Loved since 1985
First created in 1985, Sylvanian Families is a unique and adorable range of distinctive animal characters that live, work and play in the idyllic land of Sylvania.
Sylvanian Families originated in Japan and made the journey to the UK in 1987. It became an iconic toy of the ‘80s and received the UK Toy of the Year award for three years running. Sold in over 50 countries, Sylvanian Families is a global brand, with themed restaurants and a dedicated theme park in Japan. To date, more than 100 million Sylvanian Families figures have been sold worldwide.
Sylvanian Families are more than just toys; these anthropomorphic creatures have their own names, birthdays and even personalities. They live in stylish houses, surrounded by luscious greenery, woodland, a meadow and a river – making up the natural world of Sylvania.
Sylvanian Families will be celebrating its 35th birthday next year so keep an eye out for the fun filled activities and events that are being planned.
Nature, Family & Love
The word Sylvan means ‘of the forest’ and the brand has three values at its heart: Nature, Love and Family.
This evergreen toy appeals to children and adults alike, from young children just making their first friends, older children about to start secondary school, right up to nostalgic adults who fondly remember the figures from their own childhoods, plus serious collectors with a passion for all things Sylvanian!
Sylvanian Families let children craft their own stories, and helps them develop social skills and emotional intelligence through imaginative play. Sylvania is a sanctuary where everyone can be part of the family, letting children learn about relationships, including being kind to each other.
As well as being a great collectible item, many Sylvanian products also connect together so that you can grow your Sylvanian Village and create your own unique Sylvanian World as your collection expands.
A trip down memory lane! Sylvanian Families release nostalgic snaps of their best-loved toy sets throughout the years – so how many do YOU remember?
- EXCLUSIVE: The the makers of Sylvanian Families have delved into the archives
- Classics include the Rose of Sylvania barge and 1997 Deluxe House on the Hill
- Since its inception in 1985, approximately 120 million figures have been sold
- Characters include Timbertop bears, Thistlethorn mice and Oakwood squirrels
PUBLISHED: 00:18 AEST, 9 December 2018 | UPDATED: 00:01 AEST, 11 December 2018
They’re the quintessentially English animal toys beloved by children the world over.
And now the makers of Sylvanian Families have delved into the archives to reveal some of their best-loved sets from throughout the decades.
Bringing a touch of nostalgia this Christmas, the sweet images include the adorable 1993 Rose of Sylvania barge, thatched cottage and pint-sized grocery store.
And long-term fans will recall playing for hours with the Timbertop bears, Thistlethorn mice and Oakwood squirrel families.
Since its inception in 1985, approximately 120 million Sylvanian figures have been sold worldwide – equivalent to one every three seconds. So how many do you remember?
1985: The year Sylvanian Families first hit shelves, Country Cottage was one of the first sets available (pictured with the Babblebrook Rabbit Family seated at the dining table, reclining in the living room, and with the youngest bunny all ready for bed)
1985: A group photo showing (L-R): The Timbertop Bear family, the Thistlethorn Mouse family, the Oakwood Squirrel family, the Slydale Fox family, the Evergreen Grey Bear family, the Tanuki Family, the Wildwood Brown Rabbit Family, the Babblebrook Rabbit family, and the McBurrows Mole Family
1985: Country House (pictured with the Timbertop Bear Family dotted around the house) was also one of the first ever Sylvanian sets. The look and feel of the brand was inspired by the Japanese view of the UK – twee, old fashioned and innocent
1987 The Treefellow Owl Family – a play on the old cliché of ‘wise old owl’, here the head of the household is dressed in a square academic cap or mortarboard, perching on a tree
1988: The bakery featuring Father Timbertop Bear, Sister Babblebrook Rabbit and Sister Syldale Fox (not included with the set) with Father Timbertop busy cooking up a storm
1989: The Windmill, pictured in an idyllic rural setting with the Babblebrook Rabbit Family. It was modelled to look like a realistic windmill turned house, complete with moving sails
1991: The Grocery Store (pictured with Father Timbertop Bear and Mother Dappledawn Fawn Rabbit) filled with delicious groceries including sweetie jars, bottled soda pop and biscuits
1993: The iconic Rose of Sylvania Barge (pictured with the Babblebrook Rabbit Family, both wearing life jackets, and Father Wildwood Brown Rabbit). With a removable roof and foldable tables, this brightly-coloured canal boat also doubled up as a house boat
1993 PC Bobby Roberts with Police Phone Box – The adorable policeman badger comes complete with his own phone box, including a classic blue uniform and bobby’s hat
1995: The Large Red Roof House including the Babblebrook Rabbit Family and the Chestnut Raccoon Family enjoying lunch al fresco with the raccoon family cooking in the kitchen
1995 The Dappledawn Fawn Rabbit Family with grandparents – a set of seven adorable rabbit figures, the grandparents were clearly distinguishable thanks to their spectacles
1995: Meadow Croft Thatched Cottage – An enduring favourite, this cottage was open at the back for ease of play (pictured here with the Babblebrook Rabbit Family)
1996 White Cat Family – An adorable and enduringly popular family comprising a mother and father cat, with their two feline children and three baby kittens – all dressed in matching pink
1997: Deluxe House on the Hill, pictured with the Furbanks Squirrel family, the Cottontail Rabbit family, the Dappledawn Fawn Rabbit family and the Beagle Dog Family busy in the garden (figures not included in the set). Comprises three floors and lots of rooms including nursery, dining room, kitchen, bedroom and more (the deluxe version included five figures and over 30 accessories)
2010: The Trunk Elephant Family – one of the more recent additions to the Sylvanian Families franchise, the adorable animal figures still wear old-fashion, quintessentially English clothing – including checked trousers, a green cardigan and floral tea dress
Sylvanians: A potted history
Sylvanian Families was launched in Japan 1in 1985. The line started with just one house, 11 pieces of furniture, and 9 families.
