A Suburb of Sylvania in Tasmania
There's no doubt about it, since 1985, Sylvanian Families have been loved and adored throughout several generations around the world, both by children and by adults. How many thousands of little Sylvanian Villages there must be around the globe, where Sylvanian character flocked toys, such as Hedgehog, Squirrel or Cow families, dress quaintly and act like human beings, holding down a jobs, attending schools, snack at donut stands, or dine at restaurants, drive Morris Minor's or vintage Model T Ford's and generally mimic real life on a super cute and incredibly detailed miniature scale.
While most Sylvanian villages are made up of a couple of cottages, perhaps a Supermarket, or Bakery with rabbit-shaped buns, and maybe a Country School which has a treehouse library, some collections can take up quite a lot more miniature real estate, developing from a village to a Sylvanian town. In Tasmania, we've located what could well be Australia's Sylvanian capital city.
Margaret was the winner of Australia's biggest Sylvanian Families fan competition in 2015
In 2015, Sylvanian Families celebrated their 30th anniversary since their inception in Japan in 1985, by the Japanese gaming company Epoch. To mark the occasion, Sylvanian Families Australia held a competition to find out who is Australia’s Biggest Sylvanian Fan, creating a great deal of interest amongst Australia's thousands of Sylvanian fans. Margaret, from Tasmania, was their out and out winner, with her wide-ranging collection, sourced from around the world, which dates back to 1988, when she fell in love at first sight with her first Sylvanian!
Sandy Babblebrook, the baby Sylvanian, who was the beginning of Margaret's amazing collection today
“I remember the day I discovered them. I was 11 years old. I was at Kmart with my Mum just before Easter 1988. We were just browsing the toy section and I came across a small range of cute little animals. I pointed them out to my Mum and she also thought they were cute. She asked me if I'd like one for Easter, and we both thought it would be appropriate if it was a rabbit, so I chose the grey baby boy rabbit, Sandy Babblebrook. It all grew from there!”
From a Village to a City - how a collection begins
A Sylvanian townscape in the living room
Likely no-one ever really starts out with the intention of being a serious collector, but a collection is something that develops over time, starting with one item, then adding another here and there, until at some point we realise our gradual accumulation has mounted up into a sizeable collection. Often there is a defining point someone can look back to and realise that’s when they considered themselves a serious collector.
“Once I was in high school I decided I was a bit old for Sylvanians. Fortunately, this didn't last long as I had a good friend who was five years younger than me, and she used to pester me to get them out for her to play with when she visited. That was enough to maintain my interest. I started buying them again after I bought my friend some figures of her very own... but then they disappeared from Australian shops! Luckily that was roughly when the Internet was starting to grow, and we discovered that the Sylvanian range was a lot larger than we'd previously thought. We combined our funds to order the Calico Critters nursery treehouse and the Cottontail rabbits from overseas. It was from then that it became about collecting”
Margaret's Moss Reindeer Family, now very collectible
Sylvanian heirlooms to pass on to the next generation someday
“My friend no longer collects, though she does still have most of her items. A number of years ago she decided she needed to sell them due to finance and space. I was concerned she’d later regret it, and I didn't want to see her collection broken up (plus she had a few items I wanted), so I bought the lot (for only a token amount, which I came to feel bad about later!). Last year, with her daughters turning 5 & 6, I offered to give back most of her collection and I just kept a few bits and pieces. I felt much better after that as now I feel like I have only kept what I actually paid for and her daughters love them.”
Wedding Bells in Sylvanian - the vintage Honeypot Bear Wedding set
“I used to wonder what on earth would happen to my collection when I'm no longer here, so in that respect I'm glad I now have my daughter to potentially inherit them (assuming she's interested!). I certainly look forward to sharing them with my daughter when she's a bit older. Hopefully they'll still be around in shops so she can have some of her very own too"
Australia's Biggest Sylvanian Families Fan Competition
In 2015 Margaret was named as Australia’s Biggest Sylvanian Families Fan. In the early days of collecting, 30 years ago, when Sylvanian Families were still relatively new to shops, with a limited range available, it would be hard to imagine there being this competition some day, with such a prestigious title.
"Australia's most obsessed fan perhaps, but not the biggest! Even when I entered the competition I didn't really think I'd win, but I thought it was worth a shot!"
And the question we’d all love to ask…. Exactly how many Sylvanian Families figures does Australia’s Biggest Sylvanian Families fan have?
“I have to admit I do lose track, especially due to the fact that the collection has to be stored rather than displayed thanks to a lack of space. I'm working on cataloguing them, but that takes time of course. I have roughly 800 figures and about 60 buildings, including homes, schools, shops etc."
Margaret's first photo of her Sylvanian Families collection in 1989
The Old versus the New
To a collector, Sylvanian Families can be easily defined into eras. As various companies such as, Tomy and Flair and Epoch took over the production and distribution of Sylvanian Families and produced certain Sylvanian items that were specific to their era.
“My favourite is definitely the early Tomy years, as they were the ones that sparked it all, and are now the hardest to find. Although the Flair years were also great, as that is when the bulk of my collecting was done. I still enjoy some of the newer range, but I'm a little disappointed that there is a lot of recycling going on now (particularly of figures). I tend to be more selective about what I buy these days - I have to be because of the lack of storage for them, and the cost of course. Mind you, I love some of the exclusive Japanese families released in more recent years, such as the Wildflower and Lavender rabbits.”
Is a collection ever complete?
Many collectors have a “Holy Grail”, a sought after item that they haven’t yet managed to acquire and there's plenty of those elusive, hard to find Sylvanian Families items that will prove a challenge to any Sylvanian collector.
“The original Japanese log cabin has always fascinated me. It was depicted on a Sylvanian puzzle that I got in the 1990s, and I assumed it had been made just for the photo (because it was wooden), but then I learned that the original Japanese buildings *were* wooden, and that was one of them! Someone was selling the log cabin online a year or two ago but it was really expensive. Maybe one day I'll acquire one! “
The very rare Japanese Sylvanian Families Memory Time Log Cabin from 1986
Storing a Collection
Most Sylvanian collectors are curious about how others store their collection
"I would love to display my items, but we simply don't have the space in our current house. I have my figures stored in clip lock bags (ever since a couple of figures were attacked by moths), and all of my furniture and accessories are contained in a large chest of drawers. The buildings are stored inside a couple of wardrobes. I have to check from time to time as our house is old and can get a bit damp, which is a bit worrying! One day we hope to build a house, and we'll include a dedicated space for storage, and some for display. I envisage a rotating display, as we probably still wouldn't have enough space to display the whole collection! Plus, I'll need to be able to manage the display in terms of keeping it dusted and tidy, and being able to prop the figures back up if they fall over - as all collectors will know, some of them have slightly wonky feet!"
To see more of Margaret’s own personal amazing Sylvanian Families Collection, find them on Flickr. But please note, items are privately owned and not for sale.