Small Talk / Toys

Oc-toy-berfest

LehmannMonkey

In addition to being synonymous with beer and bratwurst, did you know that Germany used to be synonymous with toys too? Germany monopolized the global toy market until World War I. The Lehmann Company was part of the German powerhouse. Founded by Ernst Paul Lehmann in 1881 in Brandenburg, the company produced small, tin toys with strong spring mechanisms that powered fun movements.

As opposed to iron, tin toys were lighter and less expensive. I mean, who wants to play with a dumbbell? Tin also allowed for colorful, lithographed designs that appealed to both boys and girls. We know our climbing monkey is a Lehmann toy because of the maker’s mark on his red hat, and EPL (Ernst Paul Lehmann) 385 and his name (Tom) on the other side. We’re guessing they labeled his hat so he wouldn’t lose it. Tom climbs the string with a gentle pull; relax the string and he’ll climb down. While our Tom doesn’t get much exercise, check out his counterpart’s moves.

Look, I Can Swim!

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This boxy bathing beauty doesn’t look much like your typical doll—she’s equipped with a key-wound, spring-loaded mechanism that allows her to actually do the breaststroke! Patented in 1878 by E. Martin, Undine, as she was named in the patent, probably wasn’t meant for children. Fanciful mechanical toys such as Undine were likely too expensive for child’s play and were instead used as a form of entertainment for adults during parties. While we don’t think she crossed the English Channel or won any medals for swimming in the 1896 Olympics, this Victorian mechanized swimming doll is certainly a noteworthy gal.

Want to see Undine race Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps? We do too, but unfortunately she hasn’t been wound up in quite some time. We did, however, find some modern takes on the swimming doll — no winding required — she takes AAA batteries and has a built-in sensor!

She Looks Just Like You

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What little girl wouldn’t want a doll made to look just like her? American Girl Dolls can be customized to match their owner’s hair, eyes, skin tone, and even hobby (gymnastics anyone?!). While ordering dolls online may be a 21st century idea, custom-made dolls are a trend straight out of the Victorian Era.

19th century doll artist Izannah Walker began creating hand-painted cloth dolls in the 1840s. By 1873, she patented her process for doll construction, which covered molded fabric with paste. Walker’s dolls were an unbreakable counterpart to the popular china or bisque dolls of the time period. As you can imagine, these dolls were often well loved, so many of them haven’t survived. We’re lucky to not only have Miss Mary in our collection, but also a photograph of her and Mary Estelle Newell, the doll’s original owner—and in matching outfits no less!

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