Small Talk

Toys Go To War

German Toy Soldiers Set

True or False? World events, including war, have influenced toys. True! You may have even played with some of these toys, from green army men, first made in 1938 by Bergen Toy & Novelty Company to Hasbro’s 1964 action figure G.I. JoeWar Games, a new exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood explores the role of warfare in children’s play.

Toys have served as propaganda tools, entrenching children with militarism and nationalism. For example, did you know that G.I. Joe, “America’s moveable fighting man,” was repackaged in the United Kingdom as Action Man and was so popular that it won UK Toy of the Year in 1966 and UK Toy of the Decade in 1980? Well, as G.I. Joe says in one of his famous public service announcements, “knowing is half the battle!” If you don’t have a trip planned to London before March 9, 2014, visit the exhibit’s website to join the debate, explore the toys, and read visitor comments.

Photo: O.M. Hausser German Toy Soldier Set, c. 1936 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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LehmannMonkey

In addition to being synonymous with beer and bratwurst, did you know that Germany used to be synonymous with toys too? Germany monopolized the global toy market until World War I. The Lehmann Company was part of the German powerhouse. Founded by Ernst Paul Lehmann in 1881 in Brandenburg, the company produced small, tin toys with strong spring mechanisms that powered fun movements.

As opposed to iron, tin toys were lighter and less expensive. I mean, who wants to play with a dumbbell? Tin also allowed for colorful, lithographed designs that appealed to both boys and girls. We know our climbing monkey is a Lehmann toy because of the maker’s mark on his red hat, and EPL (Ernst Paul Lehmann) 385 and his name (Tom) on the other side. We’re guessing they labeled his hat so he wouldn’t lose it. Tom climbs the string with a gentle pull; relax the string and he’ll climb down. While our Tom doesn’t get much exercise, check out his counterpart’s moves.

You Say Samovar, I Say Wine Fountain

Acquisto Wine Fountain

We originally thought that one of the more than 100 pieces of Pete Acquisto’s miniature silver work in the T/m collection was a samovar. That is until Acquisto came to visit the museum in 2011. He prefers making miniatures in the style of American and English silversmiths from the 16th to the 18th centuries. So, it makes sense that the silver piece we thought was a Russian samovar is actually a wine fountain.

Wine fountains were used to rinse glasses before they were refilled for guests at the dining table. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a similar wine fountain on loan in their collection. The V&A’s silver wine fountain was made by Pierre Platel, a prestigious Huguenot goldsmith, in London, England.

Similar to Platel, Acquisto is also prestigious, holding the International Guild of Miniature Artisans’s (IGMA) highest honor as a Fellow member. IGMA was founded in 1978 to promote fine miniatures as an art form. Fellow membership is awarded to those, like Acquisto, whose work develops into the epitome of excellence. We couldn’t agree with them more!

The Toy World’s Highest Honor

2013 National Toy Hall of Fame Finalists

It’s the EGOT of the toy world! On October 1, the National Toy Hall of Fame announced the 2013 finalists for induction into the hall: bubbles, chess, Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, little green army men, Magic 8 Ball, My Little Pony, Nerf toys, Pac-Man, rubber duck, scooter, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Only two lucky toys will join the prestigious list of hall of famers.

Although a national selection committee will choose the 2013 inductees, you can cast your vote in the public poll. So far, the 1980s toys are the front-runners… gnarly dude!

Don’t see your favorite toy? Then submit a nomination for 2014. But first, make sure your nominee passes the hall’s rigorous set of criteria: the toy must be widely recognized and respected; it must have longevity, having been enjoyed by generations; it must foster learning, creativity, or discovery; and it has to be innovative, having profoundly changed play or toy design. Does your favorite toy have what it takes?

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Look, I Can Swim!

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This boxy bathing beauty doesn’t look much like your typical doll—she’s equipped with a key-wound, spring-loaded mechanism that allows her to actually do the breaststroke! Patented in 1878 by E. Martin, Undine, as she was named in the patent, probably wasn’t meant for children. Fanciful mechanical toys such as Undine were likely too expensive for child’s play and were instead used as a form of entertainment for adults during parties. While we don’t think she crossed the English Channel or won any medals for swimming in the 1896 Olympics, this Victorian mechanized swimming doll is certainly a noteworthy gal.

Want to see Undine race Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps? We do too, but unfortunately she hasn’t been wound up in quite some time. We did, however, find some modern takes on the swimming doll — no winding required — she takes AAA batteries and has a built-in sensor!

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