Classic Toys stamps
Throughout the twentieth century, British children were treated to a succession of amazing toys that their forebears could only have dreamt of. Cheap plastics and technological advances meant that toys could be mass-produced and sold at prices which almost every family could afford. Each child had their own favourites but some of the toys possessed almost universal appeal.
These were the special toys which lit up children’s lives and defined eras. Creative and now iconic inventions, they remain instantly recognisable and are guaranteed to inspire feelings of nostalgia.
Royal Mail’s Classic Toys stamp issue celebrates ten legendary British toys. Available 22 August 2017, the colourful stamps boast a retro feel which is entirely in keeping with the nostalgic nature of their subjects. All of the toys which are showcased in this impressive issue have delighted millions of children over the years.
For today’s youngsters, the must-have Christmas presents are generally smartphones and tablets. Amazing though these gadgets are, it is hard to escape the feeling that kids are missing out on something.
It is difficult to imagine that they will look back at their first iPhone in the same way as their parents still cherish their memories of Sindy and Action Man. Tetris is incredibly addictive but does not require the imaginative input that made Meccano, Stickle Bricks and Fuzzy Felts so engaging.
It is easy to see why the classic toys showcased in these attractive stamps proved to be so popular and even to spark crazes across the globe. But the incredible popularity of one of the iconic toys is a little more difficult to comprehend.
Creating a craze which swept the nation in double quick time, Space Hoppers were a somewhat unlikely success. It is usually toys which fire the imagination, inspire creativity and facilitate competition which generally become the true classics. These are the toys which enable children to create designs, to build objects and to magic up imaginary worlds. They remain engaging because every play session is a unique adventure. None of which explains the enormous popularity of those bright orange bouncy balls!
Space Hoppers did not enable youngsters to draw anything, to build anything or to do anything of any note! They were simply large rubber balls with silly ears that you could bounce on. They impeded rather than enhanced your ability to get from A to B and were an injury waiting to happen. Space Hoppers weren’t designed to enhance interior décor either! Basically, they were completely pointless and rather garish lumps of rubber with smiley faces. But everybody wanted one!
Hopping into History
The original concept for the Space Hopper was the brainchild of Aquilino Cosani who worked for Ledragomma, an Italian company which manufactured rubber balls. Cosani came up with a design featuring a wooden handle, patented it in 1968 and called it the “Pon-Pon”. Inexplicably, this amazing invention failed to take off!
Then, British manufacturer Mettoy produced their own version of the bouncy ball which boasted ribbed ears for handles and that now familiar silly face. Intended to resemble a kangaroo, although managing to look nothing like one, the Space Hopper was introduced to the UK in 1969. It wasn’t long before almost every household had one. Kids everywhere were bouncing around on giant orange balls and then the adults started getting in on the act.
Toy producers across the world began manufacturing their own versions of the hoppers. The Hoppity Hop (also known as the Hippity Hop) was as popular in America as the Space Hopper proved to be in the UK. Possibly the most inexplicable success story in the history of toys, the Space Hopper is now generally considered to be one of the defining symbols of the 1970’s.
The incredible popularity of Space Hoppers is beyond the wit of man. But it is easy to see why those preposterous balls with vacant looking faces would be manna from heaven for comedians. The Goodies, also 1970’s icons, were the stars of an enormously popular TV series. One of the episodes, entitled Charity Bounce, featured the story of a mass Space Hopper Bounce from London to Brighton. You might be able to find this on YouTube if you can be bothered to look!
Space Hoppers also featured in an episode of Star Trek whilst and then cropped up in season 7 of Friends. Decades after they first bounced into our lives, Space Hoppers remain instantly recognisable.
A New trend?
They say that what goes around comes around and that little pearl of wisdom is certainly true of trends. 1970’s fashion has seen several revivals, more’s the pity, and retro furniture is now all the rage. Does that mean that there is a second wave of Space Hoppers lurking somewhere ready to bounce back onto the scene?
If they did rear their ugly little ears again, would kids even notice them or would they be too busy playing Sonic the Hedgehog on their tablets? Today’s fabulously stupid and pointless distractions are generally made of pixels not rubber.
The new stamps serve as a valuable reminder of how utterly wonderful toys can be and how they impact the lives of those who have enjoyed the privilege of playing with them. Except, of course, the Space Hopper stamp which merely reminds us of how utterly stupid we can be. In common with just about everyone else, I loved Space Hoppers and insisted on having two. I still don’t have the remotest idea what the attraction was, but hey!