So Small, You Can Take Her Anywhere: The Story of Polly Pocket

You’ll just hope Polly can breathe while confined to your pocket!

Previously, on Allison’s Written Words

Toys inside a compact that have playability factor?  It is possible!

A few Flashback Fridays ago, I had rediscovered a toy while going though my commercial collection.  I forgot that I had these cute little compact toys that contained hair accessories and music box-style ballerinas, but here was the commercial, and there was my memory being jogged.

Those, toys, Pocket Pretties, were sold by Tiger and Sega (yes, that Sega!) beginning in 1989, and until the early 1990s, and were one in a series of toys made into compact-size all-in-one sets.

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This month, I’ll be looking at a few of these contained-in-a-compact toys, as well as a toy that, while not exactly like the others, was a way to keep all your treasures in a compact place.

First up, the OG of the contained-in-a-compact toys, which traces its roots back to the early 1980s, and a literal makeup compact!

I’m not making this up!

1983: Born of a Powder Compact

British dad Chris Wiggs, armed with a powder compact and tiny doll, fashioned a small playhouse for his 3-year-old daughter, Kate.

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Image: Pinterest (User: Attar Yuval)

Kate loved the new toy, because what’s not to love about a toy you can break out of your pocket and play with anywhere?  Her father took his idea to Swindon, England-based Bluebird Toys, and six years later, Polly Pocket was born of plastic and compact carry-alongness.

(Pretty sure that’s a word.)

1990: Mattel Gets Its Hands On This Great Idea

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Not content to miss out on this Great Idea (the kind that gets unintentionally capitalized in blog articles), Mattel held a distribution agreement with Bluebird Toys in the early 1990s.  Polly Pocket made its debut stateside in 1990, and this commercial, complete with a reworked version of “Rockin’ Robin,” accompanied said debut.

Upload via George VHS

A toy that is self-contained? A tiny doll you could play with anywhere?  Houses, playgrounds, water parks, tiny cars, the mall, and a cafe?  Did I mention self-contained?  Did I mention you could literally slip this into the pocket of your acid-washed denim overalls?

Holy cow, Polly Pocket is AWESOME!  My new portable best friend that I can play with ANYWHERE, at ANYTIME?  I want!

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No seriously, I never had one of these.  I want one!

(Not really, but I would like to get my hands on one just because I like nostalgia.)

Popularity of Polly: The Rise, Peak, and Fall

Polly Pocket saw her popularity rise and peak as the 1990s wore on, with more cute playsets, including the WATER PARK SET!  It really is as cute as I remember!

SQUEE!!!!  It’s so cute!!!!

Sorry, a little overexcited 11-year-old slipped out there!

Upload via TheNostalgicOVERLOAD

But changes were coming for Miss Pocket, as the toy moved toward being ten years old.  I’m pretty sure it was away of drawing in new interest, as the original kids who knew, loved, and played the heck out of cute little dolls in a compact case were moving on.

1998 ushered in a makeover for Polly. This was a response to Mattel, whom in 1997, stated it was not accepting anymore Polly Pocket toys until the whole line was reformatted.  This design gave the doll a more lifelike appearance (a straight blonde ponytail), and she was made in a larger size. A separate fashion doll, measuring at 3 3/4″, with changeable rubber-based stretch clothing as accessories, was also created in 1998.

That same year, sales of Polly Pocket toys lulled, and its original production company, Bluebird Toys, was bought out by Mattel in a hostile takeover.

By 2002, after the reformatting of the toyline, as well as the introduction of merchandising tie-ins (movies, books, and websites), Mattel discontinued making the playsets, but continued with the fashion dolls.  Those were manufactured until 2012, when Polly Pocket met its end in the North America, before being discontinued worldwide by 2015 (at that point, they had only been sold in Brazil).  Clearly, Polly’s time as a “take anywhere” toy had run its course.

Can’t figure out what replaced it.

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Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

Ah yes, the new “take anywhere” toy.  You don’t need plastic compact-type cases with dolls when you have screens and digital games.

However, as we’ve learned once we get too nostalgic for the toys we grew up with, things manage to find a way back to us.  In the case of Polly Pocket, she barely had a chance to fade off into the nostalgic collective before being ushering back in, just in time for her 30th birthday.

2018

Garrett Sander, creator of Monster High, announced that Polly Pocket would be making a comeback, readopting its original form as a “take anywhere” toy/compact.  The sets are larger, but the concept is still the same as the original incarnation…complete with a tiny doll.

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Bestill my geeky childhood heart.

These are super cute, exactly as they should be, and exactly as they were when Polly first came into our lives.

To coincide with the release of the new Polly Pocket sets, an animated series featuring Polly and her friends, who shrink to small sizes thanks to Polly’s locket, a heirloom from her grandmother, Penelope Pocket began airing on Family Channel beginning in July 2018.  Like that cartoon (now in its second season), Polly Pocket in her original form is still very much available for sale.

Polly also had several animated movies, a cartoon that aired in 2010 and 2013, and (naturally) plenty of tie-in merchandise.

Including one of those Tiger handheld games in the early 1990s.

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Amazon: Always a place to find something secondhand that you never knew existed firsthand.

Original Polly Pocket playsets go for between $10 and $30 on eBay (link directs to the most current listings as of this article’s publishing), and yes, the water park is listed as of today.

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I’m still not sure why this one just fascinates me the way it does (it probably has something to do with the slide), but I particularly loved this one when I’d see it in commercials.

And to think, it all started with a father’s love and ingenuity, and his wife’s powder compact.

Did Allison Ever Play With Polly Pocket?

Short answer: yes.  Did I ever own Polly Pocket?  I don’t think so, or at least, not that I remember.  I had something quite similar to Polly Pocket (that I’ll be writing about this month, it is part of this theme), but I don’t recall ever owning one of these.  My mom had said at one time that I did own a Polly Pocket, but memory doesn’t serve.  I have, however, played with Polly Pocket (not the waterslide one, unfortunately), and of course, I remember those great “steeped in 1990s nostalgic glory” commercials!

I’m still blown away with how Polly Pocket toys came to be, and it makes me happy to know that a dad really had a creative idea credit for, all because of mom’s compact.

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Image: Pinterest (User: Attar Yuval)

100 Greatest Toys

I found this video – not the greatest quality, but it is something, and that is better than nothing – of Polly Pocket creator Chris Wiggs and his daughter Kate, as featured on 100 Greatest Toys.

It really gives off all the nostalgic feels that every great toy should, and features the creator, and Polly’s first “owner.”  I’m still amazed at how this all came to be.

Upload via Andreina Ariana Ramos

And Now, You!

Did you play with Polly Pocket at any point, be it the original version, or the redesigned/reformatted/revamped version?  Do you have any of the new sets?  Did you own the water park Polly Pocket?  Because I envy you!

Sound off in the comments section below, or get social on social media!

“Take Anywhere”/Compact-type toys month continues on Allison’s Written Words next week, with another toy from the archives that follows in the same stride as Polly.

Have a great day!

I love that.  Seriously, it’s so cute!

6 thoughts on “So Small, You Can Take Her Anywhere: The Story of Polly Pocket

  1. I remember playing with the newer dolls and the really long pink Convertible she had back in the early 2000s when I was a little girl with my older sister. Those were some good old days. I think I still have a rubber top from one of the toys.

    Liked by 1 person

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