What are Rushton plushies? The name may not be familiar to you, but if you’ve ever watched a Melanie Martinez video with her “nursery kitsch” aesthetic, you’ve seen the look: plush cute animals with strange rubber faces that allows for a more expressive face.
As you all know, I am very fond of collecting vintage stuffed animals, not just from my childhood, but from as far back as the 1950s. I particularly enjoy the vintage kawaii — Japanese cute pastel plush pretties of that decade, and especially up to the 70s. However, not everything was made in Japan in the 50s, though it certainly seems that way.
The Rushton Company was actually an American company, started by an Atlanta woman and that lasted from 1917 to 1983, being passed down as a family company.
If you go antiquing or flea shopping for fabulous vintage fashion, you are sure to come across some Rushton plushies in varying states of condition.
Personally, I have always preferred the Rushton animals that do not have rubber faces, such as this sweet donkey from Etsy. One of my very first stuffed animals was a pink rabbit with pink eyes, also a non-rubber faced Rushton. And sorry, I don’t have a photo, she’s in storage.
However, Rushton will always be famous for their rubber-faced plushies, known as the Star Creation line. It is this line of animals and dolls that make their appearance in Melanie Martinez’s Pity Party, and that frequent many kitschy Pinterest and Instagram pages for those interested in vintage nursery kitsch.
Personally, I have always been a bit conflicted about the Star Creation line. They are undoubtedly the most iconic and original creations of Wight Rushton (Mary Rushton’s daughter). However, I can’t help but find many of them to be hideous to me. Some just come off as utterly grotesque such as this Stinky the Skunk (who is one of the most commonly sold Rushtons)
However, some do manage to be cute to me, particularly those with minimal rubber, such as this glorious black swan.
And of course, not everything under the Star Creation name is rubber-faced, even though it originally applied to that line, Kirily Vintage, one of my favorite vintage sellers on Etsy, has this lovely Star Creation pink poodle (squee!) for sale.
In addition to stuffed animal designs of their own creation–ranging to familiar Easter bunnies to the quite bizarre designs of whales–Rushton made rubber faced Santas, hobos (what was it with the 50s obsession over homeless people?), and even branded characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Possibly one of the strangest of these branded Rushtons, and one of the last ones made (1982) is of E.T. I came across this oddity on Ebay. It doesn’t really even resemble E.T., and is a bit of a failure in terms of plush design. My own E.T. plush was a magnificent leather toy, unfortunately mutilated by my brother. But I digress.
Nonetheless, even with the demise of Rushton, the interest in plastic-faced or rubber faced plushies have not truly gone away. Even in the late 70s, the Japanese were introducing the monkey-themed Monchichis. Today, I see the modern Kitty Surprise/Puppy Surprise line also uses a molded face for their stuffed animals, similar to Rushton’s rubber faced toys.
I feel what makes a Rushton cute, rather than disturbing, is a minimal amount of expression on the rubber face. However, for you this is entirely a matter of taste. My aesthetic and style is rooted more in Japanese simplicity, so my plushie preference is for simply faces. Still, there is an undeniable kitschy appeal to the exaggerated grins and pastel colors of Rushton’s ducks and bunnies, and modern retro designers such as Fiona Hewitt tap into that look successfully.
If you have any photos of Rushton toys that you own, let me know!
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