Small Talk Tag: V&A Museum of Childhood

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.

Confiscated Toys Liberated Again

confiscation cabinets

It’s every grade school kid’s nightmare: bringing your newest, coolest toy to school to impress your friends only to have it end up in the teacher’s dreaded confiscation drawer. An exhibit on view earlier this year at the V&A Museum of Childhood displayed the captives of this proverbial toy Bastille and explored how exactly they got there. The exhibit, entitled Confiscation Cabinets is the idea of artist and teacher Guy Tarrant whose focus is on the interaction between pupils, play, and resistant behavior.

Tarrant, with the help of other teachers, collected confiscated toys and objects from over 150 different London schools over three decades. Each toy was labeled with the age and sex of the child it was confiscated from along with the year and location. Not surprisingly, some of our favorite classroom distractions were present: troll dolls, plastic creepy crawlies, action figures and play jewelry. However, some of the objects on display were a bit more sinister: aerosol cans used as flamethrowers, air guns, and even a tennis ball turned fire bomb. The display of all the objects together brings back some nostalgia- and perhaps anxiety- for grade school life.

Photo: Confiscation Cabinets © Guy Tarrant

Toys Go To War

war games

True or False? World events, including war, have influenced toys. True! You may have even played with some of these toys, from green army men, first made in 1938 by Bergen Toy & Novelty Company to Hasbro’s 1964 action figure G.I. JoeWar Games, a new exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood explores the role of warfare in children’s play.

Toys have served as propaganda tools, entrenching children with militarism and nationalism. For example, did you know that G.I. Joe, “America’s moveable fighting man,” was repackaged in the United Kingdom as Action Man and was so popular that it won UK Toy of the Year in 1966 and UK Toy of the Decade in 1980? Well, as G.I. Joe says in one of his famous public service announcements, “knowing is half the battle!” If you don’t have a trip planned to London before March 9, 2014, visit the exhibit’s website to join the debate, explore the toys, and read visitor comments.

Photo: O.M. Hausser German Toy Soldier Set, c. 1936 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London