Small Talk / Museum

Playful Collecting

Mary Harris Francis

The new exhibits at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures would not be complete without paying homage to the women who started it all: Barbara Marshall and Mary Harris Francis. Nestled amongst the toy exhibits on the second floor is the first antique dollhouse acquired by Mary Harris Francis in 1974—the New Rochelle Mystery House—and a fire station and pair of trucks from her husband’s childhood.

Mary Harris Francis never lost the connection she felt to her own childhood and this sense of playfulness guided her collecting. She was most attracted to objects that had been handmade and well-loved, leaving T/m a collection of toys with rich provenances that are detailed here on Small Talk and in the museum. Francis passed away in 2005, but her curatorial acumen will always be remembered through one of the nation’s largest collections of antique toys at T/m.

Neato Toys of the Nineties

Toys of the Nineties

The crazes continue as the 1990s decade of Gotta Have It: Iconic Toys of Past Decades recalls Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, Tamagotchi, and Pokemon. At the top of every child’s Christmas list in 1998 was Furby, a battery-operated, highly-animated (and very annoying if you had a sibling who forgot to turn Furby off!) toy that spoke its own language: Furbish. With the ability to learn 800 English phrases, Furby was believed to be so intelligent that it was banned from National Security Agency offices for fear the toy could unknowingly divulge state secrets.

Following the Cabbage Patch craze, another toy incited insanity in 1996 when it sold for $30 and thousands of dollars in the same year. He was red, fuzzy, and giggled and shook when you tickled him… Tickle Me Elmo! Tyco Toys’ shrewd promotion of the Sesame Street character resulted in the sale of at least one million in 1996. But the demand was even greater. Stores sold out within hours of stocking the toys, leading parents to shell out big bucks for Elmo at auction.

Entertaining Toys of the Eighties

Toys of the eighties

Now Gotta Have It: Iconic Toys of Past Decades moon walks into the 1980s. How many children’s shows from the decade can you name? How about popular 1980s children’s toys? See a trend here?! The answers are the same! Hasbro, Mattel, and Playmates capitalized on the success of popular cartoons or vice versa, drove toy sales by bankrolling new shows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introduced us to a new language—“cowabunga and “totally tubular”—while Masters of the Universe gave us the power. Rainbow Brite infused the world with color and Care Bears wore their emotions on their stomachs.

It wasn’t the first time, and it is probably safe to say that it won’t be the last time, a toy took over the nation’s attention; Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage for Christmas 1983. So much so that a series of violent customer outbursts at stores across the United States came to be called the “Cabbage Patch riots.” To avoid the situation, some retailers opted to sell the dolls in a lottery system, while one individual opted to fly to London to get his daughter the coveted doll.

Super Fun Toys of The Seventies

Toys of the Seventies

Tired of cleaning up those little toys that came with your kids’ cheeseburger meal (if you didn’t manage to step on them first)? Or how about that crick in your neck from sitting too close to the television playing video games? Or all that plastic packaging you have to get through before you can play with your new toy? You have the 1970s to thank for all of these things.

Although McDonald’s didn’t originate the concept (that credit goes to Burger Chef’s Fun meal in 1973) the Happy Meal was first test marketed in Kansas City in October 1977. By 1979, the meals were nationwide with toys themed to match a feature film; the first was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Before that, in 1975, three lines and a moving dot became the first commercially successful arcade video game machine; you guessed it, PONG! Following in the footsteps of the first commercial home video game console, 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey, Home PONG for Atari was quickly born and we never looked back. And for that plastic packaging? You’ll just have to come check out Gotta Have It: Iconic Toys of Past Decades to hear that story.

The Silly Side of the Sixties

Toys of the 1960s

If you thought the 1950s in Gotta Have It! Toys from Past Decades was exciting, then hold your horses because here comes toys of the 1960s. The world of toys exploded in this decade. “Playing house” significantly improved with the Easy-Bake Oven and extensive line of Suzy Homemaker appliances. As the nation escalated military involvement in Vietnam and sent men into space, toys like G.I. Joe suited up and Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon explored new galactic frontiers.

And while you have the 1960s to thank for every tiny LEGO piece you have cursed after stepping on (not to mention the thousands of dollars you’ve expended on fancy sets), the decade was also responsible for answering all of your pressing teenage-angst-filled questions. Around since the 1940s, the not so magic Magic 8 Ball flourished in the decade with its floating 20-sided die inside a plastic ball filled with blue liquid. Why is it shaped like a billiard ball? Reply hazy. Try again later.

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