Small Talk

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!

You Can Do Anything Good

Goldie Blox

Toys have communicated gender roles for generations: baby dolls and tea sets taught little girls how to be good mothers and hostesses, while building sets and trains prepared little boys for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A Stanford engineer set out to create a toy that helped little girls do what they already know: they can do anything good.

The result? GoldieBlox, a toy that lights little girls inventive spark and gives them the opportunity to explore all the possibilities for what they can be when they grow up. A set of interactive books and games, GoldieBlox is taking the pink toy aisles by storm. While we haven’t played with GoldieBlox yet, we love the mission behind it: a girl is more than just a princess, they can be anything they want to be!

Josephine’s Dollhouse Treasure Trove

Josephine Bird Dollhouse

This stately Victorian bookcase-style dollhouse stood silent on the third floor of a grand Kansas City home, forgotten for a generation. When Mrs. Joseph Hall first unpacked the family heirloom, she discovered dozens of antique candy boxes containing the dollhouse’s original, intricate furnishings. Good thing the candy was gone… there’s nothing worse than finding last year’s Halloween candy melted to the pillowcase you used as a bag. Yuck!

The elaborate dollhouse belonged to Josephine Bird, the mother-in-law of Mrs. Hall. Josephine was born in 1889 to Joseph Taylor Bird Sr., an investor in the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. The department store, located here in Kansas City, was once heralded as “The Southwest’s Greatest Merchandisers.” Josephine’s dollhouse is filled with items repurposed from the store and gathered on her world travels. Stay tuned as we rediscover all the treasures Mrs. Hall found!

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