The Sunshine Family from Mattel (1974)

Company: Mattel | Release date: 1974 | Ages: 3+ | Where to purchase: eBay

“The fun shines on and on.”

In 1974, Mattel released The Sunshine Family line of posable dolls, centred around a wholesome family of three living life in the country.

The look and backstory created for The Sunshine Family contrasted with the fashion dolls that had a stronghold during this era. The Sunshine Family eschewed Barbie’s dream boats, fancy homes, and fast cars in favour of a simpler life.

The dolls included Steve (dad), Stephie (mom), and Sweets (baby girl). The brunette Steve doll was 9.5-inches and came dressed in a turtleneck sweater, slacks with a large belt, and loafers. The blonde Stephie doll was 9-inches tall and wore a long cotton smock dress and sandals. The blonde Sweets was 3-inches and sported a simple onesie.

Part of The Sunshine Family’s family backstory was that they owned a craft store. Mattel used the craft angle throughout the initial line and in its expansion. The original trio was packaged together with a small paper booklet that outlined craft activities children could make from items found around their own homes. Activity booklets were included in many of the playsets and a series of real wood craft kits were released that encouraged kids to assemble add-ons for their doll family. The craft kits included projects for the doll family’s environment, such as the garden, playroom, kitchen, nursery, backyard picnic, and camping adventure.

The Sunshine Family line grew quickly. In four years, it had expanded to include playsets such as a craft store, family home, a van with piggyback shack, a Surrey cycle, and a farm with a “milkable” cow and “laying” hen. Grandparents, an aunt, a cousin, pets, and dress-up kits were introduced. A set of paper dolls included Steve, Stephie, and Sweets along with 41 paper wardrobe pieces and plastic stands to pose the dolls.

The Happy Family dolls — Hal, Hattie, and Hon — came into the picture as neighbours who shared “the same sunny world” as The Sunshine Family. Grandparent dolls were also introduced to this family.

Mattel advanced the families somewhat by ageing the look of the dad, mom, and baby dolls. Each family also welcomed a new baby boy. The updated line was sold with the four dolls in one box. A two-storey family home playset with accessories was introduced to accommodate the expanding family.

Mattel cancelled The Sunshine Family in 1978. Although it didn’t have a long shelf life, the extensive line keeps collectors busy as they seek out the many extensions and accessories.

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