A Bit About

The Life of Toy Makers

The Old Toymaker

I was reading a message from Dr Toy one day and it started me to think of how little folk know of the contribution of toy makers round the world throughout history. It would be totally impossible to describe that fully in any way, but it might be interesting to think of some examples.

Young Girl with Doves and Battledore Game

We will never know who the first toy maker was, or when he lived. All we know is that it was a very, very, very long time ago. There were many toys found for instance in the old Egyptian tombs that could well have been made by toy makers. Toy crocodiles were a real favorite along with small paddle dolls and working figures. (making bread for instance) In fact puppets and dolls come from similar history and one of the first recorded texts about them was from Egypt. In the book "Toys of Other Days" by F N Jackson, it states "Herodotus writes of a fete of natural movements. .....The statue of Jupiter Ammon, when carried on a golden car...... indicated by a movement of the head the route he should take."

Toymakers in fact sometimes made great contributions to civilization throughout history. For instance, it is almost certain that toy makers were using wheels on toys a significant time before they were used on carts, wagons, and so on. The problem was that nobody had thought of how to make a steering mechanism. If someone tried to use a heavily loaded cart with no steering the wheels would in fact probably soon break to pieces. However, a toy could be dragged in a circle or across the floor. And that is exactly what happened.

There was indeed a point in history where doll makers were making great contributions in the world of fashion. Babies (as dolls were named) were at first very, very crude. But gradually as techniques were developed to make more realistic wooden arms and legs they became more and more realistic. (Dolls as we know them are actually very recent.) In the old times there were no magazines with photos to tell what the new fashions were of the rich and famous. So at one point in history they began to dress babies in the latest fashions. Then they would ship these from port to port to show folks the latest trends. It is an interesting fact that at one point these were about the only items that could cross lines freely in war zones. And as I write this, I realize that this probably makes sense. Men in those times had the power and waged the wars. And they liked their women to look pretty. So, it makes sense that they would let the one thing through the war lines that would do that.

Toy making has taken a very big part in history for a very long time. However, very different than today. For instance we at Faire Tyme will go to events to show old toys, and we will have a large tent with over a hundred different toys and games for folks to play with. At most times throughout history we might see a doll maker or a kite maker. A windmill maker or an acrobat maker. But seldom would any toy maker sell so many items. Although we wear period clothing, use a period tent and so on, we can never really go back.

In fact we must remember that we would not really want to go back. We remember the good, but seldom do we remember that bad. I could tell you many tales about those toys and games that we would never want to remember.

One event always crosses my mind when I think of these things. I remember working at a museum and a couple of young lads came over and began to ask questions. One question was... Would a toy maker make a lot of money?" I hope that my quick answer was correct! "No, they would not make a lot of money but would likely be happy at what they were doing." Often times since I have realized that this comment really summarizes the life of an old time toymaker so well.

The Old Windmill Maker

But what about modern toy makers. Why do we not see more. How many are there? What is their job? Toy making and toy stores have certainly changed a great deal during the last 50 years. Gone is the small toy store. The Walmarts and the Toys Are Us stores have taken over the toy making industry. Add to that the fact that we now know toys must be made to be safe for kids to use. And we realize that it will be a long time before toy making ever returns to those small stores again. It may even be that the great Christmas toy displays in the front window of the department stores are gone for good. They are certainly gone for a long time anyhow.

There are quite a few toy makers in North America today. However, many make toy trucks or trains. Modern toys of different sorts. When you take away these folks and those that import toys from other countries there are unfortunately few toy makers left indeed. There are quite a few more in Europe with all of the old castles and ancient history, but even there they are pretty hard to find.

What is our job? Well, besides the obvious, we at Faire Tyme agree with most others. The job of toy maker involves history, research, and education just as much if not more so than the making of the toy itself. The job of the modern historical toy maker is to show the toy to a child or an adult. And to give that person an idea of the type of life that the person lived who played with that toy so many long years ago.

We at Faire Tyme absolutely love our job. We love working with museums, and playing with almost endless numbers of kids every year. When we see the amazement of the small child looking at this toy without batteries unable to believe how interesting it is. When we hear the adult telling us all about the toy he had when he was a child. When we see the young girl letting her friend win at a game of Nine Men's Morris because she realizes the friendship is so much more important than winning that game. These things are what toy makers love today.

One thing we have found at Faire Tyme is that the more knowledge we gain about old time toys, the more we realize that we cannot ever take more than one short tiny step into this fascinating world. It is just too big and we have such little time.

John Skakel
Faire Tyme

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