This child-friendly display offers an entertaining, informative and often nostalgic look at the history of toys and games, from the 19th century to the present day.
Organised in collaboration with our partner museum, Beamish, this show provides a fascinating insight into the ways in which children’s interests, aspirations and preferences were influenced by the objects they played with, especially in days gone by. The contrast between the sexes is clearly defined in the way early toys were marketed; the girls’ focusing on domesticity, with dolls, houses, cookers, prams and ironing boards, while those aimed at boys reveal a very different destiny: lead soldiers, fire engines, and board games with ambitious titles like ‘The Little Accountant’ and ‘The New Game of Stock Exchange’.
However, some toys transcend the gender barrier, none more so than teddy bears. This exhibition has a selection on display of all shapes and sizes, including some that have obviously been well loved. Two heart-warming stories surrounding the development of toy bears are revealed in this section: those of Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt and Margarete Steiff.
But if you prefer sci-fi to cuddly then head for the toy robots, from ‘Lilliput’ – the very first robot toy, with a wind-up walking mechanism – through to a toy Cyberman, and R2D2 from Star Wars. The robots are complemented by some fine examples of clockwork toys in a neighbouring showcase, highlighting different modes of transport including a locomotive, speedboat and a Victorian lady on roller skates.
The doll display features examples of all main doll making techniques, from early wooden and wax dolls to the popular bisque, or china headed, dolls of the 19th century, and more modern composite or moulded plastic characters. The care and attention to detail that went into the hand-made outfits worn by many of the dolls is remarkable.
In another showcase well known characters such as Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Bagpuss and Muffin the Mule feature as examples of the impact television has had on toy production.
The exhibition also offers some handling wind-up and spinning toys for visitors of all ages to play with, not forgetting the added incentive of free admission to the Museum for accompanied children under 16.