Small Talk Tag: Toy

Gilbert’s Great Girders

Erector Set's 100th anniversary

The history of the Erector Set’s creator is just as interesting as the popularity of the toy itself. During his studies at Yale, A. C. Gilbert was an accomplished athlete and even won a gold medal for pole-vaulting in the 1908 Olympic Summer Games in London. When he wasn’t dominating a sport, Gilbert honed his skills as a successful magician.

We aren’t sure exactly when he found the time to sleep! Surrounded by the marvels of 20th century industrial architecture trends, Gilbert managed to find enough free time to create the first Erector Set in 1913. With it, he managed to bring the realism of these new technologies to the hands of American children. His hope was that the set would inspire the progression of these novel ideas for generations to come. A 2013 exhibit at The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop called The Erector Set at 100 traced the century-long legacy of Gilbert’s famous toy and connects it to the modern maker movement’s focus on technology and DIY.

Photo: The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop

Chop Shop

toy butcher shop

Victorian life was not for the faint of heart. While we may be used to ground beef or pork chops neatly packaged in Styrofoam and shrink wrap, that wasn’t always the case. Most Victorians were used to perusing dangling meat in storefront windows at their local butcher shop, just like this toy version from our collection. Although it may seem grisly as a toy, this child-sized charcuterie was meant to teach kids the grown-up skills of grocery shopping and business. What’s more, actual shops of the time period embraced their utility too, often using them as unique advertisements in store windows.

While a similar example exists in our collection, the toy butcher shop shown here is from the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. Created in 1900 by the Christian Hacker Toy Company, this shop includes a friendly figurine that invites children and visitors alike to come closer and take in all of its details. Small wooden replicas of raw meat hang in the archways, and although the furniture inside appears oversized, it is all original to the piece.

Photo: Butcher Shop, c. 1900, Christian Hacker, Germany. Courtesy of the V&A Museum of Childhood.

I Had One of Those!

minnesota history center toys

If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer (or even if you’re not), chances are you remember making a Slinky crawl down the stairs, baking a tiny cake with a light bulb, or putting Mr. Potato Head’s ear where his mouth normally appears. Childhood experiences like these are all brought back to life in a special exhibit at The Minnesota History Center called Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

After World War II, the mid-century decades saw cultural advances that affected the way Americans work, live, and play. Everything from the rise of car culture, to the space race, to Saturday morning cartoons found their way onto the living room floor in the form of toys and imaginative play. Although the exhibit ends on January 4, curators have created a special companion book outlining all of the exhibit’s toy treasures.

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

Sew-Handy Dandy

toy singer sewing machine

It’s just about that time of year again: time to make your New Year’s Resolution. Why not pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill this year? Maybe it’s time to dust off that old sewing machine you inherited and give it a whirl! In 1910 the Singer Manufacturing Co. began producing Singer model no. 20. Nicknamed the Sew-Handy in the 1950s, it became the most popular child-sized sewing machine. Since the machine was simply a miniature version of a full-size sewing machine, it was also marketed as a lightweight travel machine for adults. Originally sold for about $3, it features a hand crank that created a simple chain-stitch.

The Singer Sew-Handy remained in production until 1975 with only 4 variations. This Singer Sew-Handy from the T/m collection appears to be a second generation machine dating somewhere from 1914 and 1926 based upon the number of spokes on the hand crank. We wonder how many fabulous doll wardrobes were created by young seamstresses practicing their skills on a machine like this one.

Toytisserie Turnout

toy sculptures

We put out the call, and metropolitan Kansas City answered! Earlier this fall, we placed collection barrels at several area libraries, businesses, and schools to collect an assortment of small toys needed for a monumental new sculpture at T/m that we’re calling the Toytisserie. After just a month of collecting, we ended up with nearly six 55-gallon collection barrels filled with toys!

In order to get an idea of what we’re working with, we first cleaned and sorted the barrels of toys with the help of our volunteers. We ended up with dozens of categories; from baby doll bottles to Barbie brushes and Lincoln Logs to LEGO people—hundreds of small toys will get a new lease on life as part of the two-story sculpture. A BIG thank you to the folks who donated as well as to the businesses and organizations that hosted a collection site. Stay tuned as the Toytisserie pieces come together!

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