With the old box of doll furniture rediscovered and my interest reignited, I went online. I’m not sure what I thought I’d find. I didn’t expect to discover that just about every piece of the collection was available from various sellers on ebay. It amazed me. I’d never met anyone who recalled the furniture from childhood. I thought it was obscure stuff. But as the internet repeatedly reminds us, any claims we might make to being unique are vastly overblown.
So, wow. There it all was. Most were pieces I already had. I found it reassuring to see traces of age on many items for sale, similar to those on my furniture. The gold and white curved Salon Sofas were consistently missing a strip of fabric on each arm, just as mine did. Some pieces reminded me of odds and ends I’d lost or broken. There were the tiny horsehead bookends, the pink and white “bird” lamp reassembled, and the “oil” landscape paintings, rather in the style of Fragonard. Years ago I glued an image from a Christmas card over my sole remaining painting.
There were only a few items that I didn’t own, for one reason or another. I remember not liking the look of the Fantasy Telephone set. The big red rose embossed on the phone box struck me as an uncharacteristically heavy-handed touch. The Salon Drum chair, upholstered in a choice of lamé colors, was not appealing. But the Rolling Tea Cart, in brass–that was charming. True to the Petite Princess lifestyle, it held a wine bottle and goblets. Not a single tea pot or tea cup for this tea cart. The short brass candelabra “for table or mantle use” could be a nice addition. I own only the tall Fantasia Candelabra.
But among the offerings, one stood out: the Royal Grand Piano, a tiny assemblage of fabulousness. I don’t know why the piano wasn’t in my collection. Was it not available at Allen’s 5 & Dime? Was it too expensive? It’s white, of course, with gold accents. The undulating sides and back, as well as the underside of the lid, are decorated with gold-framed panels. Again evoking the frothy style of Fragonard, they show 18th-century aristocratic types frolicking in lush landscapes. There are 88 three-dimensional keys and three foot pedals. The delicate white bench is upholstered in red velvet. Sheet music and a metronome are included.
As I browsed Petite Princess furniture on ebay, it seemed to me that the images on the small white packages, more so than the items they contain, summoned the acuteness of childhood longing. The years fell away and I was a six year old in Allen’s, transfixed before the display. Holding the box that encased, say, the Treasure Trove Cabinet, examining the photo, comparing it to the piece on display. Imagining the absolute, if temporary happiness that would accompany the opening of the box, the unwrapping of the tissue paper. Suddenly I knew how my daughter felt, at the same age, as we stood in a toy aisle at Target, her desire for something or other, the Polly Pocket limo or a certain Fairytopia Barbie, blazing fiercely in her big blue eyes. Don’t you have enough Polly Pockets, enough Barbies, I’d ask, wearily? Do you really need more stuff for me to move around, I’d think? I’d judged her too harshly, with the gaze of jaded, self-righteous adult hypocrisy.
With some alarm it hit me that my interest in “Petite Princess” had morphed from one of nostalgic sentiment to a real yearning to possess. I didn’t simply want that piano. I needed that piano. It spoke to me, repeatedly. One ebay seller claimed to offer a large cache of virtually untouched “Petite Princess” furniture. The boxes were unmarked by use or wear, the items within never roughly handled by small clumsy fingers and still wrapped with the original tissue paper. The piano was among these treasures. That did it. Because it was the opening of the package, not the actual ownership of the item, that so pulled at me. I wanted, no, I needed, to experience that childhood thrill again.
That piano was my first-ever ebay purchase. I remember worrying that I’d be outbid at the last second; my husband coached me on bidding techniques. But I was successful. I think it cost me $16.
When the package arrived in the mail, my daughter and I eagerly opened it together. Her excitement fed into mine, and the unwrapping, the unveiling, was indeed amazing. I really did feel like a first-grader, her peer. The box containing the piano was pristine. So white. Not yellowed with age. There was that familiar tissue paper, clean, crisp, unwrinkled. The piano itself was the delicate treasure I’d expected. The paintings were so fresh and bright, the red upholstery of the bench immaculate. The metronome, the sheet music, all there, all perfect. My daughter’s admiration was real and exuberant; she wasn’t simply performing to humor me.
An added bonus was that included in the lot with the piano was another box containing the Occasional Table set and all its accessories. I already owned the table, but the clear plastic ashtray and cigarette had disappeared decades ago. Like the piano, this set arrived in mint condition in a box that looked brand new, not forty plus years old. My daughter by my side, I saw the table, the brass Buddha, the lighter, ashtray and its cigarette (still encased in a plastic envelope), as though for the first time.
Be forewarned, then: totems for time travel may pop up unexpectedly in an old toy box. For a truly extraordinary trip, take along a favorite child, and enjoy the ride.