Small Talk / Toys

A Rare Bird

pedal car

Americans have been completely enamored of the automobile since the first ones rolled off the assembly lines and onto the streets. Both adults and children were captivated by the “horseless buggy,” as evidenced by this 1920s toy pedal car. Although wheeled mobility toys existed before this pedal car, Schmelzer’s Red Bird definitely came with all the modern stylishness of its motorized, full-scale counterparts.

Schmelzer’s Red Bird was manufactured by the Sidway Topliff Company of Washington, Pennsylvania for a department store here in Kansas City named Schmelzer’s Arms Co. Some of the features on this bad boy include yellow pinstripes, a winged hood ornament, and a hand brake that operates a stop sign in the rear above the license plate. The Red Bird is on view with other classic pedal cars in our temporary exhibit Pedal to the Metal: Pedal Cars and American Car Culture through August 28, 2016.

Nettie’s Dollhouse

Nettie Wells Dollhouse

Many of the nineteenth century dollhouses in T/m’s collection reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gilded Age. One of our most treasured dollhouses from this time, however, isn’t grand at all—in fact, it’s fairly humble!

The smartly built Nettie Wells dollhouse was made for a middle class Kansas City girl by her father in the 1880s. Although it only has a couple rooms, the small wooden house has beautiful details like scalloped trim, starburst motifs, and a hinged roof in the back of the house allowing for play and easy storage. Like the larger dollhouses in our collection, Nettie’s dollhouse was a teaching tool for her adult life. Sadly, Nettie had to assume that role at the age of just twelve when her mother fell ill. It was at that time that she packed up her dollhouse and its contents, never to be played with by anyone again. Nettie’s granddaughter donated the dollhouse and its contents to the museum in 1994, giving us a rare glimpse into Nettie’s childhood over a century ago.

The Fashion Queen

Fashion Queen Barbie

While having three Barbies with three different hair color and styles is nice, wouldn’t one Barbie with the ability to have all three be even better? In 1963, Mattel introduced little girls to a Barbie doll that could change her hairstyle faster than a box of at-home hair dye. Fashion Queen Barbie sported a sculptured hairdo that could be covered with three wigs: a blond bubble cut, a brunette pageboy, and a red flip. Not only were wigs a popular fashion item in the early to mid-1960s, but the hairstyles included were all the rage too! Barbie began to sport the bouffant bubble cut in 1961 in response to the newest haircut of 1960s fashion icon, first lady Jacqueline Onasis Kennedy.

Although she arrived in a striped gold and white lamé swimsuit, this Barbie had an extensive wardrobe thanks to the mother of her owner, Donna. Donna’s mother was a home economics teacher and handmade a faux leopard coat and hat, a striped white and blue sundress, and a red dress that made Ken’s head turn!

A Grand Grocery

Christian Hacker

Where and how we buy our food has changed a lot over the last 150 years. Today’s big box stores, drive-through windows, vending machines, and mail-order meals are a far cry from the simple grocery shops of the nineteenth century. Although they didn’t have to choose between paper or plastic, children, particularly girls, in the Victorian era were expected to learn how to buy groceries in preparation for running a household of their own.

This ornately decorated toy grocery (accessorized here as a bakery shop) was made by the acclaimed Christian Hacker company of Nuremberg, Germany. Details like hand painted paneling, colorful lithographed wallpaper, and mirrored alcoves made this an expensive high-end toy. The blue banners that mark the contents of the store’s drawers are in English, indicating this toy was made for export to England or America. The drawers are demarcated with familiar goods like lentils, raisins, and limes, but also some stranger ones like chocolade and greuts, which seem to be mistranslated!

Annie Horatia’s Dollhouse Dolls

London Dollhouse

While we at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures own Annie Horatia Jones’s dollhouse, another important aspect of her childhood play lives in her city of origin at the London Metropolitan Archives. In 1886, Annie’s aunt Tamazine Billings gave her ten dolls for her dollhouse. Each doll represented a member of her family and household. Lucky for us, Aunt Tamazine sewed handwritten cloth labels with each family member’s name onto the doll that represented them.

As you would probably guess, the tallest doll is Annie’s father, Sir Horace Jones. However, the fact that the doll is a full two inches taller than the other dolls in the group says more about Victorian attitudes towards personal status within the family then Jones’s height. The Victorian father was the head of the household, thus the extra two inches. The dolls’ clothing is another interesting look back at 19th-century London!

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