The look and feel of the brand was inspired by the Japanese view of the UK: twee, old fashioned and innocent.
The concept around Sylvanian Families has always been around dolls’ houses and imaginative play, which is why the sets would come on their own.
It would be up to each to child to individually make their own decisions about which family lived in which house and how it was furnished.
New characters would be introduced to run the bakery or the restaurant etc. but there are no hard or fast rules when it comes to the world of Sylvainian Families.
The Dappledawn Fawn Rabbit Family
Based on three concepts, Nature, Family and Love, the idea was for children to explore the power of imagination and learn to care and share with one another.
Sylvanian Families are there to help children acquire key social skills. It promotes wholesome play and has an enduring appeal which helps to develop thoughts and emotions.
Up until earlier this year all the families lived in the Sylvanian Village, where everyone enjoys the world of nature.
Set around everyday lives, to be enjoyed in comfort, Sylvanian Families covers a range of activities in which children can explore different play patterns and create their own stories.
Since March 2018, fans of Sylvanian Families now have the Sylvanian Town to collect too.
As with most countryside-dwellers seeking a spot of shopping and culture on a trip to town, Sylvanians can enjoy a host of sophisticated activities, designed with all the usual intricate details for which the global toy brand is famous.
WHAT DOES A 1985 STICKER ON THE FOOT OF SYLVANIAN FAMILIES FIGURES MEAN?
The sticker “1985 Epoch China” (or similar wording) does not refer to the date the figure was released. This refers to the date of copyright of, the company, that is, Epoch Toys Ltd, a Japanese company who came up with the concept of Sylvanian Families Toys in Japan in 1985.
Even toys you buy in stores today likely will have this 1985 sticker under one foot.
The sticker is often placed over a tiny pinhole that is generally found under the right foot of a figure, which is part of the manufacturing procedure.
Often sellers or buyers who are relatively new to collecting can be genuinely mistaken in thinking they have discovered a 30 year old vintage Sylvanian treasure, however, this 1985 sticker is still found on new figures even today and does not denote the date of release.
SYLVANIAN FAMILIES FIGURES – WHY DO THEY HAVE A TINY HOLE IN ONE FOOT?
Have you ever noticed that your Sylvanian Families figures have a small pinhole sized hole under their right foot? Some earlier figures have this tiny indent under both feet. In some figures this is more prominent and in others it is barely noticeable.
This hole is part of the manufacturing process and all Sylvanian Families figures are produced with the same tiny hole underfoot. Often the 1985 sticker (referred to above) is placed over it, so only once the copyright sticker is removed you will notice the small hole.
Various theories about the cause of this abound. One theory is that this hole is used during the flocking process (the procedure used to cover the figure in that cute, soft, furry coating.) You may have observed if you own some well-worn Sylvanian figures, underneath the figure is a hard plastic. Likely a wire stand is placed up through one foot of the figure to hold it upright during the flocking process. This ensures a perfectly even coating of soft flocking all over the body of the critter. Once the flocking has dried sufficiently, the wire is removed and the sticker placed over the slight hole indented in the foot. Figures who are not standing, (ie, sitting baby figures) will often have this pinhole indent on their bottom instead)
WHAT DOES “DISCONTINUED” AND “RETIRED” SYLVANIAN FAMILIES MEAN?
Every year Sylvanian Families introduce exciting new items to their product line sold in stores. Often new items will be sold on the overseas market first and around 1 to 2 years later “This year’s latest Sylvanians” appear in stores Australia-wide, available for purchase.
