|TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1964
His Big Ideas Are on Small Scale
By Meryle Secrest
No one needs to fear that likely
examples of ray guns, Junior satellites or Barbie dolls will be lost to
Patrick Murray is salting them away in a cupboard.
Murray is curator of a unique Museum of Childhood in
Among other things, the museum catalogs toys that
children have played with since the beginning of time.
Murray, making his first trip to the United States, is
spending every spare moment in an exhaustive scrutiny of the Smithsonian's
collection of childhood memorabilia on the fourth floor of the new museum of
History and Technology.
"Fantastic! Nothing like it anywhere in England," he
Among other things, he believes American toys are much
more interesting than European.
Murray looks like a retired Army colonel, rather than a
curator and scholar. Behind his surface reserve, is the natural ebullience
of a man who loves what he is doing and hugely enjoys the vagaries of human
Take the matter of his own museum, for instance. He
"People have made museums out of everything under the
sun, but never one based on childhood.
"I've wanted a museum ever since I had one in the
gardener's shed (I think it was soldiers, guns and things). This was my
As chairman of the Corporation of Edinburgh library and
Museums Committee, he was in the right spot to push his idea. Seven years
after it opened, the museum is now attracting visitors from all over the
world, including many Americans.
"I get people from China and Peru who have heard about
His idea was to study childhood from the adult point of
view, putting the child into an historical context.
"I started from the rear dot and worked upwards.
"My oldest toy is 4000 years old — it's an Egyptian
grave doll. I work on the principle that there is no such thing as kid
stuff. It's all adult stuff, scaled down. to child size. I wish people who
have studied child care would study child history. It's an extremely
valuable way to find out what makes children tick."
He feels there are some perfectly fabulous collections
of toys in this country and that they are far more interesting than the
"The American will collect in bulk, whereas the
European tends to collect only the very unusual toy.
"You have to be perfectly prepared to start a museum
with a rusty soup tin as the first item. It's the humanity that counts, not
the artistic value."
In fact, Murray wishes more Americans had the courage
of their convictions. The story of American childhood is almost unknown in
Europe, and he puts it all down to the lingering inferiority complex of the
United States. "It's a country that doesn't know when it's right."
Not surprisingly, antique toys are rare anywhere in the
world. So are children's clothes.
"Children's clothes were used much more than one would
realize. A hat could be passed down from father to son, and worn for a
hundred years. For one thing, clothes were expensive, and they had to be
"An interesting thing about them is that they are
almost unwearable today; they are too small. I have a suit which fitted a
12-year-old 100 years ago. Do you know how old the boy was who modeled it
for me? Four."
Apart from his natural collector's interest, he thinks
toys today are better than ever and getting more elaborate all the time.
That's because for the first time in history, children
are doing their own buying, and many children want intricate toys.
He also believes adults don't lose their love for toys;
they're just culturally conditioned to give them up.
His own award for the worst museum in the world goes to
the British Museum. "The whole thing looks like a mausoleum and if anything
goes into the collection, it may or may not ever be seen again.
"I saw a wonderful criticism of it. At the end of a
long line of complaints, all perfectly valid today, was the date when the
criticism had been written: it was 1861."