Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Favourite Vintage Toys: Sylvanian Families

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.

Despite still being hugely expensive, I still have a real soft spot for these fuzzy characters. My own were played with my my mum's childminded charges and then my niece after me, before finally being sold among a pretty demanding crowd late last year. They look far too timeless to have a look of retro about them, but they are already highly collectible for that very reason, as well as the current generation of children loving them as much as ever.

My collection may have gone on to new homes, but if I ever saw a pristine condition Sylvanian Families canal boat, I can't guarantee I wouldn't be tempted...

Were/are you a fan of the Sylvanian Families? You can also read the other posts in this series - The Big Yellow TeapotBarbie and My Little Pony.

Images above from here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.


  1. I simply l♥ved these! so sweet!

  2. Lovely blog.

  3. Wow! That was a glimpse into my childhood! We had the caravan and a house I believe- good memories!

  4. love em! I'm obsessed and have no regrets!

  5. I can't believe that this Sylvanian families toy is vintage already. I didn't see cute toys like this before, so I thought it was kind of modern one. For sure little girl will crave for this toy. It seems they are really a happy family.

  6. Oh, they are so sweet! I am in love with that little pony.

  7. So lovely to read about other people's memories of these toys! I was utterly obsessed as well. but because they were so expensive I had to make do with a few rabbits and a couple of small items. So I spent endless hours sewing them little outfits and making them wonky cardboard houses and extremely retro looking furniture.

  8. i'm so like this toys,but it's really expensive

  9. Ah ha! Found them! I could not place the name of these toys, it took me forever. Love it. Going to be linking back to you from

    After I found them I almost died... DUH, Beatrix Potter... My 2 year old is obsessed with the videos.

    OK back to work I go.

  10. OMG, I was totally obsessed with these. And then my sister (and even my brother) followed. We would play for hours and hours. We had the Bear, Bunny and Elephant families. And a playground made of wood.
    I loved the cartoons, they were so magical, with a little kid going into the animal world through a tree to learn a lesson. Thanks for sharing this!
    Oh and I also love The Little Mermaid!

  11. Wow, this brings back some superb memories - thank you!

    I too played with these more than anything else I or any of my friends owned. I was (and am still) the very prod owner of the caravan in the above picture! I also have a house, playground, stable (which is wonderful), nursery and rather magical tree house, along with many families, and a never ending supply of furnishings, baby cots and baby bottles!! I am also very lucky to have a limited edition Father Christmas postman on a bike.

    The green eyed monster still crept out every now and then as a friend of mine had the windmill and canal boat (which she never played with)!!!!!

    The majority of my animals, had Beatrix Potter character names as I'm a huge fan. I loved my Sylvanian Families so much that my husband now has to put up with them, they are carefully stored in their original boxes in the loft :o)


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