Essay

The Single Object At Home Edition: Polly Pocket

I received my first Polly Pocket as an eight-year-old in 1996, as a gift to play with on the long plane journey when my family emigrated to New Zealand from the United Kingdom. The Polly Pocket compact I received on this trip was a 1994 “Star Bright Dinner Party” and the candelabras and night sky both light up. I remember being besotted with my Polly Pockets as a child, and deciding that when I became a grown up I wanted to be just like Polly. She’s a pretty good feminist role model considering she owns property all over the world and spends her time living her best life with her international gal pals, their pets, and not a man in sight! I still get a thrill when I acquire a new one, and they never fail to entertain me.

At the moment we are all living a bit like Polly in our individual bubbles, and my collection of Polly Pockets is what keeps me smiling in mine. Often when I mention Polly Pocket to women my age there is an instant sharp intake of breath followed by the “Oh my god, I had one of those!” moment. Polly Pocket is one of those things that if you know, you know.

The first Polly Pocket was released in 1989, by a small toy manufacturer called Bluebird. They continued to produce Polly Pockets in their original form until 1998, when the company was purchased by Mattel. Following the sale, Mattel made many changes to Polly Pocket including increasing her size (sacrilege) and moving away from the original compact or dollhouse style of each set. In my searches for true vintage Pollys online I have come across sets from the late 90s and early 2000s and they all look a bit more like Barbie. In these sets Polly only really seems to shop or do her make-up, this newer 2000s Polly is certainly not the real estate mogul of the 80s with a home in Paris! I think the original Polly compacts were a short moment in time before girls’ toys became more mature, and before anything went digital. They are very simple with levers and flaps or fold out parts, the only electronics are lights or the occasional sound feature. For me this is what makes them so charming now, aside from the batteries running out, most of the parts are still fully functional.

As an adult collector I haven’t dipped into any of the online forums for the hardcore enthusiasts. I am mostly collecting in the same way I did as a child, picking out the ones I love. While I am not concerned with completing a particular set, I am very particular about the quality of each compact, avoiding any major fading or damage to the logo. They must also come with at least one of the original Polly dolls if not all, and the other accessories like animals or cars. I accidentally purchased a compact with a missing piece and am now trying to track a replacement down on eBay, which will probably cost more than the original compact. There are other Polly obsessives out there, and I know I will find it eventually. Very few of the compacts stand alone, and most come in a series of around five. At the moment I only have two compacts from the same set, and only one of the dollhouse style. Thinking about the ways people collect, I often wonder if I ever will feel the need to complete my collection. For now I am happy purchasing on impulse and ruthlessly bidding for coveted Pollys on Trademe.

I am very fortunate my parents have kept these childhood treasures for so long. They’ve moved about four times since I left home, and every time the Polly Pocket box was transferred carefully to a new attic for safekeeping. Neither of my parents have many toys from their own childhoods so they have protected mine and I am so grateful for this. They gave me the 30th anniversary collector’s edition for my birthday last year and I think they must have thought (with love of course) that they can’t believe they’re buying me “more bloody Polly Pockets” at age 32!

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Naiomi Murgatroyd is a GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector professional living in Tāmaki Makaurau. In between collecting Polly Pockets she is the visitor experience manager at MOTAT, and has previously worked for Objectspace, Rotorua Museum, and the Wellington Museums Trust.