Small Talk / Toys

Love Chest Revisited

Hadley Chest Behind-the-Scenes

We always feel very fortunate here at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures when artists give us a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of their masterpieces like this Hadley Chest by James Hastrich and Linda LaRoche. In order to accurately reproduce historical pieces such as the Hadley Chest at Historic Deerfield, museums grant artists access to collection objects so they can take detailed measurements and photographs.

In service to scale, miniature artists substitute woods like plum, pear, cherry and boxwood for the smaller grain. The smaller, tighter grain creates the same effect as the soft maple, chestnut, oak and white pine used on the full scale Hadley Chest.

Toys That Run Like Clockwork

Tete Jumeau Mechanical Doll

With the prevalence of Furbys and Tickle-Me-Elmos in toy stores today, it’s not too hard to imagine toys that move and make noise. But how about a doll from the 1800s that can walk, row, swim, or write?! It doesn’t just happen in the movies, they really existed!

Automata are figures or dolls with clockwork mechanisms that allow them to move, write, and even draw pictures! The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey is home to the Murtogh D. Guiness Collection of 750 mechanical musical instruments and automata.

Stay tuned… The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures has several automata in our collection that we’ll be featuring here over the next several months like this Tete Jumeau Doll.

Wooden Wonders

Schoenhut Circus Clown

Many of the toys unwrapped this holiday season are made out of plastic, battery operated, or contain some sort of glowing screen. This obviously wasn’t always the case—some of the earliest American toy companies’ playthings consisted of simple, painted wood. The first major American company to break into the German-dominated toy-making industry was the Schoenhut Company. The Philadelphia company was founded in 1872 by Albert Schoenhut, a German immigrant who came from a long line of toymakers. Although his father and grandfather focused on making wooden rocking horses, wagons, and dolls, Schoenhut branched out into toy pianos.

By 1912, with an extensive line of toys, Schoenhut Company was America’s largest toy company and the first to begin exporting toys to Germany. The Schoenhut Company still exists today, although they now exclusively make toy musical instruments, including toy pianos. Albert Schoenhut’s legacy is not only an important part of American history, but also continues to influence musicians today.

What’s Olds is New Again

Curved Dash Oldsmobile

Because we don’t really see vehicles like the Curved-Dash Oldsmobile on the road anymore, it’s hard to believe that the full-size version of this toy was the most popular car in the beginning of the 20th century. Built between 1901 and 1907, the sled-like “horseless carriage” was the first mass-produced, gasoline engine automobile in the world. The wide-spread popularity of the new technology influenced toy companies like ACME Toy Works to emulate the Oldsmobile’s details, right down to the tiller steering and turn crank to start the engine!

Toys, after all, are a sign of the times in which they were made. What child wouldn’t want to drive their own newfangled automobile in 1903? The best-selling truck in 2013 was Ford’s F-Series, so it is no coincidence that parents can find small versions and large versions at the toy store!

Pretty Little Angel Sulphide

Angel Sulfide Marble

Highly-coveted sulphide marbles get their name from the figure inside that looks like it’s made out of sulfur. Largely manufactured in German cottage industries from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, the tiny figures are actually made of porcelain clay. Animal sulphides are the most common type. People, numbers, or angels, like the one pictured here from the Larry and Cathy Svacina Collection, are harder to find.

Because antique sulphides were handmade, it’s not uncommon to find flawed or off-centered figures. Others have trapped air bubbles or pontil marks. While some collectors may seek out these imperfect gems, others believe they are, as these heavenly hosts say, “no good.”

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