About 20 years ago, I went through a phase of repurchasing the toys of my childhood, and eBay came along at just the right time. I was approaching 30 and starting a family of my own as the online resale website was really taking off.
I found choice nostalgia such as the Fisher-Price village No. 997 and the castle, No. 993. These are the Little People toys you can't give your kids anymore because the people are choking hazards, but I wasn't buying them for my kids; I was buying them for me.
I enjoyed looking at them, feeling them, even smelling them, reveling in the way it felt to hold these memories in my hand. It would be fun to have an entire room to display such a collection. But I don't have that, so over the years, I resold the toys, sometimes replacing them with new rummage sale finds, only to be sold again.
Consequently, news from Fisher-Price last week caught my eye. The toy company is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a curated, virtual exhibit on Instagram that includes photos and backstories for decades of their creations.
The company provides a photo to represent each decade — 1930s to 2010s — from its museum archives.
I went right to the 1970s. There's the schoolhouse, No. 923 from 1971, with its magnetic alphabet and chalkboard, the little hands on the clock, the bell up top. It came with a merry-go-round that, if spun quickly enough, would send the little children flying off — just like real life.
And there's the airport, No. 996 from 1972, which we played with when we visited my grandmother. (If you have a Fun Jet with wings that aren't broken from being stepped on, congratulations.)
My great-aunt Betty kept the farm in her closet, ready for when kids would visit. I loved its satisfying-to-the-touch round chickens and barn door that mooed. I have a similar barn, not quite the same but close enough. I love how the joints of the animals move, the ridges on the sheep's body, the hammered texture of their legs.
These old toys had features that didn't need batteries. The chickens actually sit on the fence posts. The cow and horse are just the right size to dip their heads into the water trough. The castle has a hidden chamber behind the staircase. The village gas pump sticks its little nozzle into the hole in the cars. Toys just don't seem to be as cute and clever anymore.
It didn't used to be so easy to find these kinds of old toys, but the internet changed all that. Ironically, now that my kids are getting older and starting to move out, I want to start collecting those old toys again.
I still have a few small pieces. (The clutter in your house becomes more sophisticated if you call things "pieces," like it's all valuable art.) My daughter has a green music box from 1976 that plays "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," a sentiment even stronger today than it was when it was peddling Coca-Cola. I'll keep an eye out for that sort of thing. Maybe I don't need an entire room after all.
Of course, it's most fun to find these things tucked into the corner of a Goodwill store or rummage sale. Professional sellers and high shipping prices have kind of taken the joy out of eBay, honestly.
Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the Fisher-Price photo project. It's nice to see the toys in artistic photographs and read about their history, even if my own interest wanes when I get to the '90s. Those are the toys my children owned, but this nostalgia trip is all about me.
- You can find the project on Instagram: @fisherprice.toymuseum.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the News Tribune. Write to her at email@example.com.