Jean and Jane continue to find early toys in the museum collection. This carriage has, in fact, just been removed from a display cabinet in the Costume Gallery – all part of the on-going work there. Next week painting will take place in the gallery and everything must be out by then!
Most wooden toys in our collection seem to be 200 years old, or less. Not surprising – they wear well but don’t last for ever! They are not unknown in archaeology and certainly go back 3 000 years but likely go back even further. The Ancient Egyptians put wooden toys in childrens’ graves, mostly dolls.
Throughout history, the most common wooden toys have been dolls, also carved animals, boats that float and wheeled vehicles that can be pushed or pulled. Perhaps little changes. And apart from dolls and animals that might be made of textiles or skins, and stuffed, wood must surely have been the most common material used, except for modern plastic. Lead, of course, was also much used, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly for the making of model soldiers, but also farm animals.
It is thought that the oldest of toys is the rattle, in one form or another. They need not be elaborate – sticks, seed pods and other items from nature can be made to make an interesting noise for a baby.
Clay and glass marbles have also been found in graves in Egypt.
In the twentieth century model cars and trains became popular and we might remember companies like Dinky and Hornby. In the second half of the century, TV became an influence as children wanted the animals and characters they saw in their ‘cult’ programmes – Magic Roundabout, Teletubbies. Muffin the Mule and Sooty puppets became popular. Costumes also became popular – the Davy Crockett hat, the Superman cape, the Cowboy suit – and these seem to be making a comeback. But these were not wood!
A number of different wooden toys come and go. They are often the most simple. The yoyo is a classic in this respect and there is a museum dedicated to this irresistible toy.
There have long since also been wooden toys to ride upon. The earliest must have been the hobby horse and some readers will remember, no doubt, grabbing an old sock and begging a broom stick from mum and making one of these. It is at least a Medieval tradition. For those too young to remember, the horse-like figure that could be made by stuffing the sock to look like a horse’s head, with suitable reins, etc, added, and placing it on the stick which was then grabbed between the knees and so ‘ridden’, was a favourite. And wooden rocking horses developed in perhaps the early 1600s. Apparently there was a tradition of tucking family heirlooms inside them – a lock of hair, a photograph, a child’s first toy or drawing – so if you have an old rocking horse at home, look carefully!