Small Talk Tag: Toy

A New Frontier for Toymaking

Yoshiya Flying Saucer

The mid-twentieth century saw technological advances in everything from nuclear power to televisions and kitchen appliances. Toys too came with all kinds of new features that allowed imaginations to run wild. One of the biggest influences on toys of the 50s and 60s was the addition of a built-in battery power supply. Indeed, this was the dawn of “batteries not included!”

Post-World War II Japan produced some of the earliest examples of battery operated toys on the world market. With an internal power source, toys achieved new capabilities previously unavailable for wind-up toys including extended movement, sounds, and lights. This circa 1960 Yoshiya “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” is equipped with bump and go action, space noise, and a rotating color wheel—all of which, of course, are very important for space travel!

Rolling Out Adaptive Toys

UNF Adaptive Toy Project

Toys can teach us lots of important life skills: how to run a household, how to change a diaper, and even how to delicately remove a wish bone. While kids are busy playing, toys simultaneously aid fundamental cognitive and motor skill development. As Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is really the work of childhood.”

For some kids with physical or mental disabilities the benefits of play can be harder to come by. Often, store-bought toys don’t accommodate for special conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Spina Bifida and muscular dystrophy. Enter the Adaptive Toy Project, an initiative through the University of North Florida’s (UNF) Neurodevelopment Systems course that modifies toys for children with disabilities, allowing ease of play. Student teams at UNF have retrofitted motorized toys with adaptive technologies that were custom designed with a specific child in mind. Know a child that would benefit from one of these custom cruisers? Referrals to the Adaptive Toy Project can be made through a licensed physical therapist.
Photo: Courtesy of University of North Florida.

A New Frontier for Fun

Vintage Space Toys

In the 1930s, science fiction captivated the American imagination with the fantastical outer space adventures of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon… and we’ve been hooked ever since. After World War II, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union turned the public’s attention to the very real possibility of traveling to the moon and beyond. So, not surprisingly, toymakers both at home and abroad capitalized on the “final frontier” of imaginative play.

Space toys during the mid-twentieth century came in a variety of forms. Some were more realistic like molded plastic NASA playsets, while others seemed to be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi comic book like flying saucers and outer space robots. The period also witnessed a shift from domestic toy production to imported Japanese-made toys. For example, T/m’s tin “Flying Saucer with Space Pilot” was made by Japanese firm Yoshiya, but bears the name of its American importer, Cragston. We’ll explore some of the intergalactic features of this toy soon, so set your phasors to be stunned!

A Closer Look at Eleanor’s Fashionable Friend

French Fashion Doll

Eleanor Crocker’s beautiful doll Nellie represents a snapshot in the latest Victorian fashions. In the nineteenth century, women kept up to date on the season’s hottest looks by perusing periodicals filled with fashion plates or printed illustrations of dress designs. Some of these designs were made in doll sizes to demonstrate the fits, frills, and lacy details of the full-size gowns. Nellie’s “princess cut” windowpane plaid dress Nellie just wouldn’t be as fabulous in a picture.

French doll makers like E. Barrois and Jumeau capitalized on this trend by manufacturing bisque heads, arms and feet for these fashionable companions. Often, toy shops and department stores purchased the porcelain limbs from these doll makers, sewed them to leather or cloth bodies in-house, and outfitted them according to the mode du jour. Fully assembled dolls were then marketed under the name of a specific retail establishment. It’s likely that this is where Eleanor’s uncle found Nellie back in the 1860s.

Swedish Wooden Toys

swedish wooden toys

The words “Swedish” and “wooden” next to each other might trigger visions of assembling IKEA furniture, but relax, we’re just talking about toys! Swedish Wooden Toys at the Bard Graduate Center is an in-depth exhibit showcasing Sweden’s affinity for wooden playthings from the seventeenth through the twenty-first century. Like toymaking powerhouse and neighbor Germany, Sweden’s abundant natural resources allowed for cottage industries and eventually large commercial firms to flourish.

The exhibit explores a wide variety of toys, including dollhouses, war toys, educational toys, puzzles, and of course winter toys. Since winter is Sweden’s longest season, toys for playing outdoors in the snow are a fundamental part of play. Although many toy companies began using plastic in the 1950s (and continue to use it today), the colorful, well-designed Swedish wooden toy tradition remains a refreshing look at playtimes past and present.

Photo: Courtesy of Bard Graduate Center. Gemla Leksaksfabrik AB. Train, 1910–15. Wood. © Roma Capitale—Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Collezione di giocattoli antichi, CGA LS 1982. Photographer: Bruce White.

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