Small Talk / Exhibits

Toys with a Past

FAO Schwarz

Did you know Monopoly started as a game to teach people how terrible it was to have a money-gouging landlord? Or that the Etch-a-Sketch debuted in France as the Magic Screen? Or how about that the Slinky was originally supposed to cushion naval vessel instruments?!

Join Christopher Bensch, Vice President for Collections at The Strong, home of the National Toy Hall of Fame and National Museum of Play, as he explores the history of Hall of Fame inductees at FAO Schwarz. We’re guessing only Santa’s workshop has more toys than FAO Schwarz!

Pocket Portraiture: The Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures

John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine not being able to text a photo to a friend, flip through the family scrapbook, or do a Google image search. Before the invention of photography, paintings were the best way (outside of taking a mental picture) to record a person’s image. But, paintings weren’t super portable. What if you wanted to lovingly gaze upon an image of your fiancée while sailing the high seas? Behold, miniature portraits!

The art form combining painting and jewelry making took off in the late 16th century. In fact, some of the earliest miniature portrait artists were trained as goldsmiths. The tiny portraits were painted on vellum until the early 18th century when artists began using ivory for a richer, more luminous look. The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is lucky to be just blocks away from the Starr Collection of Portrait Miniatures at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The collection contains over 250 paintings, with more than 50 by notable miniaturist John Smart. The miniatures are frequently rotated so you never know what tiny faces you’re going to see!

Photo: John Smart, English (1741/1742-1811). Portrait of General Keith MacAlister, 1810. Watercolor on ivory in copper mount, 3 3/8 x 2 ¾ inches (8.6 x 7 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Gift of the Starr Foundation, Inc., F65-41/51. Photo: Robert Newcombe

Magnifying Glasses Needed

ScotlandMiniatureBookExhibit

Scotland is famous for kilts, bagpipes, and the Loch Ness monster, but did you know it has been an important center of miniature book production since the 19th century? Neither did we!

In the 1870s, Glasgow publishing firm David Bryce & Son found that poorly selling books flew off—or perhaps blew off—the shelf when reformatted in miniature. The National Library of Scotland is exhibiting their collection of Bryce’s tiny tomes and other minuscule masterpieces, which they define as less than 3 inches in height and width. Bryce sold his books with a locket and magnifying glass for ease and accessibility. Yes, that’s right; people actually read the tiny volumes!

The library’s collection includes the first miniature book on record at 2 inches high and 1.8 inches wide. The library used to have the world record holder for smallest book: an edition of Old King Cole, a children’s nursery rhyme at 0.035 inches. Tokoyo-based Toppan Printing holds the current record with a needle-eye sized 22 page-illustrated guide to Japanese flora created using nanotechnology printing techniques. We think that’ll require a microscope!

Photo: National Library of Scotland

And The Winner Is…

2013 National Toy Hall of Fame Finalists

The National Toy Hall of Fame announced the newest honorees on Thursday. Selected from a field of 12 finalists, the lucky winners are… drum roll please… chess and the rubber duck!

Chess is one of the world’s oldest games, originating from an Indian war game where pieces represented different types of fighting men. By 1475, the English were playing the version we know today with bishops, knights, and pawns. Some chess players don’t mess around; they can be found in the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri.

The first rubber duck was different too… it didn’t float! Originally designed as a chew toy, the rubber duck floated its way into pop culture history when Sesame Street’s Ernie first sang “Rubber Duckie” to his favorite tub toy in 1970. Ernie was right, we still think rubber duck is the one for bubble baths!

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

Toys Go To War

German Toy Soldiers Set

True or False? World events, including war, have influenced toys. True! You may have even played with some of these toys, from green army men, first made in 1938 by Bergen Toy & Novelty Company to Hasbro’s 1964 action figure G.I. JoeWar Games, a new exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood explores the role of warfare in children’s play.

Toys have served as propaganda tools, entrenching children with militarism and nationalism. For example, did you know that G.I. Joe, “America’s moveable fighting man,” was repackaged in the United Kingdom as Action Man and was so popular that it won UK Toy of the Year in 1966 and UK Toy of the Decade in 1980? Well, as G.I. Joe says in one of his famous public service announcements, “knowing is half the battle!” If you don’t have a trip planned to London before March 9, 2014, visit the exhibit’s website to join the debate, explore the toys, and read visitor comments.

Photo: O.M. Hausser German Toy Soldier Set, c. 1936 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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