However, this ever evolving line of “new” Sylvanian products, means that some of the previous products are “retired” or “discontinued” from production. After a time the previous line of items are no longer manufactured, so once they have been sold out in stores they eventually become quite hard to find and many of them become a “collectible item”
As with many other toy brands, as a Sylvanian Families item becomes less available, it becomes more collectible and the price of the item increases due to it’s scarcity.
You may notice that items featured in the Sylvanian Families catalogue change every year. If an item is in the catalogue, we can fairly safely consider that it is still in production. Once it no longer appears in the annual catalogue, it is likely that it has been “retired” and won’t be seen on store shelves any more once sold out.
You might like to visit our entire collection of Discontinued Sylvanian Families here
WHAT EXACTLY IS “STORAGE WEAR”, “SHELF WEAR” AND “AGE WEAR”?
We all love the pristine look of brand new Sylvanians bought directly from the shop. However today in most shops we can generally only purchase “current in stock” items which are still being manufactured. The packaged products have come directly from the factory and wholesale warehouse with a relatively short time between production and distribution, therefore with very limited handling and storage, so we expect to see them looking new.
However, for many people the most sought after items are the Sylvanian Families sets and figures that you can no longer purchase in stores. Here, at Sylvanian Specialty Store it’s our aim to offer as many retired or discontinued products as possible. Some items have been stored away in warehouses for many years in various parts of the world. Some items have been sitting on shelves of stores for many years before they turn up in our store.
So understandably, although these items are brand new and unopened, the outer box packaging may wear a little “history”. If this is the case, our store makes mention of any wear on the box in the product description, or any particular characteristic of the item that the collector should know about.
This is all part of collecting “discontinued” and “retired” Sylvanian Families and although we do our best to source many unique and sought after older products, often slight imperfections in the outer packaging of older items cannot be avoided.
Shelf wear = New items that have been sitting on a retail store shelf for many years. A description of “shelf wear” can mean there may be a dent in the plastic packaging or the edges of the box may show a little wear, tear, scuffing or general marks from the box being handled.
Storage wear = New items that have been stored away in warehouses for many years in different countries around the world. Due to various climates or warehouse conditions the box or packet may show a little wear, discolouring, fading or a slight tear or dent in the outer packaging.
Age wear = This tends to apply to vintage items or items that have been stored for many years and any of the following characteristics can apply. Sometimes the cellotape that seals a box can appear yellowed and a little curled up at the edges. Boxes may have some fading or general wear on the outer packaging. The packaging has an appearance consistent with being stored for 20 or 30 years. There may have been 1980’s price stickers that have been removed from the box, leaving a sticker mark. Sometimes there is yellow age spotting on the inside cardboard packaging inserts.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN BUYING A VINTAGE BRAND NEW SYLVANIAN FAMILIES ITEM?
Sylvanian Families have always been a top quality product, and were definitely made to last. Items released in the 1980s, brand new in their packaging, can still look as perfectly new as they did 30 years ago. Likely the outer box will show signs of age and wear, but the buildings, figures and accessories tend to stand the test of time extremely well.
Sylvanian Families White Buildings “yellowing” with age
In some cases white or cream coloured vintage buildings or furniture may begin to yellow in places, due to age. In general, non-white buildings and furniture retain their original colour remarkably well. Some examples of white buildings and furniture sets which I have noticed age discolouring in are:
*The early 1990’s Sylvanian Families Harvester Restaurant
*The 3 storeyed cream coloured 1990 Sylvanian Families Deluxe Country Mansion)
*The Red and White Grand Hotel may show signs of yellowing in the white areas.
* White furniture sets, such as the 1990s Tomy white Patio furniture set or the Tomy white garden seats.
Brand new vintage Figures with a small rub mark on the back of their head
One point to note, however, is when figures have remained sealed and never removed from their box long term, the soft flocking on the centre of the back of the figure’s head can leave a slightly flattened mark, where the figure’s head has been leaning against the back of the box. This is mostly only noticeable with gray or brown coloured figures, such as the Elephant Family or the UK Hazelwood brown mouse family or the vintage Slydale fox family, as examples. This generally only occurs when the figure is tied by bindings against a cardboard backing, especially when they have been tied into place for many years. The small area can appear to be a slightly lighter colour than the flocking around it and give the impression of being “faded” when it likely only that the flocking has been pressed flat for some time. This is fairly common with figures that have been stored brand new in the box for several years.
This can even be the case with brand new recent figures too. Often by brushing the flocking lightly in the other direction the flattened flocking impression will smooth away. However with vintage item dating back to the 1980’s the flattened patch at the back of it’s head is likely to remain so.
