Small Talk

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.

Decision 2016: The Nominees

Decision 2016: The Nominees

Another election year is upon us, and the stakes are especially high this time! Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for Americans to fulfill their civic duty and vote for the next inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame. While we wouldn’t dare make a political endorsement here, we will introduce you to the candidates.

The polls are in and the race has been narrowed down to twelve. This year, a rainbow of toys including coloring books, Care Bears, Transformers, and Uno make for some colorful options. Also in the running are classic board games Clue and Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, who can deny the contributions that perennial favorites Nerf, pinball, and Fisher-Price Little People have made? We’re not sure which states they’re from, but the red versus blue Rock’em Sock’em Robots are also duking it out for the prize. Some unconventional candidates have emerged this year as well. The tactile fun of bubble wrap appeals to all generations of constituents. And it goes without saying that “swing voters” will undoubtedly cast their votes for, well, the swing. Stay tuned for election results this November!
Photo: Courtesy of The Strong®, Rochester, New York.

Inspiring a Fine-Scale Collection

Inspiring a Fine-Scale Collection

On Small Talk, we’ve already looked at three miniature commissions in the early 20th century that helped spark the fine-scale miniature movement: Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, and the Thorne Rooms. All three commissions employed full-scale craftsmen to create miniature versions of their work for public exhibition. But how did the museum’s collection come to be?

Museum founder Barbara Marshall loved small things. Contrary to most children, she always looked forward to getting the “smallest” present. In the 1950s, she discovered the shop of Eric Pearson, one of the craftsman hired to furnish the Thorne Rooms. A 1:12 scale Pearson rocking chair began her collection that is now the largest in the world. Stay tuned for more about Marshall and the gigantic, miniature collection she built.

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