Colorforms, the vintage vinyl stick-on playsets that let kids stage scenes, create comics & dress dolls

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Colorforms, the vintage vinyl stick-on playsets that let kids stage scenes, create comics dress dolls
Did you know that more than one billion Colorforms sets have been sold since their debut in the ’50s? While the toy started out with basic geometric shapes, the company soon started making lots of branded playsets, featuring blasts from the past like Donny & Marie, Huckleberry Hound, Sesame Street, Barbie, The Beatles, and the Peanuts gang. Here are just a few of those vintage toys — and we hope they will remind you of some happy childhood memories.

A brief history of Colorforms

Adapted from articles published in The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) February 11, 1997 and the Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) May 11, 1998

The Colorforms company was founded by Harry Kislevitz in 1950, when he and his then-wife, Patricia were studying at the Art Students League in New York.

The couple became enchanted — and inspired — by abstract-expressionist painter Vasily Kandinsky’s use of bright color and geometric shapes. Kandinsky’s artwork, the Kislevitzes’ love of collage art, and the post-World War II invention of plastic sparked the creation of Colorforms.

Harry Kislevitz never planned on being a toy maker. He and his wife, Patricia, were artists in postwar Manhattan, living in a railroad apartment on the Upper West Side when they acquired a roll of vinyl sheeting.

Noticing how the vinyl stuck to the apartment’s semigloss walls, they also found that the cut shapes could be peeled off and restuck to the surface without the need for any glue or other adhesive. For fun, they put the sheeting, along with some scissors, in the bathroom. Friends would spend hours playing Matisse, cutting out designs and sticking them to enameled walls.

In 1951, the Kislevitz’ created Colorforms, nothing more than laminated paperboard and stick-on vinyl shapes. With $5,000 and a few friends, the first 2,000 Colorforms sets were made in the couple’s River Edge [New Jersey] home and delivered to FAO Schwarz in New York. They promptly sold out.

And that’s how a toy and a family business were born. Harry ran the company out of the family’s new home in River Edge, NJ, and the factory where the pieces were cut and boxed was just a few miles away in Ramsey, NJ.

Colorforms became a staple of simple play. Even as the toy industry veered increasingly toward more complex and costly items, Colorforms held its own, its logo a distinctive and familiar presence in stores.

Vintage Colorforms ads from the 1950s
Early vintage Colorforms ads from the 1950s

About Colorforms (from vintage product insert)

It’s so much fun to play with this toy. Press down the plastic pieces. They stick like magic! Lift to remove and play again.

Here are some of the many scenes you can make with your new toy. After you play with your Colorforms toy, be sure to put the plastic pieces in their places. It’s easier to play next time. Be sure to keep the plastic pieces clean. Wiping with a damp cloth from time to time makes them stick much better.

With this Colorforms toy, your child now joins millions of others in the same age group “in a happy growing experience.” Playing with Coiorforms is great fun. Just watch your child; you’ll see why.

Colorforms toys have a rare educational value… helping your child to develop and improve the six important skills:

1. Finger dexterity
2. Sense of spatial relationship
3. Size matching and order
4. Building ability
5. Color sense
6. Sense of neatness

No wonder, with these happy qualities plus long playtime — that Colorforms’ toys are perfect for rest hours, rainy days. For long trips, for children in bed, for any situation that calls for quiet, peaceful activity. We hope your child has hours of fun with this new toy.

Original style Colorforms vintage play shapes - Reissue in 1977

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The history of Colorforms: A new toy makes its debut (1952)

Daily News (New York, New York) December 3, 1952

A colorful new art toy of hundreds of bright, flat stick-on designs made of Vinylite plastic will give children’s imaginations free rein to create without the mess of paint, crayon or paste.

The plastic designs are flexible, easy to clean and consist of versatile circles, squares, triangles and rectangles in many different sizes and colors. These shapes will stick to any glossy surface with slight hunger pressure and can be stripped off easily and cleanly and used over again. The book of Colorforms cut-out designs with a black and white glossy surface cardboard sheet on which to stick the shapes costs around $5.

