1961 Flocked hair Kens including the ‘brownette’ Ken

HE’S A DOLL!™ – Mattel copyrighted this line to introduce Barbie’s boyfriend Ken in March 1961, through the trade magazines Playthings and Toys & Novelties and at the American International Toy Fair in New York. The first Kens were issued with red shorts (with white stripes down the sides) and sandals, towel, wire stand and booklet. The earliest promotional images show him in black and white trunks, matching the original Barbie swimsuit. This version was not commercially produced, though all 1961 Kens came in a box which features him wearing black and white shorts on the cover.

He was made in Japan and came with crew-cut flocked hair in various colours. Officially there are three versions: brunette (very dark brown to black), blonde (every kind of blonde from lemon to ash, straw and strawberry have been found) and the version known as a ‘brownette’ (mid-browns ranging from sandy to dark reddish brown). The original flocked hair Ken is arguably the most beautiful Ken ever, but sadly came with one major design-flaw: his flocking simply couldn’t withstand intensive play or washing. For this reason Mattel were eventually forced to discontinue him, and by Christmas 1963 had completely replaced him with a new-look Ken with painted hair.

For more information and many more detailed photographs see THE VINTAGE KEN® BOOK.


KEN #750 (blonde and brunette)

1961 #750 blonde Ken in original packaging
1961 #750 blonde Ken in original packaging
1961 #750 brunette Ken in original packaging
1961 #750 brunette Ken in original packaging

All flocked hair Kens were packaged with one card insert at the shins and one at the neck, and had a cellophane bag covering the head to protect the hair. This bag may look a bit spooky, but they are now highly prized by MIB (mint in box) collectors. Note that in the picture below left the original rubber band is still intact around Ken’s neck, but has dried and blackened with age.

The ‘Prefer Blonde’ receipt belongs to the Ken pictured above left. This Ken has one of the rarer boxes, with BLONDE printed on both ends (see more details further below).

1961 #750 Ken with plastic bag to protect hair/head
1961 #750 Ken with plastic bag to protect hair/head
1961 #750 Ken original store receipt
1961 #750 Ken original store receipt

Some Kens have perfect matt complexions, while on others the plastic has either gone shiny all over the face, or pink and chalky around the jaw. Their exact hair ‘cut’ also varies. The two main styles are a straight hairline which goes down to the temples at right angles, or a more convex hairline curving at the temples. The eyebrows also vary greatly in shape and colour. These Kens can even differ in size and stance. In fact, I’ve studied countless flocked hair Kens, and have never seen two which looked identical.

1961 #750 Ken
1961 #750 brunette Ken
1961 #750 Ken
1961 #750 blonde Ken

All 1961 blonde and brunette Kens came with a yellow towel and sandals in a cellophane bag, and they wore the same wrist tag.

1961 #750 blonde & brunette Ken booklet in original cellophane bag
1961 #750 blonde & brunette Ken booklet in original cellophane bag
Accessories for 1961 #750 Ken
1961 #750 blonde & brunette Ken booklet & accessories in original cellophane bag
1961 #750 blonde & brunette Ken wrist tag
1961 #750 blonde & brunette Ken wrist tag

THE ‘BROWNETTE’ KENS

The brown-haired versions were only sold in the first year. The term ‘brownette’ is generally used to describe these Kens, but, as far as I know, is not an official Mattel trademarked name. Like the blondes, they can vary quite a lot. The order catalogues from 1961 which feature Ken, such as Montgomery Ward, Aldens and Spiegel, all only show this brown-haired version. Sears do not feature Ken in any of their catalogues from 1961, and JCPenney did not even produce mail order catalogues until they took over the General Merchandise Company in 1963. However, collectors have found ‘brownette’ Kens with price stickers on the boxes from JCPenney and many other stores all over the US, so they were obviously not sold exclusively through any one store. It can be difficult finding good versions of this Ken, not because they are particularly rare, but because they are rarely as nice-looking as the regular versions.

KEN #750 (‘brownette’)

1961 #750 'brownette' Ken
1961 #750 Ken
1961 #750 'brownette' Ken
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken in original packaging

The Barbie & Ken booklet which came with the ‘brownette’ version is not dated on the cover, but is otherwise practically identical to the regular one, with just slight differences to the printing and colouring. Both show the same generic illustration of Ken and have no mention of hair colour.

