There’s a Polly Pocket Museum in Krystyna Roman’s house. The 28-year-old fan of the toys from the 1990s that were inspired by the phrase “cute as a button” has more than 100 of the miniature playsets with even tinier dolls on display.
Roman, of Lake Stevens, has been a Polly fan since she was about 3 years old. She has just one playset saved from her childhood: The Polly Pocket Clubhouse from 1995.
The clubhouse is a Victorian mansion that is about 6-by-5½-by-6 inches. It features a bedroom with a balcony, a soda bar, party room and dressing rooms. It includes six dolls and 23 accessories.
Roman has been adding to her collection since she saw a Tumblr post about Polly Pocket in 2018. She now has a total of 122, most of which are displayed in her living room.
“It unlocked something in me,” she said of the Tumblr post. “I love looking at them, I love feeling the nostalgia of them. They’re tiny pieces of art. I’m just so impressed with the quality and how they last — I mean, some of these are almost 30 years old. These are great little pieces and I wanted to start rescuing them from going in the landfill.”
A recent University of Washington grad, Roman purchased 1997’s Mulan Brave Journey set from a collector in Indonesia for $75 in 2018. She loves Disney’s “Mulan,” so she had to have it. She was hooked on Polly after that.
Here are her top five: Children’s Hospital (1995), Light-Up Supermarket (1995), Jewel Magic Ball (1996), Up Up and Away (1997) and Fun Cruise (1997).
“At first, I told myself I was only going to collect ones from when I was a child,” she said. “Then it just exploded from there because I saw so many I liked.”
Polly Pocket is the brainchild of a Briton named Chris Wiggs. His goal was to design a doll and house small enough to fit in his daughter Kate’s pocket. In 1983, Wiggs fashioned a dollhouse for a tiny doll out of a makeup powder compact.
He sold the idea to Bluebird Toys of Swindon, England, and Polly Pocket toys appeared in stores in 1989.
The plastic cases open to form a dollhouse or other playset with dolls less than an inch tall. The dolls fold in the middle, like the case. Each doll stands on a base that fits into slotted holes at various points in the house.
Polly’s popularity was palpable. It was estimated that 75% of girls in Great Britain owned a Polly Pocket by 1994.
Polly peaked in 1995. Bluebird Toys reported $139 million worldwide in sales that year, which is about $246 million in today’s money. Disney was licensed for a new line of pocket-sized toys and Mattel made a distribution deal.
After selling Polly for several years — and while production lulled — Mattel purchased Bluebird Toys in 1998.
More than 30 years later, Polly Pocket is still the world’s No. 1 mini doll. The sets made by Bluebird Toys from 1989 to 1998 are now hot collectables.
“You collect these sets that you could never get because you’re a kid and your parents are always like, ‘When you have the money, you can buy it for yourself,’” Roman said of fans who grew up playing with the diminutive doll. “That’s what most of collectors do now. We have the money, so we’re going to buy it for ourselves.”
The market for vintage Polly Pocket heated up after COVID-19 hit. Most complete vintage sets now go for $40 to $100. A mail order Polly necklace only available in the U.K. in 1991 recently sold for $350.
“It became a stress-reliever,” Roman said of those who found Polly again during the pandemic. “It’s a little present to yourself.”
Roman loves the details of the Bluebird sets. In her Polly Pocket Clubhouse, for example, you can push the bushes at the back of the house to pop up the roof of the house. Some of the windows open. The stairs transform into a stage. You can spin a dial on the stage to make Polly dance.
“The mechanisms, all the intricate details — they put so much love into it,” she said.
An administrative assistant for University of Washington Human Resources, Roman reconnected with Polly Pocket fans from all over the world online via Instagram, Only Polly Pocket and the Vintage Polly Pocket Buy Sell and Trade Facebook group.
“As I started collecting them, I found an amazing community,” she said. “I clicked with them.”
After three years and 122 sets, Roman has figured out the Polly Pocket market.
“I found out what’s a good deal for a set, what not to pay for a set, where to find all the little tiny pieces and how to trade for them if you need to,” she said. “It really spiraled after that — in good way.”
She purchases about one vintage piece or set per month. She finds most of her toys on eBay or Mercari.
Over the years, she’s also been completing her Polly Pocket Clubhouse set. She was missing several of the accessories. Now Roman only needs the bouquet of flowers and it will be 100% complete.
“They look like the itty bittiest grapes,” she said. “I’ve only seen one or two of them — and they sell super quick. I can’t even tell you.”
Mattel reports that more than 10 million compacts have sold since 1989 — and that Polly Pocket is the company’s second most popular doll after Barbie.
What gives Polly staying power? “Polly inspires girls to be capable, courageous and tenacious in their own lives, and this message continues to resonate across generations,” said Devin Tucker, an associate PR manager with Mattel.
After 1998’s merger, Mattel redesigned Polly Pocket. The new doll was about 1½ inches tall. Polly was given a more lifelike rather than cartoonish appearance, she traded in her curly bob for a straight ponytail and new friends were introduced to the toy line.
In 2002, the company stopped producing the Bluebird Toy sets. In 2012, the Mattel line was discontinued in the U.S. You could only find them in Europe and South America. Polly Pocket was discontinued all together in 2015.
But Polly lives. When the ’90s became popular again, Mattel relaunched Polly Pocket in 2018. With the relaunch, the toy company offers new playsets with Polly at her close-to-original size for the next generation.
There are nearly 50 new Polly compacts available on Mattel’s Polly Pocket website. Rather than standing in slots, the dolls stick to the plastic case at various points. New wearable toys — such as lockets and rings — will be hitting stores soon.
What does Mattel have to say about Polly’s perpetuity? She’ll turn 32 on July 24.
“Polly, as well as all Mattel products, are built to last and we take great pride in our quality, so we are excited to see the after-market collector audience for our products and know they are often handed down from generation to generation,” Tucker said.
Besides the bouquet from Polly Pocket Clubhouse, Roman is searching for the Polly Pocket Birthday Party Stamper from 1992. She saw it on eBay last week — 100% complete for a whopping $600. She didn’t bid on it. She’ll wait for a more affordable price.
“My last holy grail was the Fun Cruise,” she said. “And then I was like, ‘Well, now what do I do?’”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
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