Small Talk Tag: Toy

What’s the story, wishbones?

Victorian fancies

The superstition of wishing upon a wishbone can be traced back centuries to England, Rome and even ancient times. Anyone with siblings, cousins or even a surly aunt or uncle knows it’s always a race to see who gets the honor of pulling the wishbone apart. This set of wishbone furniture must have taken some of the drama out of family holidays!

A lot of turkeys and hens were were cooked up in order to collect enough wishbones to create this unique set of dollhouse furniture. In the 19th century, it became very fashionable for women to save up everyday scrap items like bones, feathers, and quills and turn them into spectacular crafts known as Victorian fancies. Sets of furniture like this one were some of the most popular Victorian fancies to make. After all, your dollhouse family needs tables and chairs for their Thanksgiving feast too!

I’m So Fancy

Victorian Fancies

We’ve got to hand it to the Victorians: they were recycling and reusing a century before the country had heard of Al Gore or Earth Day! Everyday objects like wishbones, spools and nut shells were all given a new life as fanciful, yet functional art objects. All the rage in the 19th century, this crafty trend of turning trash into tiny treasures resulted in Victorian fancies.

While T/m’s  Victorian fancy doll isn’t exactly winning the beauty contest amongst the dolls in our collection, she certainly gets high marks for functionality and being “green.” Her body consists of a wishbone wrapped in muslin and plaid fabric scraps; and her head is painted cork. Her dress is actually intended to be used as a pen wipe, a desktop necessity in the days of the dip or nib ink pens. The tag pinned to her reads, “Once I was a wishbone, And grew upon a hen. Now I am a ‘Spinster,’ Made to wipe your pen.”

Toys for the War Effort

world war ii toy soldiers

During World War II, many Americans got their first taste of recycling by saving and donating household items to support the war effort. Stockings became parachutes; leftover cooking fats were turned into glycerin for gunpowder. From 1942-1945, metal was so scarce and necessary for the war that even the Oscar statues given out at the Academy Awards were made of painted plaster. Kids got involved by marching their toy soldiers to scrap metal collection facilities to be melted down for the war effort. In order to stay in business, toy manufacturers were forced to find different materials for their toys.

One company, Playwood Plastics, survived the metal shortages by making soldiers out of sawdust mixed with a glue-like substance of water and flour. The mixture was stamped into shape and left to dry. The soldiers were then hand-painted. Not as hearty as their metal cousins, many broke apart over time. T/m’s pair retain traces of their original blue paint. The distinctive “P” in a triangle marks them as Playwood Plastics soldiers.

Playful Competition Winners

National Toy Hall of Fame

The ballots have been tallied and the results are in. Congratulations are in order for the newest inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame: bubbles, the Rubik’s Cube, and little green army men everywhere!

No one knows when bubbles first floated into the world, but images of children playing with them first appear in 17th century Flemish paintings. Today there are a ton of different bubble makers on the market accounting for the purchase of more than 200 million bottles annually!

Little green army men first marched into our hearts in 1938. Younger siblings of metal and lead toy soldiers, these two to four inches of molded plastic represent mid-20th century United States military. Still produced in the millions by multiple manufacturers, these little guys continue to advance into children’s imaginations and toy boxes, and have even landed co-starring roles in the Toy Story films.

Last but not least, the colorful and ever-puzzling Rubik’s Cube was inducted during its 40th anniversary year. Congratulations to all the winners! Don’t worry if your favorite toy didn’t get in; there’s always next year.

Photo: Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Papier Mâché Child’s Play

Papier Mache Doll

Izannah Walker wasn’t the only 19th century doll maker experimenting with new materials to create lighter, more durable dolls. In Europe, German manufacturers experimented with an abundance of inexpensive leftover materials. Local bookmaking factories made paper pulp an accessible alternative for doll manufacturing. The pulp was recycled and evenly pressed into greased molds to create a papier mâché doll.

With this papier mâché method, German doll makers could create intricately detailed, fashionable hairstyles like the one this doll from T/m’s collection is modeling. Molds were used for many years after their creation, even if the hairstyle went out of fashion. Today, we can actually study a doll’s hairstyle and determine when its mold was created.

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