Inside the Collection

Toys and games from the 1980s

The moulded He-Man figure has a muscular body, blonde hair and wears a red chest plate with the letter 'H' strapped to his body. He wears red briefs, orange belt, orange wrist bands and long grey and red boots. He carries a grey double-edged broad axe in one hand and has a yellow sword and silver shield. The moulded green plastic Battle Cat figure features orange stripes and is modelled in a stalking position, mouth open and teeth bared in an aggressive manner. His head is covered with a red armoured helmet and on his back is a large red saddle.
Masters of the Universe toy action figures, He-Man and Battle Cat, were merchandising made in Taiwan in 1981 for Mattel Inc. MAAS collection 2013/35/1. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski, MAAS

Was your childhood spent in the 1980s? Then the names Puggle, He Man, Fabuland, Battle Cat and Teddy Ruxpin will ring a few bells this Christmas.

Fantasy toys were an element of the 1980s. The super-hero toys He-Man and his and his faithful steed, Battle Cat, were media merchandising from the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) film, cartoon and comic series.

Animatronic toy teddy bear with plush fur body, large head, small ears and moveable mouth. The bear is light brown in colour and wears a short sleeved orange top beneath a tan coloured tunic. The tunic has an embroidered logo with the bear's name 'Teddy Ruxpin'. The body of the bear contains a cassette tape player which can be accessed by lifting the tunic. The inserted audio cassettes synchronise the talking apparatus which control the bear's mouth with the story heard on the tape.
Teddy Ruxpin, the talking teddy, was made in California by Worlds of Wonder Inc. between 1985 and 1988. MAAS collection 2011/70/1. Photo: Sotha Bourn, MAAS

One of the most collectable toys from the decade is said to be a talking teddy bear called Teddy Ruxpin. He has a built-in cassette tape player in his back and when a special tape was inserted he came to life. His eyes and mouth moved, and he appeared to talk, telling his adventures on some 40 different tapes. How did the creators achieve animatronics with a simple cassette player inside the bear? Stereo cassette tapes usually featured two distinct tracks for the right and left-hand speakers. Teddy Ruxpin’s player read the right track with the bear’s movements encoded and the left one had the audio.

The Puggle is covered in soft, red cloth. Two plastic buttons represent the eyes, and plastic whiskers are sewn into the snout. The Puggle is filled with small synthetic beans to give it shape. The sleeping bag is made from soft, blue fabric. It has a hole cut into one side, reinforced with a metal ring. When placed in the sleeping bag, the Puggle's snout can be pulled through the hole. A red cloth tie is present - it has been removed from the top hemming of the sleeping bag.
Made by Mattel Toys in about 1983, this Puggle came in a plush drawstring bag with a hole through which a whiskered snout could poke. MAAS collection 2009/74/1. Photo: Nitsa Yioupros, MAAS

The huge US toy firm, Mattel, made a uniquely Australian soft toy called a Puggle, a baby echidna. It was developed in the US by the Australian rock singer, Billy Thorpe, and his Aztecs guitarist, Tony Barber. The idea was to immerse children in the enchanting world of the Australian bush through stories, toys and a chain of gift shops across Australia, New Zealand and America called The Lost Forests. If you were an 80s or early 90s child, chances are you went to a birthday party in one of these shops. The successful 80s Australian films, Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee, were catalysts for international interest in Australia but most of The Lost Forests shops had closed by 1993.

The Glo Worm is a soft plush toy in a bright green colour. The face is plastic and the body, arms and nightcap are green fabric. The nightcap has an orange tassel. Inside the body is a child-proof battery box and wire which activates the light which makes the face glow. When the body is pressed the light is turned on.
Glo Worms were made in China for the US firm Hasbro Inc. from 1982. The donor cleverly replaced the original lamp on this one with a cool LED to stop the plastic getting too hot and causing deterioration. MAAS collection 2011/67/1. Photo: Sotha Bourn, MAAS

Another cute soft toy relating to nature was the Glo Worm. An ideal bedtime companion, it combined a soft toy and night light. When its body was squeezed the head would light up. The sleepy-faced, night-cap-wearing toys tucked up into their sleeping bags appealed to both adults and children alike.

