28 June 2008

A Peek at Toys of the Mid-1800s

The gentleman to the right is Gen. and Rep. Benjamin Butler, one of Massachusetts's Civil War heroes. But this is a miniature Butler, made to march along powered by clockwork. In other words, this is the nineteenth-century equivalent of a celebrity Bobblehead doll.

This image comes from a new overview of the toys and games in the collection of the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This three-page, illustrated pamphlet is available as a downloadable PDF file.

The three little daughters Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about in "The Children's Hour" and their two older brothers were probably the owners of these playthings. We can glimpse those children at different ages in the historic site's gallery of ambrotypes and daguerreotypes.

In the pamphlet curator David Daly writes:

These toys are excellent examples of what privileged children in mid-to-late 19th century America played with, and how they entertained themselves. The collection also reflects some of the social, technological, and political changes the world at large underwent during the 19th century.
Among the other notable items is a "Kirby's Planchette" from 1860, a predecessor to the oiuja board that was supposed to write out its messages with a pencil instead of spelling them out.

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