Small Talk

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

While our dreidel may not be made out of clay, it sure can spin! The dreidel is a four-sided spinning toy, and a game traditionally played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each side of our dreidel has a letter from the Hebrew alphabet written in black ink. When put together, they form the acronym NGHS: in translation, “a great miracle happened there.”

The rules of the game haven’t changed much since it originated in the Medieval period. Each player starts out with an equal number of game pieces, typically gelt. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and following the instructions for the side that lands up: do nothing, take the whole pot, take half the pieces in the pot, or place a game piece in the pot. This year, the first night of Hanukkah is December 6, so get your gelt (real or chocolate), ready!

Cheers! Prost!

Cheers! Prost!

From Oktoberfest celebrations to biergartens, Germans definitely know how to drink in style. This uniquely designed figural toasting cup is rooted in the rich cultural and folk traditions of the country. The origins of the design come from a folk tale in which the daughter of a nobleman fell in love with a commoner who was a goldsmith. The wealthy nobleman locked the goldsmith away, but eventually agreed to let him marry his daughter if he could make a chalice from which two people can drink at the same time without spilling one single drop. Of course the goldsmith created this hinged cup to make the feat possible, and the rest was history. How’s that for German engineering!

Although not a fine-scale miniature, this cup is much smaller than life-sized, and resides in the Josephine Bird Dollhouse along with many of Josephine’s European souvenirs and artistic furnishings. We like to imagine that two of Josephine’s dolls had a very fancy wedding ceremony and enacted the traditional “Who Runs the Nest” toast using this cup.

Crack the Code

Crack the Code

Decades before Saturday morning cartoons or video games, kids and families would gather around the radio to listen to dramatically narrated stories, called serials. One of the popular serials of the 1930s followed the adventures of Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy. Even back then, no popular children’s program was without its share of branded merchandise and premium toys. The classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story depicted the main character Ralphie impatiently waiting to receive his Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin in the mail.

This 1938 edition of the Telematic Radio Orphan Annie Pin has two holes that reveal corresponding numbers and letters on a dial. The codes read during the end of the radio program could be deciphered by turning the dial to reveal the secret letter. Contrary to the disappointing Ovaltine message received by Ralphie in the movie, the actual codes gave a clue to what would happen in the next Radio Orphan Annie program. Visitors to the museum’s “Toys from the Attic: Stories of American Childhood” exhibit can view this pin along and decipher a message of their own (and we promise it’s not a crummy commercial)!

Raise a Glass

Raise a Glass

Thanksgiving is upon us, which means lots of turkey, pumpkin pie, and of course cranberry everything: sauce, stuffing, desserts, and even glassware. That’s right, this rose-colored type of glass is named after the holiday fruit, but it actually dates back to the Roman Empire. Surprisingly, the art of making the glass is rather expensive because gold is added to the molten glass to achieve the cranberry color before it is molded or blown into its final shape.

The photograph above pairs a full-size Victorian-style cranberry glass goblet with a variety of fine-scale miniature cranberry glass works by Francis Whittemore. The pieces include diminutive stemware, decanters with functional stoppers, and a punch bowl with cut details that is just big enough to fit an actual cranberry.

Time’s Most Influential Toys

Time’s Most Influential Toys

Last year, Time magazine interviewed toy historians and experts to come up with the most influential toys of all time. They defined influential as toys that had the biggest impact on the toy industry and the world at large.

The list included a lot of toys that were “firsts:” Chatty Cathy was the first talking doll. G.I. Joe was the first doll for boys… oops… we mean “action figure.” The Easy Bake Oven allowed kids to make edible food for the first time. Doc McStuffins was the first black doll to become popular among kids of all races. And Cabbage Patch dolls were the first toys not tied to popular culture that everyone had to have.

Others like Leap Pad, Rubik’s Cube, View-Master, Star Wars figurines, Super Soaker, Nerf Bow and Arrow, Barbie, and LEGO made the list for their sheer popularity, for becoming not only toys, but collectibles, or for starting a movement. That’s a powerful bunch of toys.

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