1961 #750 'brownette' Ken booklet in original cellophane bag
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken booklet in original cellophane bag
1961 #750 'brownette' Ken accessories
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken booklet & accessories in original cellophane bag

The ‘brownette’ Ken appears with a red towel in the 1961 Aldens and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogues, as well as the Mostow Co. Yearly Wholesale catalogue No.149. Not all of them came with a red towel though. I know the Ken directly above came a with regular yellow towel, as I bought him from the original owner. The Spiegel catalogue even shows a pink towel like the prototype in the later Mattel catalogue. However, the written description states “Towel not incl.”, which presumably means that the pink towel was never commercially available.

KEN #750 (‘brownette’)

1961 #750 Ken in original packaging
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken with red towel
1961 #750 'brownette' Ken accessories with red towel
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken accessories with red towel
1961_750_Flocked_Brownette_07
‘Brownettes’ vary in size and stance
1961 #750 'brownette' Ken towels
Two 1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken towels

One thing ‘brownettes’ do have in common is their style of face paint, with their pale brown eyebrows, painted eyelids with heavier ‘lashes’, and a white crescent or dash inside the pupil (unlike the regular flocked hair Kens, which have a white dot in the iris). I have also seen versions with and without a painted scalp under the flocking.

1961 #750 Ken face paint comparison
‘Brownette’ Kens (left) have a different style of face paint to the regular blonde and brunette Kens (right)

The ‘brownette’ Kens came with their own unique wrist tag.

1961 #750 'brownette' Ken wrist tag
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken wrist tag

FEET MARKINGS

Some 1961 flocked hair Kens, including ‘brownettes’, have differently-shaped feet from all others, with more careful detailing to the toes. The markings also differ: JAPAN is stamped very small across the width of the sole of the right foot. All other Kens from 1961 have JAPAN stamped large along the length of the sole.

Two 1961 Kens showing rarer feet (left) and regular feet (right)
Two 1961 Kens showing rarer feet (left) and regular feet (right)

PATENT STAMP

All 1961 Kens were stamped on the bottom with the Ken logo and Mattel copyright, dated 1960. (According to the website trademarkia.com, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for KEN by Mattel Inc., El Segundo, CA 90245- 501 on Monday October 17th 1960).

1961_Ken_Stamp
Ken ™ Pats. Pend. © MCMLX by Mattel Inc.

THE 1961 BOXES

The box lid front and sides remained mostly the same during 1961, but the ends came in several versions. Most boxes have identical ends, looking like the one shown below at top (1). Some of them have the addition of a stamp marked blond or brunette (2). Some are actually printed blonde hair, or have had that printing covered with a blank sticker (3). Others have the words blonde or brunette printed large (4). Some have this printed on both ends, and others have this printed only on top, or bottom (with Imported from Japan in the lower right corner), with one of two different designs on the opposite end, both of which also mention Japan (4 & 5).

1961 Ken box lid ends
1961 Ken box lid ends
1961 Ken box lid sides
1961 Ken box sides
1961 #750 Ken box side variation
1961 #750 Ken box lid side variation

The box lid ends of the ‘brownette’ Kens were either the basic version, or the version with blank stickers. Below left is one of mine, also showing the price sticker – Ben Franklin Stores – more proof that the ‘brownette’ Ken was not exclusive to any particular store. The ‘brownette’ box on the right has had the sticker removed, showing the words BLONDE HAIR.

1961 #750 'brownette' Ken box end
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken box end
1961 #750 'brownette' Ken box end
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken box end

Most Ken boxes made in Japan have a small stamp inside the box lid, with ‘K’ and a number. My own collection contains boxes stamped with numbers ranging from K1 to K284. I have no idea what these stamps refer to exactly, though would be grateful to hear from anyone who does know: contact@somethingabouttheboy.com.

1961 #750 brownette Ken box lid showing stamp
1961 #750 ‘brownette’ Ken box lid showing stamp
1961 #750 blonde Ken box lid showing stamp
1961 #750 blonde Ken box lid showing stamp

THE WIRE STAND

All vintage Kens came with a wire stand or “pedestal”.

1961-64_750_Wire_Stand
Ken wire stand or pedestal

BOOKLETS & CATALOGUES

The earliest pictured versions of Ken I have found are from Mattel advertising and promotional material from March 1961. He is shown wearing black and white striped trunks – which were not commercially produced. The Mattel 1961 Annual Report shows a later prototype, which also features in the Mattel Dolls 1961 catalogue. This one is certainly closer to the final Ken, but note the pink towel.

