A Very Brief History of Toys

Toys have been around since the dawn of mankind. No doubt after the invention of the wheel, there was a kid demanding a miniature version. Archaeologists have stumbled upon antique toy animals, soldiers, boats, carts and spinning tops in Egyptian tombs, and we know that children from Ancient Greece, Rome and Babylon played with dolls, rattles, knucklebones, hoops, skipping ropes and marbles. We also have many beautiful antique toy specimens from the Indus Valley Civilization; toys with movable limbs or jaws that were operated by pulling a string and would be enjoyable even today. There is some debate whether they were meant solely for entertainment or if they had any religious significance as well, but, being a product of their times, they do offer an interesting insight into ancient life, creativity and craftsmanship.

From the ancient times right up to the Victorian Age, toys were handmade, either at home or in craft-shops. Craftsmen created toys using various materials like clay, porcelain, wood, leather, paper, cardboard, fabric, lead, tin and even silver, and then sold these to toy merchants and peddlers who in turn sold them to the general public. Toys were usually stocked with other merchandise in stalls and shops; it was only in the late 18th century that the notion of separate toy shops began to gain prominence.

Mass production of toys didn’t come about until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, when tin and cast iron toys became popular. Toy makers like Julius Chien, Strauss and Louis Marx in the USA made some rather creative and intriguing wind-up and spring-driven toys. Modern day parents will probably look upon many of these with askance, sharp edges and corners abounded and there were plenty of parts that an enterprising child could detach and swallow. Toy production was affected but not undermined by the Great Depression and the World Wars, and many types of tin and cast iron toys continued to be made until the toy manufacturers discovered the possibilities of plastic in the 1950s.

The toy industry in modern times is very big business, with brand names (Mattel, Lego, Fisher Price) and movie syndication deals (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) adding enormously to the kitty. It helped too when smart advertising executives discovered that the appeal of toys wasn’t restricted to children and their parents, that there were other grown-up customers who liked to buy toys too – for aesthetic, sentimental or other reasons – and so began the business of creating toy collectibles with this segment in mind.

Now toy collecting is one of the most popular of all collectible activities around the world, with many collectible societies, groups, magazines, books and websites devoted to the subject.

To find the value of toys that are for sale or have sold recently at auction, check out the Worthopedia: it contains a database of prices, photos and descriptions compiled from hundreds of auction houses. Click on the word ‘Prices’ in the menu bar at the top of the page. That takes you to the Worthopedia. Use the search field in the right column to find specific items.

Click here for a direct link to the Worthopedia.

Click on any of the links below to find some noteworthy toy collectible societies.
The Mechanical Bank Collectors of America
The Association of Game Puzzle Collectors
The Train Collectors Association
The Toy Car Collectors Association
The Canadian Toy Collectors Society

You can also read about the toy-maker Louis Marx here –
Wikipedia – Louis Marx and Company
Marx Toy Museum