Collector Spotlight: Tammy Rudolph
How do you describe your collection?
I collect Fisher-Price toys — everything from the company’s inception in 1930 to about 1997.
There are thousands of toys in my collection. I have some of the first pull toys they released in the 1930s. They can sell for $35,000 a piece at auctions and such. I bought mine at more reasonable prices. I believe I have everything from the Play Family line, which went on to be called Little People. I am missing a few boxes — boxes are super important for collectors. Little People were my original passion.
I don’t think I’ll ever own all of it. But that’s my goal, of course.
When and why did you start your collection?
I had Fisher-Price toys as a child. We had some Little People sets and those were my favourite toys. My cousins had the castle playset — I was always jealous of that.
I was the oldest of what I call “the grandkids”. I would pass my sets on to my cousins as I got older. My aunt, who had the youngest of the grandkids, kept a few of the sets in her attic and when we were cleaning it out, I found a couple of the toys there. My mom also found a box of just the accessories in her attic when she was moving. I remembered all the time I spent with these toys. That excitement got me back into Fisher-Price.
I wanted to have the things I had owned but were now gone. Then I wanted to own the toys my friends or my cousins had. Then I thought, wait, I want to own the things we never had. I want to own everything.
How do you display and store your collection?
I have it displayed throughout my house.
When I had my house in New Hampshire, I had what was called a “great room” with floor-to-ceiling shelving and I bought even more shelving to create the Fisher-Price room. It was gigantic. But, the wood was very dark. When I moved to South Carolina — I’ve been here a little over a year and a half — I decided to purchase a house that was brighter and to display my collection differently.
I did want to have a designed room again, but that was going to be just for Little People. It’s the most fun room in the house. I’ve arranged it by year and have everything out of the boxes. People can touch and play with the toys. My nieces and nephews loved it — their imaginations came out, they created. I loved seeing a whole new generation discovering the toys.
I have glass cabinets in the living room where I display my oldest wooden pull toys. I’m an animal lover so the animals like the pull-toy dogs and the circuits are together in my dining room. I have the super-rare Easter Parade toy with animals there, along with the Dog Show set from the early 1930s. It’s nice to have them in the dining room for guests to enjoy.
The Dog Show was something I wanted from the very beginning of collecting 20 years ago. It was always out of reach because it went for thousands of dollars. I was able to buy it last year; it’s an important piece for me.
I have toys in the kitchen and in the spare bedroom. That is where I have the Fisher-Price doll collection.
I also have a gigantic hallway with glass cabinets for the toys that people most want to look at. We don’t play with those toys. I do allow fellow collectors to touch them. I have someone who travels to see me and she’s bought a lot of my duplicates. I let her touch them because she’s not a child who’s going to play with them.
My four-year-old niece is fascinated with the train. I let her take it out to play with. It’s not what you would consider a toy now because it sells for a lot of money. She’s very respectful of it. She knows it’s Auntie’s special toy.
I do have some things in storage totes in the garage. We are still in the process of going through those. Some of the items are duplicates. My husband and I had a camper that we would take out on weekends and every vacation. We would travel and visit antique stores, yard sales, and flea markets. We’d go everywhere just looking for Fisher-Price things. Sometimes I would buy toys not knowing if I already had them, especially if we got a good deal on them. I’ve been selling off the duplicates on the Tammys Fisher-Price Collectors Club Facebook group. There are so many other collectors out there loving this! I’m not doing this as a business, I just like to help people find things and complete their collections.
When I was just collecting Little People, I did have everything in a spreadsheet. I had no idea how many variants there were until I got into it. At first, I was trying to collect one of each variant. Some of the sets come with different coloured accessories — a Play House could come with a red, blue, or brown couch. Well, I don’t have enough space for that. Now I use collector’s guides to keep track of what I have.
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?
I’ve bought a lot of the Fisher-Price advertisements and have almost every catalogue from the 1930s and ’40s. They’ve always fascinated me. These go for a ton of money.
I have a Little People Farm playset that was a store display. They are all still mounted as they were in the display with a sign behind it that tells people about the toy. I acquired the Little People Garage store display in the last two years and the Little People Chunky Farm that is still in its plastic display globe. They often just throw out the displays — there are very few of those left.
The Easter Parade and Dog Show I was telling you about earlier are important to me because I’m such an animal lover.
I have a black metal motion display that was set up at Toy Fair. A pull toy would be hooked to it and it had a revolving belt that showcased how the toy worked. It still runs, that’s probably my biggest Holy Grail.
Lots of toys stand out as ones I would like to add to my collection. Honestly, I don’t really want to tell you because then other people will try to get them. As much as I like to share, if everybody is looking for the same thing, I’m not going to be able to get it.
I have made some incredible friendships through collecting. I have a Fisher-Price friend who bought a toy — in the box — that I wanted. I had been looking for it for 20 years. She found it on eBay — how I didn’t see it is beyond me. I told her how incredibly envious I am and that she could ship it to me if she wanted. We joke around. I’m super happy for her. Our collecting group can get envious but we’re always happy for each other. That is what collecting is about. I don’t like cutthroat collectors. Even if they have something I want, if they aren’t nice people I won’t buy from them. To me, it’s all about kindness and fun.
These are toys. I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the love of toys.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a Fisher-Price collection?
My advice would be to not buy something if you don’t feel comfortable with the price — even if you really want it.
Know your budget and start slow. As finances change over time, you may be able to buy more. Never get to the point where your collection is a financial burden. Collection values change with time. Sometimes my collection is worth a ton of money and other times the bottom falls out and I wouldn’t be able to get a quarter of what I paid for it. That’s okay. I have to remember that I didn’t spend this money to try to make money.
We did it for the love of the toys and for fun. We’ve given people toys of ours that they have admired. To me, it’s about keeping the kindness in the toys, keeping the love.
Visit the Tammys Fisher-Price Collectors Club Facebook group to see more of her collection.
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