A look back at the toy aisle

Old toys in the New Prague Area Historical Society’s display. It will be up at the New Prague Library until the end of January. (Patrick Fisher Photo)

Everyone has a memory of walking down a toy aisle before Christmas and seeing something they hoped would be under the tree come Christmas morning. While it may not be the toy aisle, the display at the New Prague Library has a vast array of past playthings. The New Prague Area Historical Society is providing a collection of toys from the Victorian era to the 1950s in the display that will be up until the end of January.

Dennis Dvorak of the historical society explained how the Industrial Revolution made the large production of toys possible. During the late 1800s toys were made primarily of cast iron in the Industrial Revolution, although tin was also used to make many toys. "Prior to that toys were hand made," said Dvorak. Mainly children of the extremely wealthy had hand made toys. Other children made due with toys crafted from clothes pins or rag dolls. "Most children did not have a lot of idle time," he said, adding when children weren’t in school, they had chores or were helping add to the family income by doing odd jobs. "When they did have free time they loved to play make believe," said Dvorak.

Wood was another material that became commonly used for toys during the Industrial Revolution. A procedure that became common was chromo- lithography, a revolutionary printing process that allowed toy manufacturers to print designs on paper and attach them to wood surfaces. Invented in the 1820s it was used by the larger companies, which were mainly in Germany. Dvorak pointed out it was used on nest boxes, often an educational toy, and other playthings. Those are in the display, as well as a band made up of brownies, whimsical fantasy characters, that were used as ten-pins for a game similar to bowling. Another example of chromolithography is a small toy replica of the first USS Minneapolis battleship. Prior to using chromo-lithography to decorate toys, children’s playthings had to be hand painted.

Dvorak said that making more toys out of metal and wood made them more durable. Some were able to go through use by several children, although most in the collection had one owner. One cultural aspect of the time period was that children were not allowed to play with their toys on Sunday. Families set the day aside for Bible study and church. The only toy they could play with was a replica of Noah’s Ark, since it was based on a Biblical story.

Toys were also used to...

To see more on this story pick up the November 30, 2017 print edition of The New Prague Times.