It appears I have a weakness

“Master your desires”, counseled the ancient stoic philosophers, “and you won’t be ruled by them.” It’s a seductive philosohpy (and a hypocrical one, usually — most of the stoics were colossal yuppies by today’s standards.) One of the worst side-effects of this point of view is the loathsome feeling of superiority you get when someone gets effusive about a passion you don’t share. My mom likes to tell the story of a tour guide in Leningrad; we were on a Franklin Mint Collector’s Society tour — my dad, as the editor of the Franklin Mint Almanac at the time, was the titular head of the Collector’s Society, and we went on what were really quite fantastic, if rushed, two-week cruises every year — and one septuagenarian collector was going on and on about the Russian desserts to our tour guide, a willowy Natasha type standing balanced in the front of the tour bus. “Oh, I simply can’t resist them! They’re wonderful!”

To which the guide cocked one plucked eyebrow and replied “…it appears you have a weak-ness.”

That phrase, along with its arch, very slightly reproachful delivery, became a family byword. Get too enthusiastic about something stupid, and you were likely to hear from the Russian Tour Guide about it. This is not to say I grew up in an atmosphere of stymied enthusiasm. It’s true that the Baldwin family reveres the iron discipline of my grandmother, who one morning announced to a cigar-smoking salesman in the living room “Oh! I’m glad I’m rid of that filthy habit!” (she had quit just an hour before, and — this is the important bit — never smoked again.) But the Baldwin family also reveres enthusiasm (my uncle Bob can do one hell of a Prospector Pete I-struck-gold dance, when requested), so the Russian Tour Guide quote is meant mostly to poke fun at the speaker’s feeling of knee-jerk superiority, rather than the guide-ee’s effusiveness.

Which is all a torturous way of saying I no longer have one up on those with a Fiestaware jones, any more, as I’ve gone berserk for seventies Fisher-Price toys. I mean, seriously bug-nuts over the stuff.

Why seventies Fisher-Price, particularly? I’m not sure, but I have a couple of bullet points around which to organize my effusiveness.

  • It doesn’t have the cutesy, foreshortened, hydrocephalic styling of the modern stuff. The little seventies figures, plain and unstyled as they are, seem to be representative of actual humans, not the bizarre little homunculi in the modern sets.
  • The seventies styling of the sets. Let me rephrase that: the utterly
    kick-ass seventies
    of the sets.

  • The fact that there are no batteries or buttons. Nothing wrong with buttons, but I think those toys teach causation; they’re not just a blank canvas. Hmm, by that same token a play airport isn’t a blank canvas, you’d need plain wooden blocks for that. Okay, so probably a huge part of the reason is just
  • Nostalgia. Okay, I said it, alright? It appears I have a weakness! My eBay trigger finger is itching! Must! Buy! Houseboat! With spring flag and dinghy!
Reproduced without permission from
The snowmobile has a trailer for the dog. Oh lord that’s hip. See all the playsets here.

PS. It turns out that I was only looking at the “Little People” playsets, and that there’s all sorts of other daredevil seventies stuff: “The Adventure People and their Wilderness Patrol“!? Come on, people, I’m not made out of stone!

8 responses to “It appears I have a weakness”

  1. Oh man, these toys are so great. We had the Family House, the School House, the Seasame House and (my personal favorite) the Lift and Load Depot. I know the Depot is still at my parent’s house, awaiting the eager hands of grandchildren, and I’m pretty sure my Mom saved the rest of it, too. It’s cliche to say so, but they just don’t make toys this cool anymore. We had a couple of the extra-large people for the bathtub, too. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of having siblings: more Fisher Price!


  2. Shoot, I wish I’d saved that stuff for you and Lydia to play with. I recall that among other things you had the garage (really cool!) and the houseboat. I still DO have the F-P “portable phonograph” which plays disks using a kind of music-box principle. Of course kids today don’t have much of a clue as to what a phonograph looks like, which probably makes it that much more exotic. It is a BIG hit with visiting toddlers. Also kept the bristle blocks, and the wooden blocks, and the Skaneateles train, which you never loved as much as I did.
    Does Lydia have Richard Scarry books?


  3. had the houseboat, school, farm, parking garage, village, airport and, drumroll please, the castle with working trapdoor and robin hood figure. big fun in our house was setting up the whole fisher price world and playing godzilla. almost choked to death on the captain of the houseboat who was, thank god, taller than the others so my brother bill was able to pluck him out of my windpipe with a cork-ish >pop<.
    good times.


  4. ROFL… spit, choke…. Ewok – Jack Skellington…
    tis true – though most critics just call her the Cristina Ricci doll. She is ‘most creepy’ by far but she brings back memories of pulling that string out of her back till her eyes rolled around at the speed of lightning. Come to think of it my parents should’ve considered childhood therapy…


  5. If you really have a thing for fisher price, you would just roll your eyes back in your head in utter euphoria in the warehouse of Thisoldtoy…


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