Small Talk / Exhibits

The Toy King

Marx Motorcycle Delivery

While The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures displays generations of childhood through dolls, dollhouses, trains, soldiers, teddy bears, and much more, other museums focus on just one type of toy or toy company. The Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia, has the largest display of toys from Louis Marx and Company in the world; that’s over six decades of toys!

The museum details not only the toys, but the history and stories of Louis Marx, described as “The Toy King” on a 1955 Time magazine cover; the company he founded in 1919; and the factory workers employed in his three Pennsylvania and West Virginia facilities. Marx branded his toys with his name and was the first inductee to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame where his plaque proclaims him “The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry.” No wonder he has his own museum!

In the 1950s, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Don’t think you can name a Marx toy? Think again! Although the name is now largely forgotten (Marx sold the company in 1972), the company developed Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel tricycle. The toys bore the slogan, “One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” We sure know one place that does: the Marx Toy Museum!

Photo: Motorcycle Delivery, Marx USA 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

Meet The Newest Cartoon Stars

Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York

The 2013 inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame are in the spotlight once again, starring in Leigh Rubin’s Rubes® Cartoons. Rubin began his artistic journey with his own greeting card company, which led to his funny Rubes® Cartoons.

Many of Rubin’s cartoons feature toys in hilarious situations, and the unique cartoons he created for the 2013 inductees, rubber ducky and the game of chess, are no exception!

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

The Wonderful World Of Miniatures

Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©Disney

T/m founder Barbara Marshall wasn’t the only one inspired by the Thorne Rooms. Before settling at the Art Institute of Chicago and other art museums, the miniature rooms traveled the United States including an appearance at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. There, they captured the imagination of former Kansas City resident Walt Disney. Disney began collecting miniatures on his European travels, bringing home minuscule works in wood, glass, china, and metal.

He also tried his hand at the craft creating 100 5 ½” inch pot-bellied stoves that he gave to friends and sold for $25 each. To his delight, Thorne purchased two to add to her collection. In the 1950s, Disney began working with Disney Studio animators to create an entire miniature world that he coined “Disneylandia.” He envisioned placing the miniature settings on a special 21-car train; the animated scenes would tour the country and come to life when a quarter was deposited. Although the project never happened, some believe it was the forerunner for Disneyland.

Disney continued to use models and miniatures in dreaming and scheming for his big projects. Check out some of these miniatures from the Walt Disney Archives. And learn more about The Miniature Worlds of Walt at The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Photo: Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©Disney

Diplomatic Dolls

Miss Shimane Japanese friendship ambassador doll, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Decades before Hello Kitty captured the hearts of Americans, a fleet of Japanese dolls came to America to promote peace and ease cultural tensions. In the 1920s, anti-immigrant sentiments and cultural differences between Japan and America were coming to a head. An American missionary named Sidney Gulick proposed a doll exchange with Japan in order to open an avenue for peaceful communication. In 1927, American school children sent 12,000 “American Blue-Eyed Dolls” to Japan just in time to celebrate Hina Matsuri. Millions of Japanese children were so enthralled with the dolls that they donated money to create dolls to be sent to America, and thus the Japanese Friendship Dolls were born! Each doll represented a different Japanese prefecture, city, or colony and came with beautifully designed accessories such as teapots, parasols, and chests. (T/m is now home to one of these dolls, Miss Fukushima!)

Unfortunately, the diplomacy of the American Blue-Eyed Dolls and the Japanese Friendship Dolls did not last. When World War II broke out years later, dolls from the exchange were considered inappropriate to display, or even treasonous to possess. Many dolls were lost or destroyed. Those that remained safe through the years are now considered highly collectible. See some of them on exhibit in The Japanese Woodblock Print: An Extension of the Impermanent at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture on view now through April 19, 2014.

Photo: Miss Shimane Japanese Friendship Ambassador Doll, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Wikimedia Commons.

Inspiring A Collection

The exterior of Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle prior to the conservation. [J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry]

One of the major inspirations for the modern fine-scale miniature movement is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. The miniature, yet grand structure was completed in 1935 by artists and craftsmen of the day, and is similar to Queen Mary’s Dollhouse at Windsor Castle. It includes not only stunning miniature architectural details, but also tiny fine art pieces ranging from ancient antiquities to modern murals. Inspired by different fairy tales and folk tales such as The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, and Gulliver’s Travels, each room tells a different story!

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle has been on display at the Museum of Science and Industry since 1949. Just like many older houses, the Fairy Castle’s electrical and plumbing systems (yes, miniature plumbing!) were in need of an upgrade in order to prevent damage to the structure and its contents. Earlier this year, a team of conservators revamped the castle, preserving it for generations to come.

Photo: The exterior of Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle prior to conservation. [J.B. Spector, Museum of Science and Industry]

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