Come back in time with me, to an era when colors like rust, cocoa brown, harvest gold and avocado green ruled home decor, extending even to the very dishware. An era when both boys and girls were encouraged to engage in domestic play, when pink, purple and glitter rarely appeared on a toy or its packaging, unless it was a Barbie doll. There were no Disney Princesses, as such - just a handful of princess characters in movies you could only see every few years when they were re-released in theaters. I'm a preschooler opening a Christmas gift I'll still enjoy decades later for its colors and functionality, though I will also learn to appreciate it for its lack of divisiveness, especially as I will someday find myself raising both a boy and a girl. But I don't know any of this at the time. I just really like my Tupperware Mini-Serve-It set, as I still do today.
This tea (or "serving") set was made for Tupperware by Dart Industries in 1979. It was given to me around 1981. This set is from the first incarnation of the toy, though later versions were made into the 1990's. My set is still in its original box, though the box sustained some water damage somewhere along the way. There must have been a leak in my childhood closet. I've done little research into the value of my old toys, because I'd rather keep them than sell them. I have seen these sets on eBay, in original boxes, listed for $20 to $40 - but mostly the lower end of that range.
The provenance of this toy is a little unusual. My parents knew a couple who sold Tupperware together, back in the days when Tupperware house parties were very common (now people mostly order from their website, as I understand it). The male half of this couple was actually the more prolific Tupperware salesperson; he truly enjoyed displaying the products for gaggles of ladies and had a popular following in the community. He worked days for the postal service and nights as a Tupperware guy. My parents bought their Tupperware from him, including this set. I was a fastidious child, very careful with my toys. Books, dolls, even crayons still looked new years after they were given to me. One of the best parts of any game was cleaning up. I've always been a neatnik, it's just who I am.
I find the packaging utterly fascinating. It features both boys and girls playing contentedly. There is no sense that it's only a toy for girls. These photos appear on two sides of the box and I attempted to put them together in a continuous way. The children are dressed simply, mostly wearing turtleneck tops and jeans. One boy wears a button-down western-style shirt, in the "cowboy" style popular at the time. Another wears a sweater vest over a plaid shirt. None of the girls wears anything pink or sparkly. Some are even wearing blue. Only one girl appears to be wearing a dress, and it's a red plaid jumper. Hairstyles are simple. This is what children looked like when I was small, and in my mind, they still do. In my home today, they mostly look like this too, though my daughter does wear a lot of pink; I have trouble finding much else. It's not that I dislike pink or girly fashion, mind you; it's just that this seems so much simpler. I find myself thinking about these issues a lot, and I realize it's not only girls who are affected by today's attitudes. But I am glad I saw more of this when I was growing up.
The inner part of the box has some wear and tear, but in general it holds everything in place. The set contains tiny versions of real Tupperware items of the era, including little mugs with handles, a pitcher with real sealing lid and small bowls with sealing lids of their own. The colors are exactly the same as Tupperware my mother had when I was a small child. We had regular-sized bowls identical to these. I ate my breakfast - oatmeal, or cold cereal - from them every morning. We had the pitcher too, a dark brown one. I remember as a child thinking that these were "M&M colors" because back then, there were no blue or red M&M's - only light brown, dark brown, green, yellow and orange. The greens were different - M&M's included a bright kelly green - but it was a strong association otherwise.
The pitcher's lid works exactly the same way old Tupperware sealing lids worked. I'm pretty sure you can still buy this type of pitcher from them today, though I don't actually own much Tupperware as an adult - it's expensive and we started our plastic-ware collection when we were still in school, so we mostly have Rubbermaid items you could buy right in the grocery or discount store. But I do have a few older Tupperware items handed down by various relatives and I have to say that they are good; I can't seem to kill them.
The pieces are in pretty good shape, except for that brown bowl. It was a casualty of a dog we had when I was growing up, a boxer with a chewing problem. I got it away from him before anything really bad happened to it. Don't you love the colors, though? They even seem fashionable again. The cups, especially, give off sort of an Orla Kiely vibe, I think. Or Scandinavian, straight out of IKEA - form as well as function; durable, modern and streamlined for the family on the go. My grandmother had mugs like this, and she let me drink real tea from them. She made my tea with milk and honey, which is something I always crave today when I am sick.
The bowls have sealing lids, which don't seal so well anymore. The plastic has become brittle. I don't want to force them to seal, for fear of breaking them. But when they did seal properly, they were just like the real ones, and I liked to put small items inside. Possibly M&M's; it would have been just like me to hoard them for later.
For these photos, I've placed the tea set on an old tablecloth made by the Bear's grandmother. I love the way the colors look together. The tablecloth is actually substantially older than the tea set, probably by fifteen or twenty years, but I like the overall vintage effect. The GB was thrilled when I took out the tea set, which lives in my current bedroom closet too. I don't let them play with the set often, which is selfish of me, but I'm concerned the pieces will break. The small Bears have a pretty fantastic set of play dishes themselves, so I keep this one a rare playtime treat.
They can't believe the brown dish and cup; they tell me it's ugly, but I don't mind. In the first house I can remember, there was rust-colored carpeting in my bedroom (with blue Holly Hobbie bedspread and curtains). Downstairs, the carpeting was cocoa brown, with fake-brick linoleum and harvest-gold appliances in the kitchen. There was a soup tureen shaped like a big, brown mushroom on top of the refrigerator, an avocado-green Oster blender on the almond Formica counter, orange and yellow plastic measuring cups in a drawer, a yellow rotary telephone on the wall. It would not be long before softer colors took over in fashion and home decor, but these are the colors of my earliest memories.