Small Talk

Toys with a Past

FAO Schwarz

Did you know Monopoly started as a game to teach people how terrible it was to have a money-gouging landlord? Or that the Etch-a-Sketch debuted in France as the Magic Screen? Or how about that the Slinky was originally supposed to cushion naval vessel instruments?!

Join Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong, home of the National Toy Hall of Fame and National Museum of Play, as he explores the history of Hall of Fame inductees at FAO Schwarz. We’re guessing only Santa’s workshop has more toys than FAO Schwarz!

Slow Down This Season With Slow Toys

Slow Toy Awards 2013

Twenty-five years after the Slow Food Movement gained traction, filling bellies with delicious traditional and regional cuisine that utilized the local ecosystem, the Slow Toys Movement was formed by Thierrey Bourret in the United Kingdom. According to Bourret, slow toys encourage traditional play, boost creative thinking, inspire the development of one’s own imagination, are not made of plastic, are without batteries, are sold in independent toy shops, are durable, stand the test of time, and are without thousands of functions.

Every year Bourret takes nominations via email and a panel of judges choose the seven top slow toys of the year. 2013’s winners were all made out of wood except for a construction set with metal parts, and plastic cables, gears, and wheel hubs that can be constructed different models. Many of the wooden toys may look familiar, from the train set and building blocks to the doll stroller and tiny tricycle. We love this movement, which elevates beautifully crafted wooden toys and much-loved dollhouses that encourage creativity and imagination!

Come Light the Menorah

Menorahs, William B. Meyers, c. 1940-1947

Similar to Pete Acquisto, William B. Meyers was a renowned silversmith before becoming one of the preeminent miniature silversmiths of the first half of the twentieth century. He began making miniature silver in the late 1920s in addition to his full-time job as owner of William B. Meyers Company. Sadly, his miniature career ended abruptly in 1947 after the death of his wife Helen when he shifted to exclusively crafting religious sterling hollowware including Kiddush cups and menorahs still used by synagogues across the country.

Luckily for The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Meyers crafted these two menorahs before ending his miniature career. Our menorahs are the seven-branched candelabrums used in the Jewish Temple to symbolize the seven days of Creation. Menorahs used to celebrate Hanukkah have nine branches. The eight candles in a row represent the eight nights of Hanukkah; the ninth candle set a little above the others, known as the shamash, lights the other candles.

Pocket Portraiture: The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures

John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine not being able to text a photo to a friend, flip through the family scrapbook, or do a Google image search. Before the invention of photography, paintings were the best way (outside of taking a mental picture) to record a person’s image. But, paintings weren’t super portable. What if you wanted to lovingly gaze upon an image of your fiancée while sailing the high seas? Behold, miniature portraits!

The art form combining painting and jewelry making took off in the late 16th century. In fact, some of the earliest miniature portrait artists were trained as goldsmiths. The tiny portraits were painted on vellum until the early 18th century when artists began using ivory for a richer, more luminous look. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is lucky to be just blocks away from the Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The collection contains over 250 paintings, with more than 50 by notable miniaturist John Smart. The miniatures are frequently rotated so you never know what tiny faces you’re going to see!

Photo: John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Josephine’s Repurposed Play

Pincushion Chair and Guitar from Josephine Bird's Dollhouse

Josephine Bird decorated her dollhouse with the finest, traditional ormolu furnishings alongside objects she re-appropriated from everyday life. Dolls visiting the residents of the house may have rested their feet on some particularly cushy chairs. That’s because the chairs were originally meant for pins, similar to the tomato design that is believed to have originated in the 15th century, but gained popularity, along with other shapes (fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables), in the Victorian era!

The guitar that the dolls jammed on probably didn’t make the greatest music. The guitar can be pulled apart and was likely a candy case or Christmas ornament sold at her father’s Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. Josephine’s repurposing is like the Victorian version of using those plastic pizza box saver thingies as tables for your Barbies or Calico Critters!

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