Vintage Toys is the name of this (very sporadic) series of posts, but in fact Sylvanian Families, those fuzzy little woodland creatures, are instead what you might call retro. In fact, they are as retro as I am, having been first introduced to Western Europe in 1987.
They were originally thought up by Japanese company Epoch in 1985 and were instantly a huge success, as you might imagine. When they were released in Britain they became so popular that they won the British Association of Toy Retailers 'Toy of the Year' award in 1987, '88 and '89. It seems that just like their eastern counterparts, British children adored these fuzzy woodland creatures.
And gadzooks, I was certainly one of them. I was never a fan of traditional dolls - they were cold to the touch and had terrifying eyes. So when my grandad gave me the doll's house he had made for me for Christmas 1989, it was some second-hand Sylvanian Families who moved in. They were the perfect size for my little house, and this animal-loving little girl quickly began to grow her collection.
Sylvanian Families sets never came cheap and were highly sought after, so it would be a really special birthday or Christmas when I received an actual set. Friends and family complimented these with the small sets of single animals with accessories.
I owned the Country Flower Shop - though I can only find a terrible photo of the one similar to mine:
By far my favourite was my gypsy caravan, complete with pony...
Despite being very Japanese in style, I think they were so popular with British children because they appear to represent our British countryside, and a time where life was more simple, yet full of adventure. Even today I look at this caravan and think 'The Wind in the Willows'. My Sylvanian Families either spent their time in an eternal game of 'house' or went on very Enid Blyton-like escapades around my garden. They are dressed in rustic clothing, which could come from any era of the last one hundred years, are brightly coloured without being harsh, and are something the Japanese are particularly good doing - insanely cute.
My childhood best friend owned the canal boat, and to this day a part of me still wants to own it too!
The success of these toys led to a popular television series based on the characters. It passed me by, as for my birthday in 1991 I was asked whether I wanted the Sylvanian Families video or The Little Mermaid Video. I chose the latter, and that started a whole other obsession!
I always remember my SF sets being made by Tomy, but they lost the American and Canadian rights in 1993, and so re-released their ranges there under the name 'Calico Critters'. They continued to distribute them here in the UK until the end of the 1990s, when the craze died down. Today it's Flair who distribute them.
Were/are you a fan of the Sylvanian Families? You can also read the other posts in this series - The Big Yellow Teapot, Barbie and My Little Pony.