Before I go to far I have to admit I always thought of Sylvanian Families as a toy from the Nineties, but no, it is indeed a product of the Eighties. I think the reason I think this is because it did enjoy a period of high popularity at around the same time as things like the Ty Beanie Babies, mainly due to adults starting to collect toys proactively.
The Sylvanian Families range of toys harks originally from Japan, and comprises a number of sets of animal families, all anthropomorphised to look more human. For the most part the animals are of the woodland variety, so there are bears, squirrels and hedgehogs, but you can also get dogs, cats and even penguins.
The dolls stand at around 10cm high, and are covered in a very short flock material to make them feel furry. Unusually for this sort of toy, though in keeping with itâ€™s name, you buy the dolls in family sets usually consisting of mother, father, son and daughter. They are even given a family surname.
However, whilst the animal families are a big part of the appeal of Sylvanian Families, the big draw for many is the huge range of additional things you can get to go with the dolls. The concept behind these toys actually owes more to old fashioned dolls houses then to collectable figures.
First and foremost are the houses themselves. They may only be made from plastic but they are nicely made and styled to look very much like the traditional old dolls houses. Whilst primary colours do feature, for the most part the houses are coloured in quite realistic colours, which is probably why adults are quite often more into these toys than children are.
Obviously once you have a house you need something to put in it, so you can buy additional furniture, add on conservatories, cars, boats and just about anything really. Additional clothes for the dolls can also be bought.
The toys were first launched in 1985 in Japan and the USA, and by 1987 had spread to Europe and the rest of the world. In the UK the range was awarded Toy of the Year for three years running from 1987 by the British Association of Toy Retailers.
Also in 1987 came the first of the TV shows based on the toys. This was a cartoon animation made for US television, but co-produced by French and Japanese companies. In 1988 there were four stop motion animation stories made narrated by the great Bernard Cribbins. The most recent TV adaptation is a CGI series made in Japan in 2007.
Finally, if you are reading this in the US or Canada and are thinking, I recognise those but not that name, then you might well be thinking of Calico Critters, which are in fact the same toys but renamed. Apparently Tomy, the company who distributed the toys back in 1993, lost the rights to the name Sylvanian Families, so started selling them under the Calico Critters name instead.