Let me introduce you to the world of vintage Playmobil sets, enjoyed by ironic artists and sincere enthusiasts alike.
Playmobil sets from the '70s and '80s especially - the childhood plastic toys once enjoyed by those of us now in our 20s, 30s and early 40s. With simple plastic people swashbuckling on the decks of plastic pirate ships, flying tubular planes, boarding buses, leading school trips, crossing jungles, or living in igloos (among thousands of other scenes from life, both real and imagined), they have found an eager market of collectors and documentarians. Sharing their enthusiasm for vintage Playmobil on Flickr pages dedicated to the toys, they also populate collectors' and auction sites which trade and sell what could only be described as a mixture of kitsch and nostalgia.
Google 'Playmobil + vintage' and see what's out there. Some of what you'll find is hilarious, and occasionally even poignant; the thought-provoking images some artists and fans have recorded with their cameras - one of two Playmobil figures together in some sort of romantic photo, with the image then torn and replaced by a new photo of one of the figures with a new plastic partner. One isn't sure if it's funny or moving. Probably funny. Recreating classic album covers with Playmobil is another Internet phenomenon I highly approve of.
What's appealing about the Playmobil sets of years past is the sense of nostalgia they offer to those of us who played with the toys throughout our childhoods. But buying the latest Playmobil on offer doesn't quite do it, for the toys Playmobil made decades ago differ from current models. Often the changes are minor. If you compare the school bus Playmobil makes today with one they made twenty-plus years ago, you’ll notice that the colours are slightly different between the two, with one or two other small features altered.
Of course, some sets from years past are no longer sold, while others that are will reveal much bigger differences and changes. For instance, the vintage ambulance from decades ago hardly resembles the sleek, almost aerodynamic modern one. The equipment has also become more modern: some police have speed guns and the dentist's office now looks fit for the 21st Century.
Playmobil also played part of this brilliant April Fool's joke, an Apple Store set.
Which sets did you have as a child?