Small Talk Tag: Toy

Stuffed with Fluff

Winnie-the-Pooh chapter "Christopher Robin leads an expedition"

Before he was the chubby, red-shirted, honey-loving yellow bear we all know and love today, Winnie the Pooh had his humble beginnings as a teddy bear. Author A. A. Milne purchased the stuffed bear at Harrods as a gift for his son, Christopher Robin, in 1921. Five years later, Pooh (who was named after a real bear at the zoo and a pet swan) and his friends Kanga, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet became characters and illustrations in Milne’s books.

The group of mohair, felt, and velveteen stuffed animals were sold by Milne’s publisher E. P. Dutton, and eventually donated to the New York Public Library. Earlier this year, in honor of Pooh’s 90th birthday, the library worked with a team of textile conservators to return the stuffed animals to how they looked when Christopher Robin played with them. As a result, Kanga’s neck was repaired, Piglet’s nose was reattached, Eeyore’s patches were replaced, and of course all of them were re-stuffed with fluff. All of the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood are now back on display at the NYPL Children’s Center for future generations to enjoy.

Barbie Goes to Paris

Barbie Exhibit

Who would have imagined a small town girl from Willows, Wisconsin would one day have her own feature exhibit in Paris? Ok, so maybe she’s not a real person (and her hometown doesn’t really exist), but the recent Barbie exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was anything but fictional. Earlier this year, 700 versions of the iconic doll were featured along with contemporary artworks and other historical objects that tell Barbie’s multi-faceted story.

Why feature an American toy in a French museum? Like many other toys, Barbie mirrors the cultural climates of the last 57 years, not only in America but in much of the Western world. The exhibit also came during a banner year for Barbie and her maker, Mattel, who announced several new body types and skin tones in an effort to reflect a more diverse market. On top of that fact, Barbie was created as a “teenage fashion model doll,” and where better to feature her wide array of couture than in Paris? Whether she’s moonwalking in her pink astronaut suit or walking the runway in a Christian Louboutin catsuit, Barbie sparks the imaginations of children and adults—and looks great doing it!

Photo: Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Factories in the Business of Play

tin toys

At The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the Toys, Inc. story continues into the 19th century as toy making graduated from homes to factories and machines replaced manual labor. With low profit margins and a time-consuming process, the cottage industry had difficulty bringing home any bacon. On the other hand, factories were able to boost production with steam-powered engines and mechanized processes that churned out large quantities of toys.

To maintain their dominance in the market, Germany turned to tin toys (or maybe it was because they had depleted the country’s wood supply?). Tin was cheap to produce, lightweight to ship, and could be easily decorated. A win, win, win! Wanting a piece of the pie, America entered the toy production game with a readily available material from the country’s prolific railroad construction: cast iron. By utilizing an easily obtainable material, the U.S. could produce toys that were less expensive than German imports. Can you say cha-ching?!

Cottage Industries in the Business of Play

Cottage Industries

Toys aren’t all fun and games, they’re also a thriving 84-billion-dollar global industry! Surprisingly though, the industry is only 200 years old. Yet, it’s come a long way from small shops to enormous corporations of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel. But, let’s go back to the beginning with T/m’s permanent exhibition Toys, Inc. The Making of an Industry.

Once upon a time, in the 18th century forested regions of Germany, farming and mining families made wooden toys to supplement their incomes. These carved peg dolls and Noah’s Arks were the beginning of the modern toy industry. Early wooden toy makers often utilized their entire family in turning, carving, and painting processes. This household production of goods was coined a “cottage industry” because toy makers were quite literally being industrious in their cottages!

Spin the Wheel of Life


During the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries and achievements abounded. Scholars explored everything from celestial bodies to microscopic organisms. In the 1820s, scientists came up with the theory of persistence of vision, which explains how the brain perceives separate images in motion as one cohesive image. What does this theory have to do with toys? Come spin the wheel of life with us…

It may not look like much at first glance, but this drum-shaped zoetrope (Greek for “wheel of life”) is one of the stars of our Optical Toys exhibit. An early animation toy, the zoetrope is comprised of a metal cylinder with cut out slots attached to a wooden pedestal. An interchangeable paper strip with printed illustrations sits inside the drum. To activate the animation, you simply spin the zoetrope, look through the slots, and voila! The magic of persistence of vision takes over and the printed strip appears to animate. In the decades that followed, this technology gave life to the famous Steamboat Willie and other early cartoons.

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