Small Talk

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents

Would you believe that the infamous Etch-a-Sketch was inspired by the replacing of a light switch?! Originally called, “The Magic Screen,” the toy’s inventor was working as an electrician when noticed that drawing on a light plate’s decal cover created images on its opposite side.

The truth is, many toys have accidental origins. So many, in fact, that the National Retail Federation compiled a list of the top ten most stumbled-upon playthings, including Play-Doh. Its creators had only intended the compound to serve as wallpaper cleaner. The oldest toy on the list is the Slinky. In 1945, Richard James, a naval engineer, dropped a tension spring he was creating for a battleship and watched it “slink” down a staircase. Two years later, Richard and his wife Betty sold 400 Slinkys during a 90-minute demonstration at Gimbel’s Department Store.

Photo: Inside view of an Etch-A-sketch toy showing the plotter-like inner mechanism, with the aluminium dust removed, Wikimedia Commons.

The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For

The Moment We’ve Been Waiting For

Drum roll please… The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures (yup, that’s us!) will be reopening Saturday, August 1, 2015! The construction is finally wrapping up and we’re getting the building all neat (we’re talking neat enough to eat off the floors) and pretty in preparation for the collection’s homecoming. We’ve got lots of exhibits to fabricate, objects to install, and a two-story toy sculpture to put together.

While we begin the countdown to August (159 days, 2 hours, 1 minute, 52 seconds… but who’s counting?!), check out our new website! Thanks to support from the Victor E. Speas Foundation, Bank of America, trustee, you can browse our collection, search for volunteer and internship opportunities, and purchase museum memberships. And make sure to stick around for sneak peeks over the next 159 days!

17 Winter Street

17 Winter Street

Whether it was a big, shiny bicycle or a coveted baby doll, some of the most memorable childhood toys were received at Christmas time. This dollhouse is no exception. A little girl named Mamie Burt found this dollhouse under (or perhaps near) her Christmas tree in 1875. We don’t know much about Mamie, but we can figure out a little bit about her from her dollhouse.

Based on its construction and size, the dollhouse looks to be the work of a cabinetmaker. The front of the dollhouse is removable and the front door includes a street address: 17 Winter Street. More than likely, Mamie’s parents were members of the upper class and commissioned this dollhouse for her. The furniture Mamie played with may be gone, but the house is full of interesting architectural details. Check back here at Small Talk soon for more!

Jazzy Aggies

Jazzy Aggies

Agate marbles, or “aggies” (if you want to use mibster lingo) are a kind of marble made of agate, a colored variety of quartz. Agate marbles were the preferred shooter for many marble players because they are denser than glass or clay marbles. Popular from the 1860s until World War I, most agates were hand cut and produced in Germany. After the war, new technology allowed for glass marbles to be mass produced. During the heyday of marble playing, several American glass marble manufacturers like Akro Agate Co. and Christensen Agate Co. had the word “agate” in their name to suggest their marbles were similar to actual agates.

While other minerals were used to make marbles, like malachite (the green one on the left) and turquoise (the blue one on the right) spheres above, they probably weren’t intended for playing ringer or any shooting marble game (you wouldn’t want to lose them in a game of keepsies after all!). Instead, marbles made with semi-precious stones were intended for a variety of tabletop board games like solitaire.

Hello Forty!

Hello Forty!

Since her inception in 1974, Hello Kitty’s cute yellow nose and large red bow has been placed on just about every kind of product imaginable—she’s even been on cans of motor oil! By 2014, Hello Kitty was worth an incredible 7 billion dollars! A special exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum celebrates 40 years of Hello Kitty’s worldwide influence with original artwork, fashion, and other rather unusual Hello Kitty swag.

Yuko Shimizu, Hello Kitty’s creator, drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass focusing on Alice’s pet named “Kitty.” Some mystery surrounds Hello Kitty’s design and personality, like the fact that she was designed without a mouth and given little facial expression. Company spokespeople, however, say her lack of a mouth indicates universality, that the character speaks many languages, and that it means Hello Kitty desires worldwide friendship. With Hello Kitty merchandise available in over 60 countries, the emotionally aloof feline has certainly achieved her goal!

Photo: Hello Kitty, Japanese American National Museum.

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