Small Talk Tag: Victorian

Sunday Funday

Noah's Ark

How did you spend your Sunday last week? Maybe you went to the park, caught up on some reading, played Wii Sports Resort, or watched Game of Thrones… whatever you did, we hope it was relaxing! For children in Victorian times, Sunday was not a time for play, except of course with Sunday toys. In many households, Sunday was considered a day of rest and worship. Thus, Sunday toys were religious in nature and based off stories in the Bible.

Noah’s Ark was an extremely popular Sunday toy, complete with tiny carved and painted animal pairs. German cottage industries worked tirelessly to meet demand for these popular playthings, so much so that the tiny carved animals became known by the workers who made them as “misery beasts.” As the world grew more industrialized in the 19th and 20th centuries, toy companies like R. Bliss Manufacturing Company and Schoenhut also began making Noah’s Ark sets. Playing with a limited variety of toys on Sunday must have become tedious at some point, but play is all about using your imagination, right? We suppose some Victorian children didn’t exactly stick to the biblical storyline!

Toys That Run Like Clockwork

Tete Jumeau Mechanical Doll

With the prevalence of Furbys and Tickle-Me-Elmos in toy stores today, it’s not too hard to imagine toys that move and make noise. But how about a doll from the 1800s that can walk, row, swim, or write?! It doesn’t just happen in the movies, they really existed!

Automata are figures or dolls with clockwork mechanisms that allow them to move, write, and even draw pictures! The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey is home to the Murtogh D. Guiness Collection of 750 mechanical musical instruments and automata.

Stay tuned… The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures has several automata in our collection that we’ll be featuring here over the next several months like this Tete Jumeau Doll.

Josephine’s Repurposed Play

Pincushion Chair and Guitar from Josephine Bird's Dollhouse

Josephine Bird decorated her dollhouse with the finest, traditional ormolu furnishings alongside objects she re-appropriated from everyday life. Dolls visiting the residents of the house may have rested their feet on some particularly cushy chairs. That’s because the chairs were originally meant for pins, similar to the tomato design that is believed to have originated in the 15th century, but gained popularity, along with other shapes (fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables), in the Victorian era!

The guitar that the dolls jammed on probably didn’t make the greatest music. The guitar can be pulled apart and was likely a candy case or Christmas ornament sold at her father’s Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. Josephine’s repurposing is like the Victorian version of using those plastic pizza box saver thingies as tables for your Barbies or Calico Critters!

Josephine’s Dollhouse Treasure Trove

Josephine Bird Dollhouse

This stately Victorian bookcase-style dollhouse stood silent on the third floor of a grand Kansas City home, forgotten for a generation. When Mrs. Joseph Hall first unpacked the family heirloom, she discovered dozens of antique candy boxes containing the dollhouse’s original, intricate furnishings. Good thing the candy was gone… there’s nothing worse than finding last year’s Halloween candy melted to the pillowcase you used as a bag. Yuck!

The elaborate dollhouse belonged to Josephine Bird, the mother-in-law of Mrs. Hall. Josephine was born in 1889 to Joseph Taylor Bird Sr., an investor in the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store. The department store, located here in Kansas City, was once heralded as “The Southwest’s Greatest Merchandisers.” Josephine’s dollhouse is filled with items repurposed from the store and gathered on her world travels. Stay tuned as we rediscover all the treasures Mrs. Hall found!

Look, I Can Swim!

Tm_WEB_blog.post5

This boxy bathing beauty doesn’t look much like your typical doll—she’s equipped with a key-wound, spring-loaded mechanism that allows her to actually do the breaststroke! Patented in 1878 by E. Martin, Undine, as she was named in the patent, probably wasn’t meant for children. Fanciful mechanical toys such as Undine were likely too expensive for child’s play and were instead used as a form of entertainment for adults during parties. While we don’t think she crossed the English Channel or won any medals for swimming in the 1896 Olympics, this Victorian mechanized swimming doll is certainly a noteworthy gal.

Want to see Undine race Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps? We do too, but unfortunately she hasn’t been wound up in quite some time. We did, however, find some modern takes on the swimming doll — no winding required — she takes AAA batteries and has a built-in sensor!

Page 2 of 212