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At the Barbie collectors' convention, it's 1 big boxing (or opening) match

WASHINGTON — Barbie collectors share much in common: They believe Barbie pink is the perfect color for lipstick, toenails and accessories. They fantasize about vacations where they hop from hotel room to hotel room in search of Barbie's cousin Smashin' Satin Francie or a mint-condition I Love Lucy Santa Claus Barbie. They define "holy grail" as that final doll or dress required to complete — at last! — a collection.

But on one issue the Barbie masses can't be reconciled: To debox or not to debox. The answers are passionate and partisan.

"Debox! Debox! Debox!" shouted a pin worn by Molly Cruse, a Baltimore nurse and one of more than 1,100 visitors to the 2009 National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention whick was held here this past week at the Marriott Wardman Park. The convention, which this year coincided with Barbie's 50th anniversary, ends Saturday.

Cruse says she loves tearing into boxes to get her hands on her new toys.

"I collect them because I love them and I don't plan on reselling them," she says. "You can't appreciate the full gown or the detail of the cloth in the box."

But not all Barbie girls, she acknowledges, are of like mind.

Adamantly opposing the Deboxers are the NRFBists, for whom the 11th Commandment is: Thou shalt Never Remove From Box.

"People have a fit, they have a cow, if the box gets messed up," Cruse says.

Her friend Sherri Schuck, a prosecutor from Kansas, is a proud NRFBist.

Schuck's Barbie collection boasts more than 600 dolls. Her husband built a showroom in their home where Schuck can periodically rotate the display.

"I collect a lot of dolls from the '80s and '90s — the pink boxes," Schuck says. "And a lot of the time the boxes themselves were actually part of the doll's scenery, the allure. You could cut them up, you could take things off the box and use them as props for the doll. They just remind me of when I was a kid."

But these days she wouldn't dare take a Barbie out of the box, let alone bring scissors to the scene.

"For me the box makes the doll, too. It's just part of what she is," Schuck says. "I love to see them in their natural state, and to me it's in a box."

Tickets to the convention cost as much as $400. In addition to hours of shopping each day, conventioneers attended Barbie workshops, competitions, evening parties and a fashion show. The events culminated with Saturday night's gala dinner, at which each guest received a 50th-anniversary limited-edition commemorative doll.