The two Barbie dolls' costumes consist of a pink 'Rockers' T-shirt, one doll has a pink mini-skirt and tan leggings; the other has a pink jacket and pants ensemble. The styling is indicative of the mid 1980s. The Ken doll's costume is a silver long jacket and pants ensemble with a silver 'Rockers' T-shirt, and silver shoes.
This 1985 Barbie and the Rockers pop group set came with two Barbies and a Ken, a keyboard, TV camera, stage light and guitars, as well as a backstage backdrop where the performers could get ready. MAAS collection 2009/35/1. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski, MAAS

As with Barbie, Lego has kept reinventing itself for decades. In the 1980s they marketed Fabuland to both boys and girls aged 3 to 7 years who were too old for DUPLO and too young for LEGO Town kits.

Fabuland Set No. 3678 Lionel's Lodge (Mayor's House or The Fabuland House), originally 135 (or 122 pieces?), including four Fabuland figures, Lionel Lion, the Mayor of Fabuland, Harry Horse, Lucy Lamb, and Edward Elephant. It features Lionel's three-storey house, Lucy Lamb with a carpet beater on the upstairs outdoor terrace, a car, a rubbish bin, saw, rake and paint brush.
Fabuland Mayor’s house or Lionel’s Lodge made in Denmark in 1982 by The Lego Group. It’s part of an amazing collection of 85 Fabuland sets in the Museum’s collection. MAAS collection 2012/147/1-13. Photo: Madeleine Riley, MAAS

Fabuland represented a by-gone age, the aircraft were bi-planes, the ship was a side-wheel paddle steamer and the automobiles came out of the 1920s. The animals were anthropomorphic with storybook-alliteration names such as Max Mouse, Bonnie Bunny, and Henry Horse. Did you notice Fabuland’s well-developed animal social hierarchy? A lion was mayor, bulldogs were policemen, the crocodile an untrustworthy criminal, horses hardworking handymen and birds all flew planes.

The Cabbage Patch doll has long brown hair tied into pigtails on either side of her head. The doll is dressed a light blue zip-up windcheater and dark blue denim jeans with white shoes. She has her arms out and is in a seated position.
The Museum acquired this Cabbage Patch Kid at the height of its popularity in 1986. In a nice touch, the official adoption certificate was made out to the Museum’s then Director, Lindsay Sharp, who named the ‘Kid’ Elise Delia Sharp. MAAS collection 87/1210. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski, MAAS

Cabbage Patch Kid dolls swept the world in the early 1980s with millions ‘adopted’ to children complete with adoption papers, family histories, footprints and thumbprints. Each was unique with different-coloured eyes and hair, expressions and hairstyles. The ‘Kids’ went on sale in the US in 1983 and as Christmas approached parents became increasing desperate to have their child ‘adopt’ one. Seventy-five million were sold worldwide in 12 years. Do you still have your adoption certificate for your ‘Kid’ or perhaps you adopted a soft toy dog? Created in 1984, Pound Puppies came in a dog-kennel shaped cardboard boxes with adoption certificates too.

With the rise of the personal computer, video games could be played at home rather than in arcades. The release of the Nintendo NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1985 brought the console industry back to life after the video game crash of 1983. Although games continued to be played on PC platforms, the popularity of game consoles reached new heights through the later years of the 80s with games played on your own TV. NES control decks came in a Basic Set for $99.95 with control deck, two controllers and the famous Super Mario Bros cartridge. A Deluxe Set for $199.95 also had promotional gear, different controllers and multiple games.

Four Nintendo Game and Watch electronic games. Each consists of a rectangular console with plastic casing and metallic front and an LCD display screen with permanent graphics incorporated. The LCD characters move through this display. The control buttons are red and there is a battery casing at the back. Decorative transfers. No packaging. The console is designed to be held comfortably in both hands and operated with the game controls under the thumbs.
Nintendo’s Game & Watch portable games made between 1981 and 1982 showing, Turtle Bridge, PopEye, Donkey Kong Jr and Fire. The donor was given Donkey Kong Jr for his 9th birthday in 1982 and played with it for hours. MAAS collection 2006/112/11. Photo: Sotha Bourn, MAAS

Small hand-held games broke new ground in applying electronics to toys with Nintendo again the big player. They featured content with a winning balance between achievable outcomes and degrees of difficulty which invited the user to play again. Nintendo’s Game & Watch and Game Boy were at each end of the decade with the latter selling over 64 million between 1989 and 1998. For use anywhere and anytime, it came with the popular game cartridge Tetris.

Much more could be written about the toys and games from the 80s. If you enjoyed reminiscing about them, you can find more at the following links: Smurfs and Coca-Cola yo-yos (which made a comeback), Rubik’s Cube, Michael Jackson doll, Boy George doll, Dukes of Hazard game, the A-Team toys, Star Wars figurines, Sesame Street Muppets, Knight Rider game, and of course Lego.

Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator, December 2018.

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