Thursday, April 11, 2013

Toy stories: from ancient Greece to "infinity and beyond"

What toys did you love (or crave) as as kid? I was the oldest of 7, but when there were just 3 of us my grandmother brought us Steiff bears back from Germany, in descending order of size (like the classic "Three Bears" story). They got so much wear and tear over the years, yet they were so well made they still look remarkably well-preserved, even after all 7 had their grubby mitts on them! Teddy bears are one of the items that each gets a page of its own in 100 Classic Toys, a veritable cavalcade of nostalgia. Here be diversions galore, including marbles, pick-up-sticks, Operation, alphabet blocks, Legos, tiddlywinks, erector sets, toy soldiers, barrels of monkeys, superballs, rocking horses, jacks, jack-in-the-boxes, hula-hoops, View-Masters, Raggedy Annes, and more. The stories behind these prized possessions, as well as plenty of close-up pictures, make this oversized book a winner.
 Who's up for a little quiz? See if you can match the names of these toys (which are all in the book) with the dates they were invented. Answers below the jump, as well as a gallery of jack-in-the-boxes.
Round 1[ 1955, 1953, 1902, 1984, 1983]
My Little Pony
Matchbox cars
Lionel trains

Round 2 [1950, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1950]
Breyer horses
Mr Potato Head
G.I. Joe
Fisher-Price "Little People"
Round 3 [1923, 440 BC, 1948, 1945, 1919]
Radio flyer
Pogo stick

Round 1
My Little Pony 1983
Transformers 1984
Matchbox cars 1953
Lionel trains 1902
Play-Doh 1955
Round 2
Etch-A-Sketch 1960
Breyer horses 1950
Mr Potato Head 1952
G.I. Joe 1964
Fisher-Price "Little People" 1950

Round 3
Slinky 1945
Radio flyer 1923
Pogo stick 1919
Yo-yo 440 BC
Frisbee 1948

Jack-in-the-boxes have a long history, as you can see from the gallery below.
Harper's magazine, 1863

From a more benighted era, this one belongs in the "what the heck?" category. Or in one of our caption contests ("For some reason, Black Jack stopped every party in its tracks.")


  1. Although I had a small teddy, who went bald in the belly from all the squeezing, I spent most of my time with marbles. But I didn't shoot them. I anointed one king and 4 queens, then ripped apart a pinball game to get at the steel balls, which I made into an army.
    My king won many battles against several Modreds, in a maze that had a castle and a moat. (Actually a large hole around which one had to maneuver carefully).
    From now on, my vision of ancient Rome will include kids "walking the dog" with their yo-yos.

    1. oh what fun. your alternative name must be bellicosa!

  2. The 100 Classic Toys book is pretty stellar, but I will say the jack in the box toys scares the living daylights out of me!!!

  3. It's weird to realize that all of the toys that were really "important" to my childhood (in the 80s) were made at least 30 years prior. I just don't see all the toys coming out in recent past lasting as long as these classic toys.

  4. I'd totally forgotten about "Little People!" They were my favorite for so long. I used to fill my pockets with these and play at the creek all day long:)

    1. P.S. I realize this makes me sound like an uber low-rent Huck Finn. In retrospect, that creek was kinda gross:(

    2. Is that a little person in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

    3. Sounds like a line from a Stephen King film: "Willie? Oh, he went down to the creek to play with the little people!" ;-)

  5. very funny thread! They were originally called "Play Family People," but the name "Little People" was trademarked and used after customers continued to call them that. We had masses of them around the house. After the original 7 grew up, my mom carted them out for the grandkids.