From the 1961 Barbie Club News magazine
From the 1961 Barbie Club News magazine
From March 1961 Toys and Novelties magazine
From March 1961 Toys and Novelties magazine
From March 1961 Playthings magazine
From March 1961 Playthings magazine
From Mattel Dolls 1961 brochure
From Mattel Dolls 1961 (preview) brochure
1961_Mattel_Dolls_catalogue_Version_02
From Mattel Dolls 1961 catalogue
1961 Mattel publicity photo for Ken
1961 Mattel publicity photo for Ken
From Mattel Annual Report 1961
From 1961 Mattel Annual Report

The ‘brownette’ version Barbie & Ken booklet is missing part of Ken’s description, which (as it ends half way through a sentence) is presumably a printing error. Either that, or it was because some ‘brownettes’ really didn’t come with a towel (as alluded to in the Spiegel catalogue below).

From 1961 Barbie & Ken booklet
1961 Barbie & Ken booklet (regular)
From 1961 Barbie & Ken booklet ('brownette')
From 1961 Barbie & Ken booklet (‘brownette’)

Despite his official trade launch in March, Ken does not appear in any 1961 store catalogues until Christmas (at least I’ve discovered none so far), and they all feature ‘brownette’ Kens only. The Spiegel catalogue shows Ken with a pink towel. However, the written description states “Towel not incl.”, which presumably means that the pink towel was never commercially available.

From 1961 Spiegel Christmas catalogue
From 1961 Spiegel Christmas catalogue
From 1961 Aldens Christmas catalogue
From 1961 Aldens Christmas catalogue

For the first couple of years Ken was occasionally pictured with bendy arms, an artistic licence which sadly didn’t do him any favours.

From 1961 General Merchandise Company catalogue
From 1961 General Merchandise Company catalogue
1961_Montgomery_Ward_catalogue_01
From 1961 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogue

Annual catalogues, as well as Spring Summer and Fall Winter catalogues usually only show items from the previous Christmas. Hence the 1961 version of Ken with white-striped shorts and towel appears in several catalogues from 1962. Note however that they now show regular blonde and brunette Kens.

From 1962 Spiegel Spring Summer catalogue
From 1962 Spiegel Spring Summer catalogue

The page below from the 1962 Yearly Wholesale Catalog of The Mostow Co. and Lee-Robert Division shows Ken holding a red towel. The picture quality is so bad, that I’m not sure whether this is a light ‘brownette’, or a darkish blonde, but this Ken is obviously no prototype, so presumably really came with this rare variation towel. Other catalogues still even show prototypes.

1962 The Mostow Co Wholesale Catalog
From 1962 Mostow Co. Yearly Wholesale catalogue
From 1962 Rich Brothers store counter catalogue
From 1962 Rich Brothers store counter catalogue
From 1962 General Merchandise catalogue
From 1962 General Merchandise catalogue
From 1962 Western Auto Fall Winter catalogue
From 1962 Western Auto Fall Winter catalogue

The 1962 Fall Winter Spiegel catalogue states that Ken comes “With Swimsuit, sun glasses”. This was probably just an error, copied from the Barbie description.

Spiegel Fall Winter catalogue 1962
From 1962 Spiegel Fall Winter catalogue
From 1962 Montgomery Ward Fall Winter catalogue
From 1962 Montgomery Ward Fall Winter catalogue
From Fall 1962-Summer 1963 Don's Discount House catalogue
From Fall 1962-Summer 1963 Don’s Discount House catalogue

THE REPRODUCTIONS

Mattel were quick to acknowledge the popularity of their vintage dolls, and regularly produce reproduction gift sets for the adult collector. A reproduction of the blonde flocked hair Ken (wearing Dreamboat) was issued in 2006 as part of the Friday Night Dream Date gift set. The brunette flocked hair Ken was reproduced first in 2006 for the 45th Anniversary in a reproduction of his original box, with the 1961-style beach outfit and towel. A second brunette was issued in 2009, wearing Tuxedo, as part of the (Barbie 50th Anniversary) Wedding Day gift set. A third version, again wearing his 1961-style beach outfit, was issued in 2011 as part of the (Ken 50th Anniversary) My Favorite Ken gift set, which also included a reproduction of Victory Dance from 1964. This same brunette Ken also appeared in 2011 (inside an Iron Man style robot suit) as Chogo-Ken by Ambush, a Platinum Label collector piece, limited to 25 boxed sets. A reproduction of the ‘brownette’ Ken (brown hair but regular style face paint) wearing Touchdown was issued in 2008 as part of the Campus Spirit gift set.