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The Old Toy Shop

By Louis H. Hertz — RELICS Magazine — May, 1945
Page 28 & 29

          Old toys are the relics of childhood ― of our own and of generations which have already gone before. This fact in itself would be sufficient justification for collecting and studying them, for the relic hunter knows that anything which has ever been made or used by man is worthy of preservation.
          There is a second reason for collecting which applies peculiarly to toys alone. As surely as the boy makes the man, so the toys with which the boy plays in childhood serve to mold and expand his character and development, increasing or bringing out his inherent but oft-buried potentialities for accomplishment as a man. In this sense, it will be seen, there is perhaps nothing more important or more deserving of the attentions of the historian - collector than the toys of yesteryear.
          Old toys are, of course, mirrors of contemporary civilization; replicas of the full sized things of the world, and often survive while their bulky prototypes have all been lost to us. The old-fashioned train with its high smokestack, the horse drawn fire engine, the early electric trolley car, the peddler's cart ― all these and countless others, made and used as toys, stand today as almost perfect models of otherwise lost aspects and commonplace things of American life.
          Even more important, however, than the way in which they reflect the things of their own time, is the way in which, as pointed out above, toys influence the future development of the world by their effect on their youthful owners. How many of our modern inventions may be traced back to an early interest in mechanics or electricity gained through a childhood toy train or construction set or similar devise is, of course, impossible to ascertain. We do know of countless specific instances and it must be acknowledged that even in the general run of things, our present age's acceptance of technical devices and improvements is largely implemented by the fact that the men of today were brought up on a diet of mechanical toys. The toys of today are even more highly developed, and their results on the generation which is now engrossed in playing with them will be readily seen 20 or 30 years hence.
          There is still another reason for the ever growing interest in old toys, or perhaps, it would be more correct to say, several reasons. These are the inherent charm and ingenuity of the old toys themselves, a charm which weaves an almost irresistible spell once anyone falls under it, the romance of the toys. . . . . that is, the fascinating stories of their development, of the men who invented and made them, and of the rise of the American toy industry, a story which is, of course, a vital part of the whole growth of our nation.
          Some types of toys are manifestly more attractive than others, and were among the first types to be collected. . . . such as trains and mechanical banks (not to forget dolls which are, however, exempt for mechanical ones, largely collected by the ladies) but today we find an interest in and an appreciation of almost all types of toys and the field is rapidly expanding to include collectors of all kinds, or even several kinds at once.
          In toys, as in all things, there is a great difference between the mere collector or accumulator, and the student or historian who collects not only for amusement (or for the far less commendable reason of wishing to have something unique) but to increase his own and his fellow's knowledge of the subject. It is the latter man who takes the time to study his collection and to conduct research upon his interests, who deserves the appreciation of his fellows, and who, himself, derives infinitely more pleasure and satisfaction from his hobby activities.
          The chief interest in collecting toys in America is, as it properly should be, concerned chiefly with the commercial, mass-production toy, rather than the specially made piece, no matter how elaborate it may be. It is the commercial toy which reached the average boy or girl, not the occasional elaborate special model destined for royalty, and, interesting as the latter may be from various other angles, it is the toy of which tens or hundreds of thousands of identical units reached the American child of a past era which is connected with the growth of the country and the development of her people. These are the toys which are collected and studied, and their stories, and those of the men who made them are among the most interesting to be found anywhere.
          Just a brief instance to illustrate a point, or perhaps, merely to interest you more deeply in the subject ― how many of the following names of a few of the most prominent toys and toy makers of the last seventy-five years strike a responsive chord and bring back some pleasant memory of your own boyhood. . . . . Ives, Weeden, Gilbert, Erector, Meccano, Bing, Carlisle & Finch, Knapp, Voltramp?
          Thus, even still another reason for the fascination of collecting toys; it will help you recapture and relive some of the pleasant moments of your childhood (and what is more precious than that, for we are all children at heart) and by so doing afford you an extra large portion of the rest and relaxation which any good hobby will bring men.
          There are no stiff rules to the game, you can collect and study whatever you like, and there is a class of toy for every inclination and every pocketbook. The common types of today will be the rarities of tomorrow; indeed even toys of the moment, particularly the wooden war toys of our present era, are worthy of collection, for the life of a toy is very short indeed, and unless an effort is made to preserve samples now, it will be surprising how rare these toys will be a decade hence.
          Decide the bounds of your collection and confine yourself within them so that you can concentrate on the types and dates which interest you. . . . or you can try, if you are daring, to collect toys in general, but in a field as vast as this, the majority find it wisest to specialize. Build your collection on merit, try to get the best, but do not hesitate to take a poor specimen rather than lack a piece entirely. Later, if you acquire a better one, you can dispose of the first one by trading or selling.
          Just one final word of advise, which would seen to apply to any kind of collecting: Unless you think you will have a chance to use it as a trading piece, take only that which interests and appeals to you. The keynote of a hobby is its enjoyment; no matter how rare a piece is offered, or how great a bargain it may be, if it just doesn't strike the right responsive chord within you, then pass it up, for you will never be truly satisfied in its possession. What may seem like junk to you may be a prime rarity to the next man, and that which he mentally kicks him self for buying may be to you the one thing you desire most to acquire!


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