Small Talk

Toy Libraries: Lending a Smile

Toypedia Toy Library

You can rent just about anything these days: books, cars, videos (ok, well, maybe not so much anymore)… but how about toys? While toy libraries haven’t quite caught on yet in America, they’re all the rage in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Here’s how it works: parents buy a yearly membership to their local toy library to check out a toy for a period of time, similar to a book from a library. Once the time period is up, the toy is returned to the library, cleaned, and put back on the shelf for the next child. Pretty cool, huh? Not only do toy libraries promote learning and cognitive development through play, they also keep unwanted toys out of landfills and save parents tons of money!

Here in America, folks seem to be warming up to the toy lending concept. A librarian at the Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library in the East Village decided to loan out an American Girl doll, Kirsten Larson, along with her corresponding storybook. The unofficial doll lending program became immensely popular and has since expanded to include several other American Girls, which normally retail for upwards of $100. Offering children the opportunity to play with a toy their parents might not be able to afford is yet another reason toy libraries are catching on. Click here to find a toy library near you!

Photo: Toypedia, a toy library with branches in Gurgaon and South Delhi, India.

The House That Abe Built

Lincoln Log Cabin

Miniature artists Allison Ashby and Steve Jedd’s love for miniatures lies in the stories and history behind the objects they miniaturize. We’ll be using this very Presidential month here at Small Talk to explore the creation of a presidential home. Nope, its not a neoclassical Federal style white home in Washington, D.C, but it is a National Park Service Historic Site.

In 1816, Abraham Lincoln’s family moved from Kentucky to this cabin in Southern Indiana. From the age of 7 to 21, Lincoln helped (alright you caught us… his dad built it, but he helped!) carve a farm and home out of the frontier forests. Ashby and Jedd spent time in the National Park Service’s archives for information on the cabin and then spent two and a half days taking photographs, measuring, and drawing the cabin (with permission of course). Check back here to find out how many hours the artist spent building this miniature!

Tête-à-Tête with Tête Jumeau Bébé

Tete Jumeau Mechanical Doll

In case your French is a little rusty (ok, we had to look it up too!), tête is the French word for head. This beautiful porcelain doll’s head was made by French dollmaker Pierre Francoise Jumeau in the 1880s. Dolls (or bébés) made by the Jumeau firm were known for their soft, expressive facial features and were most often made of bisque porcelain.

This particular bébé is not only pretty and well-dressed, but she’s also an automaton! The body of the doll contains clockwork mechanisms that are wound with a key to make her move. Automata tend to have somewhat slow and jerky movements that may seem a bit creepy or strange to us today, but dolls like this one were a popular form of entertainment in the 18th to early 20th centuries. It’s a good thing she’s so lovely to look at!

A Dollhouse Fit For A Queen

Queen Mary's Dollhouse Dining Room

Three fine-scale commissions in the first half of the 20th century greatly influenced the wave of enthusiasm for miniatures in the 1970s and inspired collectors like T/m founder Barbara Marshall. We’ll take a look at all three commissions here on Small Talk, starting with Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle. Created at the end of WWI as a token of appreciation to the Queen, the dollhouse is a memorial of the art and craft of the time, and helped revive British trade in the postwar depression.

Between 1921 and 1924 Sir Edwin Lutyens, the star architect of the day, organized 1,500 artists, craftsmen, and manufacturers to create the symmetrical building in a scale of one inch to one foot. The house has four elevations, forty rooms and vestibules, a grand marble staircase, and two elevators. The garage houses six perfectly functioning automobiles. Every room in the house is fully furnished with a working fireplace. No detail was forgotten… the house includes electricity and running water, even the toilets flush!

Sets of Wooden Wonders

Schoenhut Alligator

In the late 1800s, Albert Schoenhut expanded his company’s production exclusively from toy pianos to include other musical instruments, soldiers, dolls, and boats. In 1903 he added a wooden toy set known as the “Humpty Dumpty Circus.” The circus, named after a popular 19th century play by George Washington Lafayette Fox, became the company’s most popular product.

The circus initially included Humpty Dumpty the clown, and a barrel, chair, and ladder. Later, Schoenhut added circus performers, a ringmaster, acrobats, a lion tamer, and several animals to encourage sales. Humpty Dumpty, the performers, and animals were fully jointed with elastic cord allowing children to position their heads and limbs. The circus, ranging in price from 50 cents to six dollars, was a hit nationally and internationally with exports to Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Believed to be one of the first play sets developed in the United States, Schoenhut followed up with others, including this alligator. Stay tuned to see its set: Teddy Roosevelt’s Adventures in Africa!

Page 12 of 19« First...1011121314...Last »