While officially part of the "LEGO System," The Belville sets are on a completely different scale and offer many pieces different from those found in the Mini-fig-scaled sets. Packaged in purple boxes and obviously aimed at primary- and middle-school-aged girls, the Belville sets contain many large pieces, require minimum construction time and feature lots of small plastic dolls. Colors the first two years ranged toward deep pink, pastel greens and blues, and light yellows. 1996 and 1997 sets featured considerable white and more green and dark blue while continuing the pastel shades.
The "adult" dolls are approximately four inches in height; the child dolls are 3.2 inches. This scale closely matches the scale of other "doll house" manufacturers. Arms articulate at shoulders, elbows and wrists. Hands are set at standard LEGO system grip-allowing the Belville people to hold LEGO System items. Legs articulate at the hips, knees and ankles. Heads are molded in three styles: child (boy and girl differentiated by hair), adult female (two different hair styles) and adult male and fit with a ball-socket to the torsos. All the faces are fully sculpted. The faces through 1996 wore quizzical, thoughtful expressions which observers tend to either love or hate. In 1997 LEGO changed the eye printing so that now the figures just stare. Proportions all appear natural although the child heads are larger than normal. The "baby" figures do not articulate and have the their legs set open for riding on hips. In contrast to the LEGO yellow of all mini-figs and the Technic dolls, these dolls all have fairly-natural Caucasian skin colors and hair in either blonde, black or brown.
The sets (in numerical order):
Set # 5810 Vanity Fun.
Listed at $4.99 (US dollars)
Set # 5820
"Leberglass" "Tuinplezier" 17 Dutch
guilders. (swing set)
Set # 5821 Pamela's Picnic Time "Pamela paa
Set # 5822 Jennifer and Foal £6.50
Set # 5830 Fun-day Sundaes. Listed at $9.99
Set # 5835
"Balettstudio." 30 Dutch guiders, £14.99
Set #5840 Garden Playmates. Listed at $19.75
Set # 5853 Lucinda and Cressida,
Set #5854 Pony trekking, "Telttur."
Set # 5855 Riding Stables. £65.00
Set # 5860 Love 'n Lullabies [Amour et berceuses;
Canciones de Cuna].
Set # 5870 Pretty Playland [Ravessante cour de jeu;
Precioso patio]. Listed at $42.00.
Set # 5874 Hospital Nursery (name?)
Set # 5875
"Buhashure?" Hospital? "Ziekenhuis"
70 Dutch guiders. £34.99.
Set # 5880 Prize Pony Stables. Listed at $54.00.
Set # 5890 Pretty Wishes Playhouse. Listed at
Set # 5895 "Villa
Belville" 160 Dutch guiders.
Set # 5136 Belville
accessories Listed at $3.50.
Set # 5395 Belville
5860 Love 'n Lullabies
1994-1995 US 1994-1996 in Europe
accessories 1995 only US 1995- in Europe
accessories 1996- in Europe
5821 Pamela's picnic
From the mid-Seventies through the early Eighties LEGO offered a series of brick-based rooms for girls. Each set contained pieces to create a specific room in a house, or a set of furniture. Most of the sets came with the larger ball-headed figures that pre-dated the mini-figs. Three of these sets made it to the United States in 1979: the bathroom, living room and a kitchen. A bedroom followed in 1980. Called the "Homemaker" sets in the United States they do not not appear to have been a commercial success and disappeared by 1983 or '84.
One might be tempted to see the Belville series as a Nineties reincarnation of the Homemaker series. The Homemaker series are important because they tell us that LEGO has been down this road before, but I think it would be mis-leading to assume that Belville is warmed-over Homemaker. The Homemaker sets contained no walls, no pastel bricks and no "dolls." Without walls, how was a builder to incorporate these sets into a house? And I do not see how any girl could have developed an attachment to the round, ever-smiling figures that came with these sets. The strength and beauty of all real dolls lie in the power of well-sculpted or designed faces to evoke emotional attachment on the part of the person who owns and/or plays with it. The ball-heads were clever but not dolls.
