1980s Toys and Collectibles
My whole family loves the Netflix series, Stranger Things, which is set in a small town in the early 1980s. While binge-watching Stranger Things 2 this weekend, I’ve gleefully pointed out Nancy’s Trapper Keeper, Dustin’s Three Musketeers bar in the white wrapper, and many other instances of retro product labels and packaging. Let’s continue riding the wave of 1980s nostalgia.
In Part One of this series, I discussed my favorite ’80s movies. In Part Two, I reminisced about my favorite ’80s television shows and books. Now it’s time to look back on my favorite ’80s toys and collectibles.
Kids, when I was your age, in the 1980s, much like today, many of the most popular toys were associated with popular movies or TV series. My brother played with Indiana Jones, Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, and had tons of Transformers and Gobots vehicles/robots. I had Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Rainbow Brite toys, Smurfs and My Little Pony figures. Popular stuffed animals were Care Bears, Pound Puppies, and Popples. (Check out my 1983 Rainbow Brite dog and 1985 Pound Puppy in the above picture.)
In the ’80s, we played with Play-Doh, Slinkys, Tinkertoys, and Etch A Sketch, all of which were available when my parents were children. I loved our Lite-Brite and 3D View-Master, and always wanted an Easy-Bake Oven, but never got one.
I had three Barbie dolls. My favorite Barbie had a swimsuit and long blonde hair that came down to her knees. One Barbie had a button on her back that made one of her eyes wink. Until I got a Ken doll, my Barbies had to date my brother’s much shorter Han Solo and He-Man action figures.
I loved looking at Hello Kitty merchandise whenever I went into a Hallmark store with my mom. I think I have a pink Hello Kitty diary, but my very first diary had Poochie on the cover. Poochie was a cute little white dog with pink ears, and sunglasses.
My brother was a LEGO maniac. I remember one LEGO line in particular that he really liked: these “Forestmen” sets (they’re not called “Robin Hood,” but they should be). He also had tons of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, and some Micro Machines, which were popular in the ’80s. I also remember him collecting M.U.S.C.L.E men, small pink figures that looked like professional wrestlers.
Who can forget the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of 1983? I was six years old, and I thought Cabbage Patch Kids were ugly the first time I saw them. But then all the girls started bringing their Cabbage Patch Kids to school, and I had to have one, too. The dolls were impossible to find, so for awhile I had to make do with a Cabbage Patch Kid knock-off. Then my aunt came across a real-life Cabbage Patch Kid in a store, grabbed it, and called my mom. That’s how I became the proud mommy of “Adele Essy” (I didn’t make up that awful name—it was printed on her birth certificate), who had dark-blonde yarn hair and a single tooth. Adele was never one of my favorite toys, but I suppose she saved me from being a social outcast in first grade. (That strange stuffed animal with the spiky hair and orange-striped body in the above picture is one of the 1983 Cabbage Patch Kids Koosas named “Stripe.”)
I also collected stickers in first grade. A lot of the kids in my class brought their sticker collections to school. We weren’t allowed to look at our sticker books during class, but we could take them out to recess. Scratch ‘n’ sniff, shiny, rainbow, and “puffy” stickers were the cool stickers that everyone wanted.
In the mid-’80s, my brother and I jumped on the Garbage Pail Kids bandwagon. Garbage Pail Kids were like Cabbage Patch Kids’ disgusting, politically-incorrect step-cousins. I’m amazed that my mom ever let us buy Garbage Pail Kids cards. (I found an impressive Garbage Pail Kids collector’s website here. I had fun looking through the image gallery, remembering which cards I had and which cards I always wanted. Some of the clever names still make me laugh.)
The Kansas City Royals, my home team, won the World Series in 1985. I’m sure it was no coincidence that my interest in Major League Baseball was at an all-time high the following year (the Royals’ back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015 rekindled my passion for baseball). I started collecting baseball cards in the mid-’80s—Topps, mostly (Topps also produced Garbage Pail Kids)—and kept at it for about five years.
In 1987, I wanted to collect every single California Raisins figure at Hardee’s. We loved those singing raisins. Watch the commercial that started the craze below.
I collected comic books for a couple of years, starting in the late ’80s. My husband likes to point out that I didn’t collect any good comics. My favorite comics were ALF (based on the ’80s sitcom), Archie, Betty & Veronica, and Katy Keene. I also liked Mad and Cracked magazine, even if I didn’t always get the jokes. My brother had a graphic novel version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and we were very happy to have it because we weren’t allowed to see the movie when it came out.
In Part Four, I’ll discuss my favorite ’80s games.
Related Articles by Maria Roth: