder marked "Paula's Barbie Collection."
"I love showing off my Barbies," she said.
The dolls are also a natural reflection of heritage _ most are African- American.
Buying the African-American version of the doll was a natural choice for Bowie.
"I'm black," she said proudly. "That's what makes the collection so special."
Bowie received her first Barbie the year the Mattel company released a black version of a companion doll named Francie.
But it was not until 1980 that the company released "Black Barbie" to the mainstream, company spokeswoman Amanda Hollinger said.
The release solidified Barbie as a brand that honors cultural diversity, according to Hollinger. In 2009, Mattel introduced a new line of black dolls with a variety of skin tones, hair colors and more authentic details, including fuller lips, broader noses and higher cheekbones.
Bowie does not own that line, but she does have the Treasures of African Collection, released by the company in 1997. Those dolls were designed by Byron Lars, an African-American fashion designer, Bowie said.
"They are just so pretty," she said.
But her favorite is Harley-Davidson Barbie. The doll has braided hair and a leather jacket, and she came with a motorcycle operator's license that Bowie keeps in her Barbie binder.
Bowie's grandmother collected pillboxes. Her mother, who also lives in Frederick, still has that collection.
Bowie has another collection in her home _ of angels.
But the Barbies reign supreme.
"I fell in love with Barbie when I was young," she said.
Her collection peaked in 2008, when she owned about 350 dolls, and then she started selling some. She sold a Midnight Tuxedo Barbie for about $300, she said.
Though she is willing to sell some, Bowie said she wants to keep most of the Barbies in her collection.
"It's taken me a long time to build it, and I just love the Barbies," she said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)