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Playing with History: The Joys and Noise of 19th Century Toys

December 2, 2015 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
James E. Merrill Museum House
315 A Philip Randolph Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Suggested donation of $5/adult and $3/child (3 & older)
Jacksonville Historical Society

The Jacksonville Historical Society is presenting a new exhibit at the Merrill House during the Gingerbread Extravaganza. The exhibit titled “Playing with History: The Joys and Noise of 19th Century Toys” showcases period toys from the collections of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) and the Jacksonville Historical Society.

Children have always played with toys. From archaeological digs we know that the earliest toys were made from materials found in nature, such as rocks, sticks, and clay. Thousands of years ago, Egyptian children played with dolls that had wigs and movable limbs which were made from stone, pottery, and wood. In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, children played with dolls made of wax or terracotta, sticks, bows and arrows, and yo-yos.

Manufactured toys became more widespread with the changing attitudes towards children engendered by the Enlightenment (1700s-1800s). Children began to be seen as people in and of themselves, as opposed to extensions of their families. They had a right to flourish and enjoy their childhood. The variety and number of toys that were manufactured during the 18th century steadily rose. Hoops, toy wagons, kites, spinning wheels, and puppets were popular toys.

In the nineteenth century, the emphasis was put on toys that had educational purpose to them, such as puzzles, books, cards and board games. Religiously themed toys were also popular, including a model Noah’s Ark with miniature animals and objects from other Bible scenes. With growing prosperity among the middle class, children had more leisure time on their hands, which led to the application of industrial methods to the manufacture of toys. More complex mechanical and optics-based toys were also invented. Wood and porcelain dolls in miniature doll houses were popular with middle class girls, while boys played with marbles and toy trains.

The golden age of toy development started at the turn of the 20th century. As wages rose, even working-class families could afford toys for their children. Mass production was able to provide the supply of toys to meet this rising demand. Intellectual emphasis was also increasingly being placed on the importance of a wholesome and happy childhood. Today dolls can recognize and identify objects and computerized games mimic reality. The materials that toys are made from have changed, what toys can do has changed, but the fact that children play with toys has not changed.

The Merrill House will be open during the Gingerbread Extravaganza, December 2nd through the 23rd, from 1:00 to 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday. A small donation is requested.

This exhibit and the 2015-16 program series is generously sponsored by Retina Associates, P.A., Dr. Fred H. Lambrou, Jr.

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