Forest Families toys are known by several names. Some call them Forest Friends (an unofficial name), and they've been sold under many different brands. They were known as Bärenwald/Bear Family in Germany, Pikkaraiset in Finland, Dyrene i Bamseskoven in Denmark and Peach Fuzz Village or Cuddly Cuzzins in the US. The official, most well-known name for the series is of course Forest Families.
In the early phase of the series, only six original families were manufactured. These families were bears, rabbits, cats, dogs, mice and pigs. (For more information, check out The Forest Connection.) These families are some of the more common ones to this day. Later, a wide range of different animal species were introduced into this toy line. Check out Families for a list and information of the different animals.
Collecting Forest Families
For a collector Forest Families is a series with a wide range of variations and oddities and an endless amount of collecting. There is a large variety of most exotic animals, some variations and both common and rare characters to go after. For the moment FF's aren't one of the most collected toy series, but little by little more people are finding these adorable toys.
The series was manufactured and sold from the 1980's to the early 1990's. Nowadays you can only find them second hand, which makes them an excellent and challenging collectable! If you're looking for a similar series that's still available in stores, Sylvanian Families might be your thing.
Generally speaking, Forest Families aren't incredibly rare, but not too common either. It is still possible to find FF's in original packaging from the 1980's and even get some good deals if you're lucky. Some less common families can be really difficult to find though, and they can be very expensive. The difficulty in finding them online is that many people don't know about the series and confuse them with other flocked animals.
At the start of your collecting, you might want to decide whether you'll collect the animals loose or in original packaging. The ones that have remained in their original packages are of course more expensive, but also in new condition. If you manage to get a hold of packaged items, you might consider keeping them that way. No new ones are being made after all! It might be a good idea to ask around for a trade where you can replace your packaged set with a loose one rather than opening a package.
The online community for Forest Families collectors is so far somewhat scattered, but you'll surely find friends and people to trade with after you get into the collecting. Have fun in the Forest Families world!
Are they Fakies?
Some Sylvanian Families collectors think that Forest Families is a series that follows the SF line and that FF's are some kind of Sylvanian fakies or knock-offs. But that is not the case! Even though Sylvanian Families series was born as early as year 1985, Forest Families have been around from year 1986 at the latest. That's only one year later, and it isn't even certain if the series hasn't been around from an earlier time than that.
But I would say that several similar toy series can exist simultaneously, without them copying fom one another. Also the Maple Town toy series has been around for a while, and they definitely aren't SF fakies because they are based on a tv-series from year 1986. I think that also Forest Families is an independent toy series, not something you could call fake.
Sylvanian Haven's history page introduces a similar view to the matter. Sylvanian Families were the dominant flocked toy series in Japan and America, where as the Forest Families were the best known in Europe. I find it likely that similar ideas were taking place at the same time in different parts of the world.
There are several spawn off toy series of these older flocked animal series that could be called fake, but I don't think Forest Families is one of them. Forest Families also produced some animals before they appeared in the Sylvanian line, such as sheep. That also goes to show that they weren't copying - rather competing on the same market. FF series also includes exotic animal species that don't exist in the Sylvanian Families toy series at all, even to this day.
It depends on the point of view whether or not one wishes to view Forest Families as a copied series of Sylvanian Families. But Forest Families are high quality toys unlike many other series that have showed up in the 1980's and after that. Compared to many cheap series, FF's are of a high quality and I don't think FF's can be viewed as fake. That being said, they were certainly sold for cheaper prices than Sylvanian Families back in the day!
Where to buy them?
You might find FFs in an old toy store, but for the biggest part I suggest you check online auctions, flea markets and second hand stores. Trading with other FF collectors is also an effective way of increasing your collection - it helps two collectors at once! And when it comes to rarer characters or items in original boxes, other collectors might be a good source for these items.
You'll want to be alert when buying online. The difficulty with finding Forest Families is that often the sellers don't know what they are selling. You should be the one to know what you're buying! There are many other series that look quite similar to FF.
If you don't find much when you search for "Forest Families" - try to look for Sylvanian Families instead. Sometimes the sellers mix the different series. If you don't find anything at first, check the eBays of different countries (not just US and UK eBay) and keep coming back for new auctions.
The prices on Forest Families vary greatly because there are so few collectors. If no one spots the auction, you might get a bargain! But it is a very difficult task to give a price range if you want to know whether a price is reasonable. Some of the more common families are rabbits and bears, so you might not want to spend as much money on those as when buying the parrots or beetles, which are harder to find. But the value is really dependent of who's buying and who's selling. Browse closed auctions to compare whether the price seems right or not.
Here are some useful abbreviations from the world of toy collecting.
FF: Forest Families
HTF: Hard To Find
MIB: Mint In Box (new in pacage)
MIP: Mint In Package (new in package)
MOC: Mint On Card (new in package)
MT: Maple Town
SF: Sylvanian Families