Small Talk

A Cabinet of Curiosity

A Cabinet of Curiosity

The bold and ornate details on the outside of the 1:12 scale Antwerp cabinet really make a statement. Created by artist Pierre Mourey in 1999, the leggy cabinet was inspired by 17th-century Dutch cabinets of curiosities. Traditionally, these cabinets were adorned with exotic materials like tortoise shell, ebony, and mother of pearl.

Mourey, however, had to figure out a way to emulate in miniature not only the style of the cabinet, but also the fine embellishments. Reverse-painted red acetate (the kind of material eyeglass frames are made of) was used to resemble tortoise shell. Although it’s made of walnut, the cabinet has been ebonized, or treated with a special chemical mixture to give it the look of dark ebony wood. Stay tuned; we’ll reveal the cabinet’s equally stunning interior soon!

Factories in the Business of Play

Factories in the Business of Play

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the Toys, Inc. story continues into the 19th century as toy making graduated from homes to factories and machines replaced manual labor. With low profit margins and a time-consuming process, the cottage industry had difficulty bringing home any bacon. On the other hand, factories were able to boost production with steam-powered engines and mechanized processes that churned out large quantities of toys.

To maintain their dominance in the market, Germany turned to tin toys (or maybe it was because they had depleted the country’s wood supply?). Tin was cheap to produce, lightweight to ship, and could be easily decorated. A win, win, win! Wanting a piece of the pie, America entered the toy production game with a readily available material from the country’s prolific railroad construction: cast iron. By utilizing an easily obtainable material, the U.S. could produce toys that were less expensive than German imports. Can you say cha-ching?!

Cottage Industries in the Business of Play

Cottage Industries in the Business of Play

Toys aren’t all fun and games, they’re also a thriving 84-billion-dollar global industry! Surprisingly though, the industry is only 200 years old. Yet, it’s come a long way from small shops to enormous corporations of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel. But, let’s go back to the beginning with T/m’s permanent exhibition Toys, Inc. The Making of an Industry.

Once upon a time, in the 18th century forested regions of Germany, farming and mining families made wooden toys to supplement their incomes. These carved peg dolls and Noah’s Arks were the beginning of the modern toy industry. Early wooden toy makers often utilized their entire family in turning, carving, and painting processes. This household production of goods was coined a “cottage industry” because toy makers were quite literally being industrious in their cottages!

Building a Fine-Scale Collection

Building a Fine-Scale Collection

What started as a souvenir in the 1950s, became a serious collection by the 1970s, a museum by 1982, and is today the world’s largest and finest collection. Museum co-founder Barbara Marshall combined her love for small things with an eye for detail refined throughout her professional career in Hallmark’s art department and volunteer service at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The combination resulted in a patron that desired only the highest quality work from artists that could meet her standards.

Marshall encouraged artists to create their dream fine-scale works, allowing many artists to explore the boundaries of the art form. The outcomes can be seen throughout T/m’s miniature galleries, including Emperor Charles V of Spain and Queen Isabella of Portugal.

Spin the Wheel of Life

Spin the Wheel of Life

During the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries and achievements abounded. Scholars explored everything from celestial bodies to microscopic organisms. In the 1820s, scientists came up with the theory of persistence of vision, which explains how the brain perceives separate images in motion as one cohesive image. What does this theory have to do with toys? Come spin the wheel of life with us…

It may not look like much at first glance, but this drum-shaped zoetrope (Greek for “wheel of life”) is one of the stars of our Optical Toys exhibit. An early animation toy, the zoetrope is comprised of a metal cylinder with cut out slots attached to a wooden pedestal. An interchangeable paper strip with printed illustrations sits inside the drum. To activate the animation, you simply spin the zoetrope, look through the slots, and voila! The magic of persistence of vision takes over and the printed strip appears to animate. In the decades that followed, this technology gave life to the famous Steamboat Willie and other early cartoons.

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