Small Talk / Toys

A New Frontier for Fun

Vintage Space Toys

In the 1930s, science fiction captivated the American imagination with the fantastical outer space adventures of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon… and we’ve been hooked ever since. After World War II, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union turned the public’s attention to the very real possibility of traveling to the moon and beyond. So, not surprisingly, toymakers both at home and abroad capitalized on the “final frontier” of imaginative play.

Space toys during the mid-twentieth century came in a variety of forms. Some were more realistic like molded plastic NASA playsets, while others seemed to be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi comic book like flying saucers and outer space robots. The period also witnessed a shift from domestic toy production to imported Japanese-made toys. For example, T/m’s tin “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” was made by Japanese firm Yoshiya, but bears the name of its American importer, Cragston. We’ll explore some of the intergalactic features of this toy soon, so set your phasors to be stunned!

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll

Eleanor Crocker’s beautiful doll Nellie represents a snapshot in the latest Victorian fashions. In the nineteenth century, women kept up to date on the season’s hottest looks by perusing periodicals filled with fashion plates or printed illustrations of dress designs. Some of these designs were made in doll sizes to demonstrate the fits, frills, and lacy details of the full-size gowns. Nellie’s “princess cut” windowpane plaid dress Nellie just wouldn’t be as fabulous in a picture.

French doll makers like E. Barrois and Jumeau capitalized on this trend by manufacturing bisque heads, arms and feet for these fashionable companions. Often, toy shops and department stores purchased the porcelain limbs from these doll makers, sewed them to leather or cloth bodies in-house, and outfitted them according to the mode du jour. Fully assembled dolls were then marketed under the name of a specific retail establishment. It’s likely that this is where Eleanor’s uncle found Nellie back in the 1860s.

Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll.

In addition to teaching children necessary grown-up skills, dolls and toys have imagination-fueled stories all their own. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to hear toys’ playtime stories and special adventures toys had from the grown-ups who loved them. Other times, we have to do a little digging. This bisque fashion doll, for example, came to T/m with a few clues from her Victorian past.

With the help of previous her owners’ records, we know that this circa-1860 doll was owned by a girl in Buffalo, New York, named Eleanor Crocker. Nicknamed “Nellie,” the doll was passed down through several generations of Eleanor’s descendants before she became part of the museum’s collection. According to family lore, Nellie was brought back from France by Eleanor’s uncle Dexter as a gift. Through the magic of modern technology, we’ve been able to track down the family’s historical records including Dexter’s passport applications dating to the 1860s! While we may never know the exact playtime parties Nellie attended, we do know that Eleanor took excellent care of her.

A Home for the Holidays

Custom made dollhouse

Forgoing the mall or busy big box stores to find the perfect Christmas gift can save your sanity during the holidays—especially if you’re crafty enough to make a custom, handmade gift. For three lucky Kansas City girls in 1971, a gift from their father was a dream come true: Thomas Baker constructed a dollhouse version of the family’s home in the city’s historic Ward Parkway neighborhood.

Baker’s replica of the 1928 Tudor Revival-style home aligns with the Victorian tradition of building personalized dollhouses. The exterior features painted brick and half-timber details along with the signature pointed gables. The inside of the dollhouse is a 1970s time capsule with bright (and rather groovy) wallpaper, and half walls to allow for easy access to the rooms. Above the hallway’s staircase on the second floor is a photograph of the three Baker sisters with a heart-melting note that reads, “To Janice, Jennifer and Julie, with love from your daddy.”

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel

Spinning the dreidel

While our dreidel may not be made out of clay, it sure can spin! The dreidel is a four-sided spinning toy, and a game traditionally played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each side of our dreidel has a letter from the Hebrew alphabet written in black ink. When put together, they form the acronym NGHS: in translation, “a great miracle happened there.”

The rules of the game haven’t changed much since it originated in the Medieval period. Each player starts out with an equal number of game pieces, typically gelt. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and following the instructions for the side that lands up: do nothing, take the whole pot, take half the pieces in the pot, or place a game piece in the pot. This year, the first night of Hanukkah is December 6, so get your gelt (real or chocolate), ready!

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