Small Talk Archive: November 2015

Crack the Code

Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Pin

Decades before Saturday morning cartoons or video games, kids and families would gather around the radio to listen to dramatically narrated stories, called serials. One of the popular serials of the 1930s followed the adventures of Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy. Even back then, no popular children’s program was without its share of branded merchandise and premium toys. The classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story depicted the main character Ralphie impatiently waiting to receive his Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin in the mail.

This 1938 edition of the Telematic Radio Orphan Annie Pin has two holes that reveal corresponding numbers and letters on a dial. The codes read during the end of the radio program could be deciphered by turning the dial to reveal the secret letter. Contrary to the disappointing Ovaltine message received by Ralphie in the movie, the actual codes gave a clue to what would happen in the next Radio Orphan Annie program. Visitors to the museum’s “Toys from the Attic: Stories of American Childhood” exhibit can view this pin along and decipher a message of their own (and we promise it’s not a crummy commercial)!

Raise a Glass

miniature cranberry glass

Thanksgiving is upon us, which means lots of turkey, pumpkin pie, and of course cranberry everything: sauce, stuffing, desserts, and even glassware. That’s right, this rose-colored type of glass is named after the holiday fruit, but it actually dates back to the Roman Empire. Surprisingly, the art of making the glass is rather expensive because gold is added to the molten glass to achieve the cranberry color before it is molded or blown into its final shape.

The photograph above pairs a full-size Victorian-style cranberry glass goblet with a variety of fine-scale miniature cranberry glass works by Francis Whittemore. The pieces include diminutive stemware, decanters with functional stoppers, and a punch bowl with cut details that is just big enough to fit an actual cranberry.

Time’s Most Influential Toys

Time Magazine Most Influential

Last year, Time magazine interviewed toy historians and experts to come up with the most influential toys of all time. They defined influential as toys that had the biggest impact on the toy industry and the world at large.

The list included a lot of toys that were “firsts:” Chatty Cathy was the first talking doll. G.I. Joe was the first doll for boys… oops… we mean “action figure.” The Easy Bake Oven allowed kids to make edible food for the first time. Doc McStuffins was the first black doll to become popular among kids of all races. And Cabbage Patch dolls were the first toys not tied to popular culture that everyone had to have.

Others like Leap Pad, Rubik’s Cube, View-Master, Star Wars figurines, Super Soaker, Nerf Bow and Arrow, Barbie, and LEGO made the list for their sheer popularity, for becoming not only toys, but collectibles, or for starting a movement. That’s a powerful bunch of toys.

A Bear in Brooklyn

michtom teddy bear

You might be familiar with the story of how the teddy bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. After refusing to shoot a defenseless (and already maimed) bear, the incident was forever immortalized in a November 1903 newspaper cartoon. The compassionate depiction of Roosevelt captured the hearts of Americans, including a particular Russian Jewish immigrant couple in New York.

Shop owners Morris and Rose Michtom ran a small penny goods store in Brooklyn. After seeing the famous newspaper cartoon, Rose was so inspired she created a plush bear to put in their store window and named him “Teddy’s bear.” Dozens of shoppers began asking if the bear was for sale, and Rose became worried about marketing an item using the president’s name, so Morris mailed the original to the White House with a letter asking permission. Roosevelt doubted it would matter much and consented, giving rise to one of the most famous toys in history. Today, one of the original Michtom bears is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Photo: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.

Reporting for Duty

g.i. joe action figures

In 1964, Hasbro, Inc. introduced G.I. Joe: America’s Movable Fighting Man. Reportedly, Hasbro designers borrowed guns and rifles from the National Guard and even asked generals for top-secret materials in order to get all the details right! The company originally created three prototypes of their fighting man: Rocky the marine, Skip the sailor (not to be confused with Barbie’s sister Skipper), and Ace the pilot. Later, they settled on the universal name of G.I. Joe. The G.I. stands for “Government Issue,” a generic term for U.S. soldiers.

Joe premiered with a version for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot, and Action Marine. A very lucky little boy once owned T/m’s 1964 Action Sailor #7600 and many of the uniforms, weapons, and equipment (check them all out on T/m’s website). All of the accessories were interchangeable, which may explain why our Joe is photographed in the last outfit his owner dressed him in: Action Marine uniform #7710.

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