Barbie was not the girl that Janice Amundson thought she'd be.
For one thing, claims Amundson in a $200,000 federal lawsuit, the supposedly vintage doll worth $1,800 was nearly bald.
Amundson, an avid Barbie collector from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, who has amassed more than 300 of the shapely plastic dolls, contends that a Maryland woman sold her the rare Barbie with chunks of its hair missing.
"When she opened the box that was delivered in the mail, she found that the doll's hair had gotten brittle and was falling out," said Joseph W. Hovermill, a Baltimore lawyer representing Amundson and her husband in the lawsuit. "It was not in the near-mint condition she'd been led to believe."
The Barbie with the hair-loss problem is at the center of a strange legal fight in U.S. District Court in Baltimore between Amundson and Somerset County resident Lori Maddox, who sold the doll. Maddox says Amundson tampered with the doll by trying to dye its hair, causing it to fall out.
"It was in perfect condition when I mailed it to her, and I have pictures to prove it," Maddox said. "If anything happened to that doll, it was either caused by Mrs. Amundson or an Act of God."
The doll in question is a "Color Magic" Barbie, sold by Mattel in the late 1960s and featuring hair that could be dyed blond or black. Amundson bought the doll for the $1,800 price tag after seeing it advertised by Maddox on an Internet auction site.
But when Maddox sent her the doll, according to Amundson's lawsuit, it was discolored and its hair was falling out in strands. Amundson says Maddox refused to refund her money, accused her of tampering with the doll, and then posted a message on an Internet auction site saying Amundson had spoiled the doll's condition.
"Mrs. Amundson has been humiliated in front of a worldwide audience" because of the Internet message, contends the lawsuit, which alleges breach of contract and defamation. The message has tarnished Amundson's reputation in the collecting world, since other collectors visit the site to see sellers' opinions of customers, it says.
On the site, Maddox wrote of Amundson, "Customer devalued (( an $1,800 doll and tried to return it."
Amundson, who collects not only Barbies but also Smurf figures and lady's accessories, bought the doll by phone from Maddox in March. Through her lawyer, Amundson declined to be interviewed.
Shortly after the doll was shipped, Maddox said, Amundson called her.
"She told me the doll's hair was falling out. I said, 'No way,' " said Maddox, who runs a doll-selling business called Backwoods Beauties.
"I was very suspicious, but I was a good sport. I said, 'Send the doll back and I'll refund the money.' But when she sent me the doll, it was destroyed. And a metal barrette was missing from her hair," Maddox said.
Maddox said she consulted a doll expert about the condition of the Barbie, who told her it looked as if someone had tried to die the hair back to its original color.
"The doll's hair had oxidized from midnight black to ruby red, and we think someone was trying to restore the color to black," Maddox said. "There's residue around the hair line suggesting it happened. It could be that her hair fell out because of dyeing, or possibly strands fell out after someone removed the barrette."
Amundson claimed in the lawsuit that she sent the doll back because it had apparently been exposed to the original dye chemicals included with the doll when it was sold in the 1960s.
"A normally gold bathing suit had turned green," the lawsuit said of Barbie's clothing.
Barbie dolls are hot collectibles on the market today. Some of the original dolls have sold for as much as $10,000.
In August, Forbes magazine advised rich-investor type readers that "demand for Beanie Babies has begun to cool" and that Barbie dolls represented better investments.
Pub Date: 10/01/98