One of my favourite part of my stay at the Strong - which is also the main reason of my visit - is the opportunity to handle play-related fascinating artifacts, some of which pretty ancient, and almost all extremely interesting.
With the permission of the museum I decided to share with you some pictures of the most interesting artifacts I come in contact with in these days.
As all the non-exposed toys are in the awesome, but not easy-to-access, warehouse I told you about in the last post, I worked a lot with toy catalogs, that have the advantage of showing a vast sychronic set of toys and, on the other hand, to carry with them a series of paratextual indications that can say very much about how people used to think about toys.
One of my favourite catalogs is the Illustrated catalogue of soft and hard rubber goods, dating 1869 (!)
Here a picture of the cover:
This catalog was clearly aiming at rich people (one of the internal advertisement referred to Napoleon the 3rd!) and reflected their customs and their fashion. The lead toys in teh catalog are undoubtedly dolls: baby dolls, adult dolls, dressed, naked, black and white, jointed and not and sometimes limited to doll heads. Probably 19th century girls, like an army of little drs Frankensteins, used to decapitate their dolls to change their heads. Not so different from what we do to Lego figures, but still, when dolls are involved its easy to slide down the uncanny valley.
Another ancient and fascinating catalog is Tinker Toys catalog from 1936. Tinker toys were extremely popular -with more than a million set sold - especially in the first half of the 20th century. The catalog, although simple, is very picturesque and cute, a little treasure.
This is why it has been a little bit sad to find this announcement in another Tinkertoy catalog a few year younger:
“In accord with the conservation of material and manpower, the Tinkertoy Line for 1942 has been brought down to four prime Construction Sets, for which supplies are still available. There are illustrated on the following pages.
Because copper, brass and steel are under priority rulings, the the Tinkertoy Spring and Electric Motor outfits have necessarily been discontinued. (…)
Due to generally increased cost, it has not been possible to maintain the old scale of prices. The revised figures, as shown on the current lists are, under prevailing conditions, the low at which Tinkertoys can be made and sold.”
War doesn't spare toys, apparently.
On the other hand Toys still like war, or at least they like to represent it, as it is clear from this picture from Sears Christmas book 1956.
In the years after the war there has been a boom of war-related toys, allowing children to explore the new myth (as Roland Barthes would call it) that had become so important in western cultural narrations.
If someone still shrink at the idea of "war toys" (and unfortunately many people still do), they should keep in mind what Sutton-Smith himself claimed, that: toys as such do not dominate play, "rather, the toys are transformed by the experienced players to suit their own imaginative convenience. The toys are an agency for imagination; the do not make the imagination their victim as is implied in much intellectual prejudice.” (Toy as Culture, p. 204).
Another jewel of The Strong collection is the first Lego catalog ever published in America. Samsonite had been charged by Lego to produce their toys on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and a manual presenting Lego was published to introduce the European toy to American toy-shops owners.
Being a big Lego fan myself (I've also published a short critical note on them, this year) I was quite exited to have this item in my hands.
The collections storage of the Strong, as I already told in last post, is full of treasures, a real Ali Baba's cavern, a Paese dei Balocchi (Pinocchio Toy Land).
I've had the occasion to spend some entertaining hours down there, guided by fantastic Chistopher Bensch (the Vice President for Collections of The Strong) and to see - and photograph - many interesting items.
The hugest collection I saw it was probably the Barbie on, counting something like 2500 single pieces.
Some of the where pretty funny, like this Oreo Barbie...
What's about these biscuits anyway? I don't think that they are that good, but OMG there are any kind of products dedicated to them!
Another interesting doll it this prophetic looking Barbie for President 2000:Doesn't she look like Hillary? :P
In any case, I was pleased to see that there is a "presidential" version of Barbie for every election - even if, apparently, she never wins...
Among all the Barbie I saw, however, ma favorite is this one:
It's not because she is disabled, but I genuinely think that she's the most friendly looking of all (and the best dressed too...).
The other collections I focused on were the Fisher price collection (you can see here a beatuful ancient wooden circus set) and the Donald Duck collection.
Finally, even if I was supposed to focus on toys, my geekness exploded in sight of the wonderful Andrew Cosman-Mary Valentine Game Collection comprehensive of more than 600 war, strategy, and other types of complex games: a true nerdgasm. I gave up immediately any resistance and just started to look at all those amazing games jumping up and down as a little boy in a toy store...
This collection has also its own fellowship so I'm seriously considering the idea to apply for a next round at The Strong, just to focus on strategy games... Rochester isn't around the corner, that's also true, but I guess I'd be willing to cross the ocean for 600 wargames! =)