Small Talk Tag: Mechanical Toy

A Portland Toylandia

Portland Toy Museum

It’s not hard to get a sense of the voracious collecting bug Frank Kidd has. Ever since purchasing his first pedal car as an adult in the 1960s, he’s lived under the motto “buy or die” when it comes to collecting antique toys. Kidd’s collection grew so large that he eventually closed his auto parts business and converted the space to display it.

Visitors to this unassuming industrial building-turned-museum in Portland, Oregon will find 20,000 toys on view (a fraction of Kidd’s collection!). A major portion of his toys are cast iron banks. During the machine age, cast iron banks were a great way to use mechanical technology for entertainment while also teaching kids the value of saving money. Unfortunately, many cast iron banks reflected nineteenth-century values on race as well and reinforced negative stereotypes. Kidd’s collection provides a glimpse into the changing world at the turn of the last century, and offers a stark comparison with the ever-diversifying toys of today.
Photo: Kidd’s Toy Museum.

Give a Hoot, Save Your Loot!

cast iron banks

While a piggy may be the most recognizable type of bank, cast iron banks in all shapes and figures were favored in the 19th century. Mechanical banks made the act of saving fun! These banks deposited coins by some sort of mechanical process… think humans or animals kicking, jumping, dancing, or doing handstands!

Mechanical banks were first manufactured in the late 1800s as the Industrial Revolution created a middle class that heralded the importance of earning and saving money combined with tinkerers of the Victorian Era experimenting with springs and windup devices. J.H. Bowen patented this toy “money box” in 1880. The financially savvy would place a coin on the branch. When a lever on the back of the bank is pressed, the owl’s head rotates and the coin gets deposited inside.

Through Thick and Tin

Mechanical Tin Toys

Who doesn’t love fresh frog legs?! This chicken and goose that make up this pull toy sure can’t seem to share! From the mid-19th century until World War I, cheaply mass produced tin toys known as “penny toys” were very popular. In the years following the Great War, however, competition in the market increased and toys became larger and more technologically complex in order to keep children’s attention.

T/m’s circa 1930 Gebruder Einfalt Chicken and Goose Pull Toy is an example of one such company’s transition to larger tin toys. Nuremburg’s Gebruder Einfalt (later Technofix) was founded in 1922 by two brothers, Georg and Johann. While many of Gebruder Einfalt’s early toys were erratic wind-up toys and wheeled pull toys, they eventually found their niche making racecars, trains and other transportation toys that reflected changing technology.

Imagination Takes Flight

mechanical flying toys

From the ancient Greek myth of Icarus, to Leonardo Da Vinci’s fantastical flying machines, mankind has held the desire to fly for centuries. Up until the Wright Brothers finally got it right in 1903, “gentlemen scientists,” inventors and early aviators scrambled to unlock the secrets of powered and controlled air travel. During the era of the steam-powered engine, the idea of a flying machine really, well, took flight.

Toys of course mirror the times in which they were produced. Naturally, as the world became fascinated with flying, tin flying machine toys featuring propellers, wings, parachutes and hot air balloons became a common sight in the 19th and early 20th century. This particular clockwork wind-up mechanical flying machine toy was likely attached to a cantilevered weight on a central base. When the mechanism was wound, the pilot’s legs pedaled the propeller, causing the toy to “fly” in a circle. While this imaginative depiction of early flight makes for a charming toy, we’d still prefer a comfortable window seat and complimentary peanuts.

Look, She’s Walking!

walking doll

We’re guessing no Victorian child (or adult for that matter) probably called this doll by her proper name: Autoperipatetikos. This mouthful of a name is actually Greek for “self-walker” or “walking about by itself.” And walk she does! Ok, well maybe it’s more like a jerky scooting motion

Patented in 1862 by Enoch Rice Morrison, this china head doll is among the first walking dolls in American history. Previous examples of walking dolls existed, but they usually had to be supported by a string, wooden baby walker, or were guided. Mr. Morrison was able to solve this issue of balance by giving his doll larger feet with a wide stance, a stiff cone under her dress, and arms made of kid leather to reduce shifting weight. Her pink dress also hides the key-wound clockwork mechanism that allows her feet to move. Like most mechanical toys, the amazing and beautiful Autoperipatetikos is not without some faults, as her original box reads: “If it should stop at any time, turn the feet toward you and see if the inside leg is not caught up against the feet.” Oh dear.

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