We all collect something. What is a holy grail item you hope to find at a flea market, toy show, or comic convention? What else do you collect?I've got collections -- Atari games, music, baseball cards, Hardy Boys books -- but nothing captures my attention these days more than finding old pieces of Mister Rogers memorabilia.
For a show that was so well-known, across the country and even worldwide, there is not nearly the amount of merchandise and memorabilia that you might expect. Sure there is a good amount, but nothing like you'd see from a kids' show these days. The lack of commercialism associated with the Neighborhood is a clear testament to Fred Rogers' focus -- he was not in it for the money, but rather for the kids.
With that in mind, the Neighborhood merchandise that was produced can often be difficult to find. Sure you can pick up some pieces simply by snooping around eBay for a few days, but not my holy grail. I'm not even sure it was ever made in the first place.
In 1977, Ideal came out with a set of three individual puppets from the Neighborhood program -- King Friday XIII, X the Owl, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.
Around this same time, they also produced the Musical Trolley -- a plastic replica of the well-known Neighborhood Trolley that jingled the familiar Won't You Be My Neighbor tune as it was pushed along. With the Musical Trolley came two small figures -- Daniel Striped Tiger and Lady Elaine Fairchilde -- both only a few inches tall.
Over the years, finding these pieces has been relatively easy. But it's the other toy that Ideal advertised in the late 70's -- seen on the packaging of their other toys -- that has me perplexed.
The Neighborhood of Make-Believe Playset was supposedly produced by Ideal at this same time. It consisted of a carrying-case style set that opened up to create the entire Neighborhood of Make-Believe from castle to clock. Included among the accessories with this set were five more figures -- King Friday, Queen Sara, Prince Tuesday, X the Owl, and Henrietta Pussycat.
After years of searching, the only evidence of this set's existence that I've found has been the pictures found on the puppet and Trolley packages as well as the actual figures that would have been included with the playset.
So for crying out loud...where is this set?!?
While theories I've heard have ranged from the logical (planned but never produced) to the bizarre (gunman shot up the Ideal factory forcing the company out of business before this set was produced), there is one theory that seems most logical. Considering the figures are out there (although very hard to find), could it be that production was halted after the figures were manufactured but before the actual structure of the set was made? In that case, the various figures were then sold in pairs with the Musical Trolley. Seems logical to me.
But there is a picture!!! On the Trolley box it's a drawing but on the puppet boxes it's an actual picture! Had the boxes only shown the drawing, I'd be satisfied with this explanation; but on the puppet boxes those are real kids playing with a real Neighborhood of Make-Believe Playset. Period. While it may have only been produced on a very small scale, this thing is out there.
Not too long ago, a reader of the Neighborhood Archive shared an awesome lead with me -- the actual patent for this playset available through Google Patents!
Although simply fascinating to see, this still does not put the set in my hands.
It's out there. I know it is.
[As always, check out coolandcollected.com for a full list of League participants]