"You Can Tell It’s Mattel… It’s Swell!”

Forty years ago, Cold War technology and memories of a still-recent World War II combined to make a plastic paradise of great toys—which wistful baby boomers can now revisit.

It is among the most famous scenes in all movie history. Citizen Kane on his deathbed utters his last word, “Rosebud.” We learn at the end that Rosebud was Kane’s childhood sled. As he faced death, it was not all his vast worldly possessions or his accomplishments and failures that occupied him; it was a toy. For this complex, rich, and powerful man, that sled embodied the long-lost, happiest moments of his life.

 
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Dime-store Doughboys

Fifty years ago these rough-and-ready tin soldiers were sold from bins cheap and by the handful. Today collectors are seeking them for their bright, simple vitality.

Commercially made metal toy soldiers date back to the late eighteenth century, when German tinsmiths began casting two-dimensional or “flat” figures of the sort immortalized by Hans Christian Andersen in “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” European firms went on to develop sturdier, solid-cast three-dimensional figures of lead alloy, and in the 189Os an English toy maker named William Britain revolutionized the field with a line of less costly hollow-cast toy troops.Read more »

Roll Around

The roller skate was born centuries ago in Europe when small boys tied wooden spools to their shoes. An eighteenth-century Belgian showman named Joseph Merlin is said to have fashioned the first metal-wheeled skates, though he never entirely mastered them: once, while simultaneously skating and playing the violin for a London party he “impelled himself against a mirror … and wounded himself most severely.” But it was an American, James L.Read more »

Games People Played

Salem, Massachusetts, is rooted deep in the stony New England heritage of America. The capacious and functional houses that ringed the common remain, superbly maintained reminders of their prosperous Yankee history. So does Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark and brooding House of the Seven Gables, looking as if Matthew Maule’s curse could still be lurking in its secret passage. And, of course, there are Salem’s famous witches- nineteen of them hanged in 1692. Read more »

Dos Passos: The Wizards Meet

Steinmetz was a hunchback, son of a hunchback lithographer. He was born in Breslau in eighteen sixtyfive, graduated with highest honors at seventeen from the Breslau Gymnasium, went to the University of Breslau to study mathematics; mathematics to Steinmetz was muscular strength and long walks over the hills and the kiss of a girl in love and big evenings spent swilling beer with your friends; on his broken back he felt the topheavy weight of Read more »

Toys: A Parade From The American Past

Animals a-coming two by two: Up went the lid and you could stuff them in, Noah and all. Or you could throw them at Brother. A toy is pretty adaptable.

The beauty of a good toy is that it picks out the really important things: Oarsmen who actually row, for instance, or the steamer’s great walking beam, or a good loud bell on the train. Imagination does the rest. Any boy knows that. A toy is very like a primitive painting, a crude imitation of life; yet for all that a very shrewd glimpse at it too, for the collection we exhibit here is a kind of push-pull pageant of American history.