Once upon a time, many years ago, a little girl received a wonderful white plastic horse for Christmas. It was not the live pony she actually wanted, but in itself it was perfect. Was it a Breyer? A Hartland? Even today, though the beloved horse is still with her, she does not really know. And does not feel the need to know. The horse is so much more than a collectible, a brand. It is not just a part of her childhood, it IS her childhood, in all its glory. And through the horse, as through a story or photo or painting or song, she can reconnect with that magical time that is the deepest source of self.
The white horse was soon followed by other horses — plastic and metal and china, large and small. Some of these were clearly toys, but others seemed more like miniature artworks. Many of the horses came with riders, saddles, barns, corrals, companions, and even families. For the little girl was growing up in a fabulous era, when a new kind of toy was being born — just for her and her sisters and brothers all over America.
Plastic playsets. In the 1950s, companies like Louis Marx, Bergen Toy & Novelty, Auburn Toy, Ohio Art, Ideal, Tim-Mee Toy and many others were flourishing. It was the Golden Age of Plastic. A material hailed as unbreakable. Hygienic. Safe. Cheap, perhaps, but versatile and supremely moldable. Perfect for mass-produced toys! And masses of them were produced, to be sold in toy stores, of course, but especially in the fabled Dime Stores and through the Sears catalog, the Wish Book.
The little girl spent hours poring over the toys in Green’s, Woolworth’s, and Kresge’s, her local ”five-and-dime” emporia. There were open counters, divided into hundreds of reconfigurable compartments with glass partitions. These held neat multiples of toys that could be handled (if the crabby clerk wasn’t on duty). There were also wire racks of toys sealed in clear plastic bags with cards attached. These header cards, as she would learn to call them some 50 years on, showed colorful scenes of cowboys and Indians, farms and circuses that fired the imagination. Nearby were the comic books, with stories from the movies or TV on which some of her favorite plastic toys were based, or stories she projected in pretend play on the many generic cowboys and Indians for sale: Roy Rogers and Trigger, Gene Autry and Champion, the Lone Ranger and Silver.
Notice a pattern? Horses always figured in somehow! Essential to the Wild West, anchoring the Farm, starring in the Circus, or even just loafing in a tiny paddock outside the dollhouse. But of course, there was an entirely different plastic playset world that existed alongside the one that the little girl enjoyed. It was about Action, Conflict, War. It was, virtually exclusively, the province of BOYS. And its numbers and variety were legion. GIs from the war recently ended (or ongoing in Korea). Cavalry-and-Indians, Blue-and-Gray, and Alamo defenders from battles a century gone. Greeks, Romans, Vikings, medieval knights, French Foreign Legionnaires. Pirates. Big-game hunters in the heart of Africa. In a term borrowed from the metal toy world, whose heyday was our parents’ — or even our grandparents’ — childhood, these were all Toy Soldiers. Military playsets. Stories of historical violence, grand scale, and tradition (of a kind).
What you will find on Ponylope.com is, for the most part, another thing altogether. Again, a term from the metal toy world — Civilian — is often used. Meaning farm and town toys that provided backgrounds (or battlegrounds) in the ongoing enactment of the wars so essential to armies, toy and otherwise. But the little girl — yes, Ponylope — didn’t think in those terms. She just created a particular world with actors and scenes and furnishings of her choice. From the toys readily available back then. And while there were borrowings from the other side, and unavoidable concessions (the legendary West was surely full of gunplay, but that era unavoidably dominated 1950s entertainment), Ponylope much preferred the peaceful. The pastoral. Playing WITH as opposed to playing against. Her cowboys may have been molded with six-guns, but generally they were ornamental in Ponylope’s world.
Want to play war? No problem. You will certainly find some military odds and ends on this site to help out, but the majority of vintage playset toys here reflect Ponylope’s experience, knowledge, taste, and passions. She hopes to be able to offer most of the common and not-so-common playset horses and accessories eventually, along with a selection of horses in other scales and from other eras. But there will be plenty of other items to suit a variety of toyboxes and collections.
Baby Boomers or Late Bloomers, Ponylope wants to help you indulge in acquiring some of these vintage toys from the 1950s and 1960s, whether you stick to the authentic original playsets, or create your own. She hopes to come up with some “dreamwish”-style pieces and playsets to extend the genre, too. For example, under the Stuart heading, take a look at the replica accessories and character figures molded by Bob Overfield and offered as a Ponylope Exclusive. It’s a start.
Since this is a hobby above all, Ponylope wants you to have fun with it! There will be features on various topics and links to interesting stuff other people have put out there. Ponylope doesn’t expect the old toys to run out anytime soon. But if they do, she thinks there will always be a need for White Plastic Horses, though they shape-shift into Star Wars figures, endlessly reincarnated Superheroes, anime ’toons, or . . .
P.S. Why the name? Ponylope’s given name is Penelope, which looks to many people as though it should be pronounced “PEN-na-lope,” not “Pe-NELL-o-pee,” as is correct (and more melodious).
“Pennalope” suggested Ponylope — a felicitous marriage of meaning, pun, and onomatopoeia —
and a unique “nom de play” was born.
Vintage Toy Horses and Plastic Playset Miscellany from the 1950s On . . .