Small Talk Tag: Toy

Happy Accidents

toys invented by accident

Would you believe that the infamous Etch-a-Sketch was inspired by the replacing of a light switch?! Originally called, “The Magic Screen,” the toy’s inventor was working as an electrician when noticed that drawing on a light plate’s decal cover created images on its opposite side.

The truth is, many toys have accidental origins. So many, in fact, that the National Retail Federation compiled a list of the top ten most stumbled-upon playthings, including Play-Doh. Its creators had only intended the compound to serve as wallpaper cleaner. The oldest toy on the list is the Slinky. In 1945, Richard James, a naval engineer, dropped a tension spring he was creating for a battleship and watched it “slink” down a staircase. Two years later, Richard and his wife Betty sold 400 Slinkys during a 90-minute demonstration at Gimbel’s Department Store.

Photo: Inside view of an Etch-A-sketch toy showing the plotter-like inner mechanism, with the aluminium dust removed, Wikimedia Commons.

17 Winter Street

Victorian era dollhouse

Whether it was a big, shiny bicycle or a coveted baby doll, some of the most memorable childhood toys were received at Christmas time. This dollhouse is no exception. A little girl named Mamie Burt found this dollhouse under (or perhaps near) her Christmas tree in 1875. We don’t know much about Mamie, but we can figure out a little bit about her from her dollhouse.

Based on its construction and size, the dollhouse looks to be the work of a cabinetmaker. The front of the dollhouse is removable and the front door includes a street address: 17 Winter Street. More than likely, Mamie’s parents were members of the upper class and commissioned this dollhouse for her. The furniture Mamie played with may be gone, but the house is full of interesting architectural details. Check back here at Small Talk soon for more!

Jazzy Aggies

Agate Marbles

Agate marbles, or “aggies” (if you want to use mibster lingo) are a kind of marble made of agate, a colored variety of quartz. Agate marbles were the preferred shooter for many marble players because they are denser than glass or clay marbles. Popular from the 1860s until World War I, most agates were hand cut and produced in Germany. After the war, new technology allowed for glass marbles to be mass produced. During the heyday of marble playing, several American glass marble manufacturers like Akro Agate Co. and Christensen Agate Co. had the word “agate” in their name to suggest their marbles were similar to actual agates.

While other minerals were used to make marbles, like malachite (the green one on the left) and turquoise (the blue one on the right) spheres above, they probably weren’t intended for playing ringer or any shooting marble game (you wouldn’t want to lose them in a game of keepsies after all!). Instead, marbles made with semi-precious stones were intended for a variety of tabletop board games like solitaire.

Hello Forty!

hello kitty 40th anniversary exhibition

Since her inception in 1974, Hello Kitty’s cute yellow nose and large red bow has been placed on just about every kind of product imaginable—she’s even been on cans of motor oil! By 2014, Hello Kitty was worth an incredible 7 billion dollars! A special exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum celebrates 40 years of Hello Kitty’s worldwide influence with original artwork, fashion, and other rather unusual Hello Kitty swag.

Yuko Shimizu, Hello Kitty’s creator, drew inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass focusing on Alice’s pet named “Kitty.” Some mystery surrounds Hello Kitty’s design and personality, like the fact that she was designed without a mouth and given little facial expression. Company spokespeople, however, say her lack of a mouth indicates universality, that the character speaks many languages, and that it means Hello Kitty desires worldwide friendship. With Hello Kitty merchandise available in over 60 countries, the emotionally aloof feline has certainly achieved her goal!

Photo: Hello Kitty, Japanese American National Museum.

Toys Go Pop

andy warhol toy series

We all know of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans, but few pop art fans know of his series of artworks based on his own toy collection. In 2014, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art hosted Andy Warhol: Toy Paintings for the Whole Family, an exhibition curated by The Andy Warhol Museum. The exhibit consisted of 86 Warhol works, including silkscreens and drawings with colorful images of playful puppies, swinging monkeys, drum-playing pandas, and whimsical depictions of transportation.

As an artist exploring the concepts of branding and consumerism, some images in Warhol’s toy series actually depict the packaging of these toys, similar to his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. The mechanical puppy, for example, includes the warning “Not recommended for children under three years of age.” Blurring the lines between high art and everyday playthings, these toy images have more than earned their “15 minutes of fame.”

Photo: Kellermann, Germany 1938, Wikimedia Commons.

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