Small Talk

Confiscated Toys Liberated Again

confiscation cabinets

It’s every grade school kid’s nightmare: bringing your newest, coolest toy to school to impress your friends only to have it end up in the teacher’s dreaded confiscation drawer. An exhibit on view earlier this year at the V&A Museum of Childhood displayed the captives of this proverbial toy Bastille and explored how exactly they got there. The exhibit, entitled Confiscation Cabinets is the idea of artist and teacher Guy Tarrant whose focus is on the interaction between pupils, play, and resistant behavior.

Tarrant, with the help of other teachers, collected confiscated toys and objects from over 150 different London schools over three decades. Each toy was labeled with the age and sex of the child it was confiscated from along with the year and location. Not surprisingly, some of our favorite classroom distractions were present: troll dolls, plastic creepy crawlies, action figures and play jewelry. However, some of the objects on display were a bit more sinister: aerosol cans used as flamethrowers, air guns, and even a tennis ball turned fire bomb. The display of all the objects together brings back some nostalgia- and perhaps anxiety- for grade school life.

Photo: Confiscation Cabinets © Guy Tarrant

Hay is for Horses

gottschalk stable

The Moritz Gottschalk company produced a lot more than dollhouses; it could be said that they produced every kind of toy structure imaginable, from warehouses, forts, theaters and shops to stables, rooms, and kitchens. Surprisingly, none of the structures are marked with the company’s name. But many clues helped T/m easily identify this Gottschalk stable: a red or blue roof, lithographed paper details, and the creative use and replication of architectural forms in the toy structure.

Just as race tracks and garages filled with four-wheeled vehicles occupy hours of play today, the Red Roof Stable Model No. 4541 was a favorite of boys and girls. Models ranged in size and accessories brought to life all sorts of imaginative play with farm animals and hay carts to haul bailed hay or horses to pull carriages on cobblestone roads. We think it is really neat to see the similarities between this stable and the stables that children can play with today!

Josephine’s Mini Museum

dollhouse attic

Today, some of our favorite souvenirs come in the form of photographs. Facebook or Instagram albums full of exotic photos illustrate the story of a trip to a far-off place. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the 19th century, photography was still new and handheld cameras weren’t yet synonymous with Hawaiian shirt-clad tourists. Instead, the fashionable things to bring home were artfully crafted souvenirs such as miniature mosaics, diminutive copies of landmarks, and pocket-sized paintings.

We can safely presume that when Josephine Bird was completing finishing school in Florence, Italy, she amassed quite the collection of these souvenirs, many of which found a place in her large dollhouse’s attic (where else do you keep your nicest things!?). Some of the highlights include a soapstone Leaning Tower of Pisa, a print of a Renaissance angel in the style of Fra Angelico with a micromosaic frame, and an alabaster sculpture of the three graces. It’s quite the mini art museum!

Masterminding Historical Interiors

eugene kupjack

In the late 1930s, Eugene Kupjack read a magazine article about Narcissa Thorne’s miniature rooms. Kupjack, trained in art and set design, took pieces of Lucite and fashioned them into a chair, a dish, and tiny glasses. He mailed them off to Mrs. Thorne—and six weeks later, he got a phone call. Mrs. Thorne loved his work. Would he come create some pieces for her?

Kupjack’s work as the principle artisan on 37 of the 62 Thorne Rooms launched his career in miniature-making, and he is now considered to be a father of the art form. Kupjack created approximately 700 miniature rooms during his career. Over the decades, Kupjack worked with many different mediums, but became particularly interested in creating silver miniatures after famous historical pieces, including Martha Washington’s tea tray and Paul Revere’s tankard. Today, Kupjack’s sons are active miniature artisans, and his work continues to awe visitors at the Art Institute of Chicago and museums around the world. As one 1971 Thorne Rooms viewer mused, “To see them is to marvel at the magic of his fingers and the ingeniousness of his mind that created this tiny room.”

The War to End All Wars

painted metal toy soldiers WWI

One hundred years ago, the “war to end all wars” began. Now known as World War I (and not even close to the last world conflict), it would grow to involve 30 nations, 65 million soldiers, and 4 years of warfare. The war touched every aspect of life in the United States, including play.

Toy armies evolved from figures of men on horseback with bayonets to soldiers equipped with rifles and machine guns. In the 1930s, the United States-based Manoil Manufacturing Company began to produce metal toy soldiers. This painted soldier, known as a “tommy gunner,” holds modern weaponry and poses in a combat position. He is one of T/m’s many examples of toy soldiers that reflect the conflict in which they fought, even if it was just a battle of the imagination.

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