Paws and Feet
Note the colour of the paws of these brand new Sylvanian Families Grey Striped Cats. On Sylvanian Families figures with paws, or creviced hands or feet, the flocking can appear slightly darker in colour in the crevices. This is usual for Sylvanian figures, such as cat and dog figures and several other families and this is how the figures arrive from the manufacturer. However, other animal families, such as goat figures, have a flatter, round hand or foot, therefore the flocking coverage will be more even in tone.
SYLVANIAN FAMILIES – FROM 1985 TO 2018
If you’re new to collecting, you’ll be amazed at the variety of sets that have been available over the years. Afterall, Sylvanian Families have been producing items since 1985! If they produced 10 new sets every year, that could well be 300 or more different Sylvanian Families sets, or maybe many more. Bearing in mind also, that different countries produce their own exclusive sets which we would never see in Australian stores, this could add up to 20 to 30 new sets internationally each year. There are sets released only in Japan, or in USA (under the name of Calico Critters brand) or Europe. Even Mexico and Italy have had sets released exclusive to their own country. This also means there is a wide range of different packaging used over the years. See below for some examples of how the Sylvanian Families packaging has changed over the years.
There are also Sylvanian Families Limited Edition sets released on occasions in some countries. This may mean only several 1000 sets were ever produced, making them quite sought after by collectors around the world.
ARE CALICO CRITTERS THE SAME AS SYLVANIAN FAMILIES?
Yes! Calico Critters and Sylvanian Families are one and the same. Initially they were branded and sold as Sylvanian Families in the USA and Canada, however in 1993 Tomy (who was responsible for worldwide distribution of Sylvanian Families at the time) lost the rights to use the name Sylvanian Families in USA. Instead they re-named the product as Calico Critters of Cloverleaf Corners, and continue to sell under this brand name today in USA.
We stock USA Calico Critters in our store, essentially Calico Critters items that are not available in Australia, or that are exclusive to the USA Calico Critters range. Although the same product, our Calico Critters in our store are typically more expensive than many of the Sylvanian Families in our store, due to high importing costs.
WHY ARE SOME SYLVANIAN FAMILIES FIGURES SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE THAN OTHERS?
Sylvanian Families do vary widely in price. So, why is one family worth so much more than another?
In general, Sylvanian Families that can be found in stores still today, that are still in production and are readily available from Australian wholesale distributors, can be purchased for the market price. These will often be found on sale for very reasonable prices in Sylvanian Specialty Store as well as many other stores in Australia.
As mentioned above, the pricing of figures depends on their availability and their demand. Sylvanian Families that have been out of production for several years can be very expensive to source and import, which is reflected in their online price. Some of the most popular figures that are still in high demand are the Sylvanian Families Cow Family, Pig Family, Otter Family, Meerkat, Elephant and Sheep Family. All of these have been out of production for some years now, but we regularly manage to source brand new supplies of these from overseas and feature them in our Sylvanian Families Hard to Find Families collection when they become available.
We also need to factor in that some Sylvanian Families sets were Limited Edition releases to celebrate special occasions, such as the fabulous 2011 Royal Wedding special celebration set, the Sylvanian Families Chocolate Rabbit Wedding Set complete with William Balmoral (groom) and his beautiful bride Catherine. There are many other special release sets too, which are generally somewhat more expensive, due to only a limited number having been produced for a special occasion.
WHY ARE SOME SYLVANIAN FAMILIES BUILDINGS AND FURNITURE AN UNEVEN COLOURING?
This is fairly common in brown coloured Sylvanian furniture or items made of plastic, which are designed to look like wooden furniture or wooden flooring. Even modern day items, such as the floors of the current Sylvanian Families Tree house and even brand new items will display this inconsistent colouring that can be mistaken for fading. Rest assured, this is how the item comes brand new.
It is especially noticeable in furniture items. Often there will be a darker spot in the plastic where there is a join. Or a slightly patchy coloured look in places. These variations in colour in furniture and flooring are normal in both vintage and brand new items and are not considered a defect or product flaw. Below are photos of a vintage circular table top and the underside of an armchair as examples of this uneven colouring found on most brown wood-look Sylvanian Families items
Examples in images below are all of brand new items.
WHY DOES THE SAME SYLVANIAN FAMILIES PRODUCT COME IN DIFFERENT BOXES?
Depending on which company distributed the Sylvanian Families item at the time of it’s release. Some items come in blue packaging by Flair. Other more recently released Sylvanian Families items come in lighter coloured packaging by Epoch.
See examples of the same set below which has been sold in slightly varied packaging.
You might also like to read our other* Sylvanian Families related news articles* Australia’s Favourite Sylvanian Families* Sylvania has a twin village in the UK* Connecting Sylvania – a guide to which Sylvanian Buildings can connect