Polly Pocket & Polly Pocket Collectables by Susan Brewer (follow Sue on Twitter @bunnypussflunge)
Small children love small items; they get enormous pleasure from a tiny doll hidden inside a walnut shell or a matchbox filled with beads. Obviously, the smallest toys aren’t suitable for a baby, but as soon as they get past the ‘toys in mouth’ stage, they seem to revel in the miniature. This was something Beatrix Potter understood very well, and why she insisted that when her famous Peter Rabbit series of books were first published in the early 1900s, they were of a size to fit the hands of a small child. They have been published that size ever since.
So, when a gentleman called Chris Wiggs had the bright idea of turning a powder compact into a doll’s house for his daughter’s tiny doll to play in, success was almost guaranteed.
It was the 1980s, a time when dozens of new and exciting girls’ toys were flooding the market – Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Flower Fairies and Care Bears, to name but a few. Even so, when Chris showed the toy to Bluebird Toys of Swindon, they snapped up the idea and, despite all the competition, it soon proved a hit.
Polly Pocket compacts were neat, tidy toys, and girls loved them. The compacts were small and secretive, and as well as containing a tiny doll they were moulded inside as room settings, with staircases, furniture and other items. Although there was hardly enough room inside for the tiny doll to breathe, there was plenty of room for a child’s imagination. The compacts were hinged, just like a powder compact, and came in a variety of colourful shapes, including circular, square, shell, heart and oblong.
The original Polly Pocket dolls were very small – around an inch high – but they were beautifully made, with hinged waists so they could fold when the compact lid was closed. When opened, each compact revealed extremely well planned interiors with every scrap of space utilised. The interior of the lift-up lid would be a house, for instance, while the base was a garden with moulded paths, flowers and ponds or paths and often a small revolving turntable so that the tiny Polly could move or dance. She could also be fitted into various holes in the mouldings. Frequently other characters or animals were included as well.
All the detail was amazing, and to a child, almost miraculous. Even the exterior moulding was impressive; the plastic was smooth and rounded and was pleasant to hold. Picking up an unfamiliar, closed Polly Pocket compact was an adventure, there was a feeling of anticipation and, on opening, an air of wonder. Some of the specials, such as the Christmas versions with their sparkly interiors, were beautiful. Parents liked the toys too, because they were the perfect toy for children to take on a journey. They were small enough to fit inside a pocket or bag, and as the dolls stored neatly inside the compact, there was little chance of losing pieces.
As more and more of the toys were made, children became spoilt for choice, and it wasn’t long before there was a Polly Pocket to suit every occasion, or so it seemed. In addition to the little houses, Polly Pocket compacts could also be obtained containing such delights as a Studio Flat, Hair Salon, Movie Star’s House, Winter Chalet, Parisienne Hotel, Dance Studio, Pet Shop and many, many more. In 1993, the Gamleys chain of toy shops were advertising an extra large play set, called Polly’s Dream World. They stated ‘The dream house has two wings that open out to reveal lots of beautiful rooms. In Polly’s dream world there are so many secret places to visit and exciting things to do. It’s everything you ever dreamed of for Polly!’ At the time this set cost £24.99, over five times more than the average Polly Pocket compact price of £4.99, and, like many other Polly Pockets, is beginning to be quite sought after today.
Eventually over 350 different compact sets were produced. The toys continued to be made throughout the following decade, but in the late 1990s Mattel, who had taken over production from Bluebird, decided to redesign them. They made Polly larger, bringing out different designs and larger play sets – although she is still imaginative, she seems to have lost much of that miniature magic which charmed little girls during the late 1980s and for most of the 1990s. However, the larger dolls are more realistic with ‘real’ hair rather than the moulded hair of the Bluebird dolls, and also have removable clothing. Mattel still make some small types, such as the recent ‘Polly Wheels’ – tiny cars containing a 1.5 inch high jointed-at-the-waist doll – though these items are not as small as the originals.
Running alongside Polly Pocket were the Polly Pocket Walt Disney compacts, which were also made by Bluebird. They were called the Tiny Collection but were invariably referred to as ‘Polly Pocket Disneys’. These themed play sets, made to resemble scenes from Disney films, were charming, and contained minute Disney characters. Some of the sets were in compacts, just like the original Polly Pockets, but many were slightly larger and shaped like buildings, the outside decorated like a house so it was an attractive item in own right, lacking the plainness of the compacts. Some sets were even larger, though the scale was just the same, with the characteristic little characters. For instance, the thatched Snow White cottage was delightful, and it even lit up. Snow White and the seven dwarves were included, and the cottage could be closed up with the characters inside. Some of these larger play sets came with their own compacts, which could be played with separately. Amongst the Walt Disney films which appeared in the Tiny Collection were Bambi, The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Minnie Mouse and many other Disney favourites. As with the Polly Pockets, perhaps even more so, the detailing of the figures and the play sets was excellent, and they proved exceedingly popular. When Mattel took over from Bluebird, they continued with these sets, introducing new models, becoming ever more creative. Today, many of the Pocket Disneys are especially collectable, such as Snow White’s Cottage, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella’s Castle.
In the late 1990s Bluebird produced a series of Polly Pocket style compacts based on various non-Disney characters, including Wallace and Gromit sets. These compacts were shaped as the character’s head; for example one was dog-shaped to resemble Gromit. Inside were moulded fittings, furniture, people and animals from the television cartoons. These compact toys were just as well thought out as the Polly Pocket and Disney versions, but appealed to boys as well as to girls. Colourful and attractive, Polly Pocket toys make a great collectable toy, and, as the majority of the compacts can still be found for a couple of pounds, they won’t break the bank. In fact, they will suit your pocket perfectly!
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