The Movable Toys

If It Walks And Quacks Like A Duck, Then Is It A Duck?

Historic Egyptian Bread Maker Toy

The following information is taken from the book "A History of Toys" by Antonia Fraser.

Centuries before the Time of Christ there were movable toys, but they were not like the puppets or dolls of today. They did have rough toys that moved. For example we have examples in museums today that are thought to be of an Egyptian bread maker making bread where the figure moves back and forth working the dough. (A possible future Faire Tyme Product?) I have seen one personally in a British Museum. (Although my mind is foggy, I believe it was in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. A tremendous place indeed!) Fraser writes that there were many moving statues, and one statue maker became so interested that he began to become interested in flying. Which led unfortunately to his early death. Archytas of Tarentum, a contempory of Plato, the Iliad, Aristotle, Hero of Alexandria and Philo of Byzantium all speak of mechanical toys. The age of motion had truly began.

Click Here to see Russian toy from second half of nineteenth century

There have been singing birds and owls, moving statues, dolls, birds moving their wings, and moving toys of all sort. A Thirteenth Century Manuscript depicts two dancing men, and a walking peacock. We do not know if these dancing men were similar to those we make today. By the year 1400 a few church towers had figures striking the bells. Fraser writes that Italian Mathematician Junellus Turrianus delighted the Emperor Charles V by sending wooden sparrows into the King's chamber "Which did fly about there and returned with such marvellous artifice that the superior of the order of St. Jerome, ..... suspected it for Witchcraft". He mentions an Automata from the seventeenth century that had a team of horses, a coachman, a footman, a page, and a lady passenger. The coachman cracked his whip, the carriage travelled the table and halted. The footman and page stepped down and opened the carriage door and the lady came out and presented a petition. Then curtsied and re-entered the carriage and it moved on.

It seems that clockmakers gradually became more and more involved in the making of toys.

Again, Fraser writes that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were they hey-day of fine automata. "Legend has it that the philosopher Descartes built a mechanical figure of a young girl which he called Ma Fille Franchina, to prove his theory that all animals, including man, were merely highly developed machines. Shortly after he had finished his model, Descartes took her with him on a sea voyage, during which the ship's captain accidentally set her in motion, and was so astonished when she moved, that he threw her overboard, convinced that she was an invention of the Devil." ... One Silversmith named Du Moulin in 1752, made "A flute player with a repertoire of twelve tunes, and a duck whose structure was anatomically entirely correct, and whose every bone executed it's proper movements, as well as be able to quack in a most life like manner. Moreover, when corn was thrown in front of it, it stretched out it's neck, swallowed it, digested it by means of a chemical solution inside, and finally discharged it in true biological fashion!"

Other Automata he writes include one made in 1752 of a singing bird so tiny that it popped out of a gold snuff box when the lid was lifted. One in 1760 of a child doll capable of writing a letter of fifty words, one in 1773 of a designer that sketched a portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette in her presence, and another playing tunes by the composer Gluck. The toymakers were actually at one point in danger of being condemned as sorcerers by the Spanish Inquisition!

There was even an automatic "Chess player" in 1769 with which it is said Napoleon played a game of chess and lost. Could our computers today do that? {But there was a secret. It was later learned it included a small boy boxed inside to play the game.)

Fraser writes that there were actually speaking dolls in the 1820's and in 1887 Thomas Edison invented a speaking doll working on phonograph discs.

I often wonder - Could clockmakers have actually perfected their clocks through their experiences of making toys? It is known that toymakers probably used the first wheels as there was no way invented yet to steer a wagon with wheels. These folks certainly had a great deal to do with entertaining the children of days gone by.

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