LEGO has attempted to solve some of the Homemaker series' problems with Belville. The Weave walls and full-height columns give the child vertically-enclosed dimensions without adding substantial costs, weight or numbers of pieces. The pastel colors and numerous hearts clearly identify these sets as "for girls." The dolls allow full action, limited dressing and undressing, identification and infinite posing possibilities.
So what has happened? Has LEGO succeeded? Or has another of its girl-marketing efforts bombed?
Belville did not do well in North America. Reports from Europe are more equivocal. LEGO introduced the series with some publicity in the early fall of 1994. Within two months the stores in this country were starting to heavily discount the sets. By January 1995, Pretty Playhouse and Prize Pony
Stables had disappeared from most stores. Neither of these sets appeared in the 1995 North American catalog. The small, modestly-priced sets that appeared in March 1995 seem to have been somewhat more successful but I have seen none of the Belville sets in large numbers at any US store since late 1995 (with a couple of exceptions where the store obviously took on a special order). None of the Belville sets appeared in the 1996 North American catalog.
Why? Part of the problem may be that LEGO has been too successful at what it has tried initially to be. LEGO was the third-largest selling category of toys in 1995. Every toy department puts all the LEGO sets together in one place-knowing that large numbers of customers come looking just for LEGO. This is great, except that most customers only think LEGO = construction toy. Duplo, Technic, LEGO System, Belville-everything is shelved together. Is this the best way? I don't know. I do know that Belville sets are not really construction sets. They are doll house sets.
Wouldn't they be better off being shelved in the doll house section of a toy department? I do not know the answer to that. Putting the LEGO trains with other model trains in the Toys R Us stores does not seem to have helped the LEGO trains sell one-way-or-another, but it does point out that once a manufacturer is tagged with one category in the public's mind, it becomes extremely difficult to sell something else. Even after five years of marketing in this country, most Americans seem totally unaware that LEGO has trains available for purchase.
The withdrawal of Belville from the North American Market would seem to indicate that LEGO has decided that Belville was another unsuccessful marketing specialization. However, the introduction of four new sets in August 1996 in Europe and the addition of six more sets in 1997 would indicate both a commitment and some financial return. But will any of these sets ever make it to North America?
The latest wrinkle in this marketing question is the introduction of the new LEGO Scala line in March of 1997. LEGO had brought out a line for girls called "Scala" in the early Eighties that consisted of make-it-yourself, plastic jewelry based on LEGO plates and flats. It was apparently a commercial failure and disappeared after two years. However, in March, 1997, LEGO announced a new Scala line consisting of eight-inch-scale dressing dolls with hair and cloth clothing. The sets are available in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and France. Each set consists of a doll and accessories to outfit one room. The largest sets consist of a cottage and a house for these sets to go into.
The slender dolls with long hair immediately remind the viewer of Barbie dolls but the dolls wear flats and use LEGO plates to stand. The furnishings appear to be of better quality and be more realistic. They also indicate a wider variety of actvities for the Scala girls to get involved in (no hanging out at the beach with Ken).
The furniture appears to use the standard LEGO bumps for assembly and quite a few Belville accessories, such as the watering can, the cat and kitten, the brushes, etc. have moved to Scala. This would lead me to suspect that the Scala figures use the LEGO System "grip" in their hands.
Will this series succeed? Will be make it at the expense of Belville? Is there room in the toy stores and little girls' hearts for yet another dressing doll? Stay tuned.
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NOTICE: These pages are in NO WAY affiliated with or sponsored by the LEGO Group. All trademarks and tradenames are the property of their respective owners. Unless otherwise noted, all photos displayed herein are the property of the LEGO Group, and you should not assume any rights to them whatsoever, including downloading of the images. These pages are for display and reference only.
Please visit the official LEGO web site!
This article is copyright © 1997 Wes Loder.
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