The Dissected Hayfield

Toy ‘Dissected Hayfield’ acquired by City of Edinburgh Council in 1975 with an NFA grant of £12.

Looking through a list of objects acquired by the Museum of Childhood with NFA support, I was intrigued to see one object described as a ‘Dissected Hayfield’ and wondered what it could be. I checked its location and found it was stored with Construction Toys, which piqued my interest even more. Early jigsaw puzzles were sometimes called dissected puzzles but we normally associate construction toys with Lego, Meccano, etc.

Wooden box containing the Dissected Hayfield

Wooden box containing the Dissected Hayfield

I found this simply made and decorated wooden box in the store and had a look inside. It contained a large number of painted tin figures and printed paper scenery, all on little stands so that you could set them up and arrange them as you wish. The printed illustrations on the paper, such as the haystack, were reminiscent of paper theatres and their scenery and, judging from the women’s dresses and soldier’s uniform, the toy was made around 1820-30, when toy theatres were also popular. This means the toy predated, or was contemporary with, the earliest dissected jigsaw puzzles which makes it a rare item marking an interesting development in children’s toys.

Figures raking hay by a haystack

Figures raking hay by a haystack

This toy would almost certainly have been made in Germany which began exporting toys in the late 18th century and was the leading manufacturer of mass produced toys, often cheaply made from tin and wood, until the First World War. By 1907 Germany was using so much tin in its toy manufacturing that it had to import from South Wales and elsewhere to satisfy demand.

Figures raking hay with scenery behind

Figures raking hay with scenery behind

Children’s toys often replicate what is in the world at a given time, reflecting technology, fashion, war, occupations, etc. In this toy you can see what a woman, a soldier and a farm worker would have worn at this period, and the tools the farm workers would have used. Even the shape of the haystacks can give us an idea of when the toy was made.

Scenery depicting a soldier in uniform

Scenery depicting a soldier in uniform

Was the toy instructional? Or purely intended for pleasure and passing leisure time? Either way it would not have been a toy for poorer children, who had to make do with homemade toys, but would have been intended for the nursery of a wealthy family with disposable income to spend on such luxuries. Many of the poorer children in rural areas would have worked alongside their families in real hayfields.

 

Lyn Wall
Curator
Museum of Childhood

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nice things come in small packages …. Dinky Toys

A collection of 73 Dinky Toy aeroplanes acquired by City of Edinburgh Council in 1995 with an NFA grant of £750

In 1995 the National Fund for Acquisitions helped the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh to purchase a collection of 73 Dinky Toy aeroplanes representing the range of models manufactured, from the earliest incarnations in the 1930s through to the 1970s. You may be more familiar with miniature cars or trains than aeroplanes which today are less widely available as collectors’ items.

 

Collection of Dinky toy aeroplanes

Collection of Dinky toy aeroplanes

What can we learn from a small toy? It certainly isn’t just a collector’s piece or a discarded toy from a bygone era. Even an apparently simple toy can reflect social and economic change. Childhood and the role of children in family life were evolving during the twentieth century when these toys were manufactured. Children were no longer confined to the nursery or sent out to work. Instead the focus was on their need to be entertained, educated and nurtured. A growing proportion of parents and children had more spare cash to spend on leisure time and non-essentials such as comics and toys. The expectation of what children would get for birthdays or Christmas increasingly grew as the twentieth century progressed and toy manufacture and advertising grew as a result.

The first Dinky toys were manufactured after small model trains had become popular. Meccano, of which Dinky was a trading name, already produced trains and cars but as aircraft developed and the Second World War began the company also manufactured aeroplanes. The first aeroplanes were civilian models but as the 1930s and 1940s progressed military models were introduced with camouflage paint, and jet aircraft emerged in the 1950s.

Flying boat and jet Tornado

Flying boat and jet Tornado

Methods of manufacture also reflected changes in technology and science. The Dinky toys were made using the die cast technique, a development from the earlier tin plate toys. The place of manufacture again provides an insight into a bigger picture of Britain as a country with high levels of manufacture in the middle of the twentieth century. In the 1980s the manufacture of Dinky toys moved to Hong Kong. By then the company was no longer owned by Meccano but the conglomerate American company General Mills Toys.

NASA space shuttle

NASA space shuttle

How are these toys relevant today? Miniature aeroplanes and their counterparts in cars and trains were definitely gender specific and aimed at boys, which leads us to the dynamic debate concerning gender specific toys which is ongoing today. Barbie, tea sets and Hello Kitty for girls, Action Man, toy cars, trains and aeroplanes for boys; even in the 21st century children are being steered toward particular forms of play by adults represented by both manufacturers and purchasers. In 2014 booksellers and publishers are beginning to stop marketing books specifically ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’. Perhaps this is a trend that will continue?

Lyn Wall
Curator
Museum of Childhood

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk