Small Talk Archive: May 2014

The Toy King

louis marx and co toys

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures displays generations of childhood through dolls, dollhouses, trains, soldiers, teddy bears, and much more, other museums focus on just one type of toy or toy company. The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia, has the largest display of toys from Louis Marx and Company in the world; that’s over six decades of toys!

The museum details not only the toys, but the history and stories of Louis Marx, described as “The Toy King” on a 1955 Time magazine cover; the company he founded in 1919; and the factory workers employed in his three Pennsylvania and West Virginia facilities. Marx branded his toys with his name and was the first inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame where his plaque proclaims him “The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry.” No wonder he has his own museum!

In the 1950s, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Don’t think you can name a Marx toy? Think again! Although the name is now largely forgotten (Marx sold the company in 1972), the company developed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle. The toys bore the slogan, “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” We sure know one place that does: the Marx Toy Museum!

Photo: Motorcycle Delivery, Marx USA 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

Happy or Haunted?

fine-scale miniature palace of versailles

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535-475 BC got it right: the only thing constant is change. Whether bustling with people or sparsely populated (or even abandoned), places change: Paris  looks much different than it did 100 years ago; Colorado isn’t the same place it was in 1870. Although they are recreating an existing piece, when miniature artists begin a new project they get to determine the atmosphere: is it 1472 with the original occupants in residence or is it the present day? Is the sun shining at high noon or preparing to set for the evening?

Harry Smith, and Kevin Mulvany and Susie Rogers have two very different interpretations of the Palace of Versailles. Smith’s Louis XV study appears as though King Louis XV just stepped out for an afternoon stroll in the delightful gardens. Mulvany and Rogers’s deserted garden pavilion in a long-ago abandoned Versailles is filled with clouded glass, tattered remnants of history, and a foreboding sense of better days gone by. The artists used artistic details to convey two very different, but very wonderful, atmospheres! The artists used artistic details to convey two very different, but very wonderful, atmospheres!

Photo courtesy of Mulvany and Rogers.

The Ghosts of Versailles

kevin mulvany and susie rogers ghost of versailles

Miniature artists are in the business of re-creation. Kevin Mulvany and Susie Rogers re-create historically significant European and North American buildings and their interiors. But they aren’t just in the business of re-creating walls, moldings, and mortise and tenon joints; they aim to recreate atmosphere. And when you’re talking about buildings and interiors that are hundreds of years old, the atmosphere choices are endless. Mulvany and Rogers design their interiors to feel as though someone—or some  ghost—has just left the room.

With the help of young filmmakers Max Mulvany and Sam Vincent of Surrealist Studios, the miniature artists brought to life their deserted Versailles garden pavilion to explore the effects of the slow, relentless passage of time on a once grand building. Check out The Ghosts of Versailles.

Skittle Me This

steiff skittles

Perched happily on top of wooden platforms, this rooster and his brood of eight colorful hens are waiting for someone to throw the cheese and hit a floorer. If that sounds like jibberish, you might want to brush up on the lingo for the game of skittles! While we think of skittles as a candy that lets you taste the rainbow, skittles is also a game related to bowling. The game has been played for centuries and there are several different regional versions. In Old English skittles, players throw a rounded piece of heavy wood called a cheese to knock over pins at the end of an alley. In other versions, players roll a small ball to knock over the pins.

The owner of these Steiff Company rooster and chicken skittles probably didn’t have the best aim, judging from the undamaged, brightly colored felt. Steiff produced skittles sets featuring felt animals from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. While the game of skittles has waned in popularity in recent decades, it is still played in the United Kingdom and is known as a game that is friendly and accessible, even for newcomers… just don’t call it bowling!

Design for the Masses

moritz gottschalk dollhouse

Like a broken (polka) record, we seem to talk a lot about the German toy industry here on Small Talk. Just goes to show how prolific it used to be! One of the industry’s most important producers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Moritz Gottschalk company. Gottschalk is best known for its beautifully designed dollhouses, which mirrored the architectural styles of the day. The company also sold equally beautiful toy kitchens, general stores, horse stables, forts, and more. Like other toy companies in Germany, Gottschalk wanted to reach other European markets as well as America, so they offered their toy line via catalog. The catalogs provided model numbers, dates and specifications which makes identifying these gems over a century later a breeze!

The earliest line of Gottschalk toys were wooden dollhouses with blue painted roofs, chromolithographed paper facades, and Victorian architectural details. Mass production techniques made the manufacturing process faster and more efficient. Around 1910, the company switched to houses with red painted roofs and hand-painted facades. Seems a little counterintuitive, right? While no one really knows why this shift to a slower production method occurred, dollhouse historians believe the changes reflected popular taste.

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