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'Retro' is the key word for Perisphere & Trylon's goods at Toy Fair

There were plenty of toy suppliers featuring at least some “retro” product this week at Toy Fair, but at Perisphere & Trylon’s booth, retro was all the rage.

Dodd Harris at the Perisphere & Trylon Toy Fair booth.
Jim Bessman

P&T’s wares were so retro, in fact, that none of them were even shrink-wrapped.

“Vintage toys lose their juju if their shrink-wrapped,” says Dodd Harris, head of the company that’s named for the famous futuristic spire- and sphere-shaped architectural elements at the center of the 1939 New York World’s Fair—which his father, then 13, attended every day.

“We won’t let our customers shrink-wrap,” Harris continues. “Our packaging is all about touch and feel, getting the colors right. Shrink-wrap didn’t even exist when these toys were originally produced, and they lose something if they come out too contemporary.”

Perisphere & Trylon’s 120-some items are nothing if not not contemporary. Just the game titles tell an “old-timey” story: Jack Straws, Kitty Wampus, Amazing Robot, Marty the Moocher, Witch and Cat, The Jolly Tumbler, Snakes and Ladders, Egg & Spoon Race.

“Retro [product] has traction with the gift and décor business,” notes Harris. “It looks good on the shelves in your house. Vintage games don’t clutter, but add filigree—and they still play great: You can get six members of the family or friends playing Chinese Checkers, and there’s a lot of strategy and people shouting. There’s a real homey ‘funness’ to it.”

Working to P&T’s advantage, maintains Harris, is that the company strives for “true reproductions of the classics [rather than an] homage to the classics—and there’s a difference. It’s like people who do Coca-Cola theme home bars, or Route 66 man caves: They’re made out to look like the ‘40s or ‘50s, but they aren’t really from the period.”

Perisphere & Trylon’s product, on the other hand, evokes a simpler time by means of painstaking attention to style and detail.

“All our packaging is done by hand,” says Harris, adding, “There’s a high barrier to retro, and computer pixelation doesn’t make [retro artwork] look right. There’s more to it than you think.”

About the only compromise P&T makes with modern day is including UPC code and when necessary, warning stickers.

“One retailer complained that it wasn’t authentic,” says Harris. “`Lady!’ I said. ‘Do you really think there’s an unlimited supply of vintage toys in pristine condition?’”

Among Perisphere & Trylon’s new items shown this year are Put and Take and Retro Paper Dolls. The former, notes Harris, is “real Americana.”

“It’s a game played by World War I soldiers, originally using brass bullets that they shaped into a six-sided spinning top, each side telling you to add or take tokens.”

The Retro Paper Dolls dressing set features 1950s graphics and styles.

“It’s not for Barbie, but real women!” says Harris, adding that the dolls also evoke both the Mad Men era and post-Victorian time of Downton Abbey.

“We’re seeing an 'English theme syndrome' now, as well,” Harris says, pointing to increased P&T sales of games like punch-out puppet classic Punch and Judy, The Game of Draughts (checkers) and 1930s motoring game Touring England. But also gaining strength is the horseracing game Camptown Racetrack (“A Game of Speed and Thrills”), said by Harris to be “a quaint old item that wasn’t a big hit” back in the day.

Meanwhile, Perisphere & Trylon product is expanding into the major retail chains, with Harris reporting that the 590-store arts-and-crafts group Hobby Lobby is “doing really well” by merchandising P&T toys in a four-foot endcap.

“Sometimes you stand in one place long enough and everything comes around to you!” Harris concludes.

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