Small Talk

Gilbert’s Great Girders

Gilbert’s Great Girders

The history of the Erector Set’s creator is just as interesting as the popularity of the toy itself. During his studies at Yale, A. C. Gilbert was an accomplished athlete and even won a gold medal for pole-vaulting in the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. When he wasn’t dominating a sport, Gilbert honed his skills as a successful magician.

We aren’t sure exactly when he found the time to sleep! Surrounded by the marvels of 20th century industrial architecture trends, Gilbert managed to find enough free time to create the first Erector Set in 1913. With it, he managed to bring the realism of these new technologies to the hands of American children. His hope was that the set would inspire the progression of these novel ideas for generations to come. A 2013 exhibit at The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop called The Erector Set at 100 traced the century-long legacy of Gilbert’s famous toy and connects it to the modern maker movement’s focus on technology and DIY.

Photo: The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop

Sweet, Sweet Miniature Sounds

Sweet, Sweet Miniature Sounds

Many know the unique and beautiful sounds of the harpsichord from the concerts of Johann Sebastian Bach. Yet, few know that our miniature version of the musical instrument is capable of playing the same iconic melodies. While the tiniest of fingers might be able to follow Bach’s arrangement, melodies played on our miniature version won’t sound the same as a full-scale harpsichord because you cannot miniaturize sound.

Created in 1:12 scale by Johannes Landman in 2004, the miniature’s small keys were individually fashioned out of ivory and weighted in place to prevent shifting as the piece ages. Under the harpsichord’s lid lies a series of brass strings, each approximately .0035 of an inch thick. When each key is pressed, it plucks the note, instead of hammering it like a piano. What’s more, Landman precisely drilled each pin so the tiny instrument can actually be tuned! Finally, a sound hole smaller than a pea under the harpsichord’s wooden body allows the music to escape.

Chop Shop

Chop Shop

Victorian life was not for the faint of heart. While we may be used to ground beef or pork chops neatly packaged in Styrofoam and shrink wrap, that wasn’t always the case. Most Victorians were used to perusing dangling meat in storefront windows at their local butcher shop, just like this toy version from our collection. Although it may seem grisly as a toy, this child-sized charcuterie was meant to teach kids the grown-up skills of grocery shopping and business. What’s more, actual shops of the time period embraced their utility too, often using them as unique advertisements in store windows.

While a similar example exists in our collection, the toy butcher shop shown here is from the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. Created in 1900 by the Christian Hacker Toy Company, this shop includes a friendly figurine that invites children and visitors alike to come closer and take in all of its details. Small wooden replicas of raw meat hang in the archways, and although the furniture inside appears oversized, it is all original to the piece.

Photo: Butcher Shop, c. 1900, Christian Hacker, Germany. Courtesy of the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Miniature Master: Johannes Landman

Miniature Master: Johannes Landman

You just never know where your career will take you. Johannes Landman previously worked for a firm issuing driver’s licenses before turning to his passion of fine-scale miniatures. Born in Holland, the self-taught artist drew inspiration from his grandmother, also a painter, and from work of the 17th Century Dutch masters when he began creating art. Now living in Canada, Landman makes his living transforming veneered wood, copper, and silk into masterful miniature oil paintings that can be found in museums and private collections worldwide. Landman also teaches at the International Guild of Miniatures Artisans.

He is said to believe that anyone can be a miniature artist as long as he or she has the passion to do so and doesn’t make earning money the end goal. Unafraid of challenges, Landman stretched his talent a little to create the ornate miniature harpsichord, now part of T/m’s permanent collection. The small piece actually plays when its keys are pressed, and its designs reflect the artistic flare and attention to detail exhibited in the artist’s framed paintings.

I Had One of Those!

I Had One of Those!

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

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