Small Talk Tag: Toy

Lovely Lilli

Bild Lilli Doll

You might recognize this blonde bombshell from somewhere … could it be one of Barbie’s distant relatives (remember Francie?) or maybe one of her many friends? Well, sort of. This 11 ½ inch tall beauty is (unofficially) the inspiration for the first Barbie doll, released in 1959.

Bild Lilli doll is based on a 1950s comic strip character that appeared in the Hamburg, Germany tabloid Bild-Zeitung. In the comic, Lilli is a sassy secretary who uses her … uh … charm to get what she wants. In 1955, Lilli’s creator, cartoonist Reinhard Beuthien decided to market Lilli as a doll. She was sold in a few toy stores and cigar shops in Europe, but was likely more of a novelty. Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, stumbled across Bild Lilli on a trip to Germany in 1956, and brought a few dolls back with her. After Barbie’s huge success in the early 1960s, Mattel purchased the rights to Bild Lilli and the rest is history!

A Storied Past

dolls' houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood

If the residents of the V&A Museum of Childhood’s dollhouses could talk, can you imagine the stories they’d tell? That’s exactly the focus of the special exhibit Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House. Fictional family dramas, posh parties, and even spooky mysteries told from the viewpoints of dolls speak to the time period of their home.

Twelve dolls’ houses spanning 300 years of history are displayed, including an 18th century London townhome, a 1930s modern villa with a swimming pool, and a swinging ‘60s high-rise flat. Not just lovely on the outside, the contents of the houses also reflect the everyday lives of residents, guests and employees who would have inhabited the full-sized homes of their day. The exhibit includes a special art installation Dream House in which designers have created miniature fantasy rooms that reflect the imagination, technology and art of today.

Photo: Whiteladies House, 1935, Moray Thomas, England. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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.

Getting the Inside Scoop

toys the inside story exhibit

Ever wonder what exactly makes Jack jump out of a perfectly good box? Or thought about how a plush Elmo masters the hokey pokey? The answers to these important toy questions and more can be found in Toys: The Inside Story , a traveling exhibit developed by the Montshire Museum of Science in Vermont.

Fourteen interactive stations allow museum visitors to discover the basics of toy animation through the hands-on manipulation of gears and circuits. Visitors can build a series of linkages that make Hungry Hippo chomp or learn about the wires that guide an Etch A Sketch’s drawing line. One station reveals how Operation’s Cavity Sam’s nose lights up when pretend surgery goes awry! Toys has traveled to venues nationwide, and will open at the Tellus Science Museum this summer.

Photo: Gary Hodges – www.jonreis.com

The Walls of 17 Winter Street

antique dollhouse wallpaper

Like many young ladies near the turn of the century, Mamie Burt learned household management as she decorated and played with the dolls (and animals) that lived inside her dollhouse. Many of the rooms, from the music room to the hallway, are decorated with original wallpaper and gold cornices. Most likely Mamie used leftover pieces of real wallpaper to decorate her dollhouse. We like to imagine that her dollhouse looked a lot like the rooms in her real house.

Look on the far left and you’ll see that the parlor even has a pocket door! Pocket doors were common in Victorian homes to close off sitting rooms and dens, and a practical solution for a dollhouse where there is no room for the swing of a hinged door.

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