Vintage Colorforms toy – Captain Kangaroo and His Magic Zoo (1960)

Captain Kangaroo: Hours of fun with the Captain and all his animal friends. Play while watching TV — or any other time. Simply press down on the plastic animal shapes…

Vintage Colorforms toy - Captain Kangaroo and His Magic Zoo

Vintage Captain Kangaroo Colorforms set from 1960

Vintage Colorforms toy – Barbie 3D Fashion Theater (1972)

Barbie gives a fashion show in her 3-Dimensional Colorforms theater with changeable scenery. Dress-up Barbie and her friends in beautiful Colorforms plastic fashions that stick like magic. No scissors. No paste.

Vintage Colorforms toy - Barbie 3D Fashion Theater

Vintage fashion Barbie Colorforms set

Vintage Munsters Colorforms set (1965)

Vintage Munsters Colorforms set from 1965

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Vintage Addams Family Colorforms set

Vintage Addams Family Colorforms set

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Vintage Disney Sleeping Beauty dress designer kit from 1959

Vintage Disney Sleeping Beauty dress designer kit from 1959

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Vintage Donny and Marie Colorforms set

Vintage Donny and Marie Colorforms set

Donny and Marie retro Colorforms

Keith (David Cassidy) from the Partridge Family ready to be dressed up

Vintage Partridge Family Colorforms set - Clothese for Keith

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Old Huckleberry Hound Colorforms Cartoon Kit

Here’s Huckleberry Hound and his wonderful TV friends — Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, Mr Jinks, Pixie and Dixie, all in colorful plastic — and having a world of fun.

Simply press down the plastic cartoon shapes. They stick like magic. Lift to remove…and play again. No scissors, no paste, never a muss.

Old Huckleberry Hound Colorforms kit box cover

Vintage Huckleberry Hound Colorforms kit

Vintage Little House on the Prairie Colorforms set

Vintage Little House on the Prairie Colorforms set

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Retro Colorforms toy – Twisto Change-O (1972)

The dial-a-face toy – Create different characters with a twist of a dial, and then dress them with Colorforms plastic costumes.

Vintage Colorforms toy - Twisto Change-o

Holly Hobbie Sew-Ons Colorforms kit (1975)

KISS band: Vintage vinyl Colorforms pieces (1978)

KISS band vintage Colorforms pieces

Vintage Colorforms – Peanuts preschool play set

Vintage Colorforms - Peanuts preschool play set

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Vintage Colorforms – The Beatles cartoon kit (1966)

Vintage Colorforms - The Beatles cartoon kit 1966

Monster Colorforms – Castle Dracula Fun House set (1970s)

Monster Colorforms - Castle Dracula Fun House set - Vintage

Vintage Colorforms ad from 1972 with Sesame Street Activity Sets and Virginia Graham

Virginia Graham shows you four ways to widen a child’s world with Colorforms Sesame Street Activity Sets

Now your children can enjoy Sesame Street even when it’s off the air. Each set has Colorforms’ flexible plastic pieces that stick like magic, yet peel right off. The People in Your Neighborhood Set helps them find out about the roles of family members and some of the people in the neighborhood.

The Shapes and Colors Set has new transparent shapes that can be formed into designs and used to mix colors. With the Ernie and Bert Set, they can assemble Ernie, Bert and the Cookie Monster, and create all sorts of situations for them.

The Alphabet Set features plastic letters that complete pictures, help them learn letter shapes and sounds. Children will really enjoy these Colorforms Sesame Street Activity Sets. And as you watch them, so will you. Four new Sesame Street Activity Sets. To widen your child’s world. Available at toy stores everywhere.

Vintage Colorforms ad from 1972 with Sesame Street Activity Sets and Virginia Graham

How Colorforms are made

Industrial work at Colorforms firm is merely child’s play

From The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) February 26, 1965

TOY PRODUCTION — Colorforms of Norwood make plastic picture patterns and bases for children. At top left, the patterns are peeled from the stamping. Top right shows Hy Moskowitz, production manager, inspecting stock.

The final assembly line is seen at center left, with products being boxed for shipment. Pat Dinitto, plant manager operates the die-cutting unit at right center. The Colorform base is being cut from cardboard in picture at left. (Staff photographs by Carl Di Piazza.)

Colorforms toy production in 1965 - From The Record - Hackensack, New Jersey

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