From The Bench

Why are Classic Children’s Toys So Awesome?

Just like you, Xinar deeply appreciates classic children’s toys, mainly because they reflect so much history of bygone eras.

While there are now thousands of new toys every year, many made of plastic and some even integrated with digital devices, nothing quite has the feel of classic children’s toys—the ones that the older generation has grown up with. We love classic children’s toys so much that we have an entire charm collection devoted to some of these classics.

Check out exceptional items from our Toy & Game sterling silver charms and bring home souvenirs from your era, like the rubber ducky, flying a kite, fancy rocking horse, rag doll charm, Flyer wagon, scooter, carousel horse, alphabet toy blocks, and so many more.

We also have more contemporary game charms, our highly-detailed roulette wheel charm, and the aces playing cards. There’s something for everyone here at Xinar—we’ve been helping crafters and hobbyists for over twenty years, after all. Feel free to explore our entire collection of beads, findings, and sterling silver charms!

The Longevity of Play and Classic Children’s Toys

The concept of “playing with toys” is as old as humanity.

There is even a scientific description for it: recurrent, enjoyable behavior performed for its own sake that is comparable to, but not identical to, other behaviors. This definition applies to animals as well. Numerous species, including crocodiles, chimpanzees, and wasps, have engaged in playful behavior.

There are numerous hypotheses as to why all species play, ranging from test runs towards adulthood to emerging motor skills and bodily intelligence to improving communication skills.

And having good old-fashioned, completely useless, yet mentally stimulating fun.

One of the key traits of play is that it lacks a strict purpose.

This is what distinguishes a playful action from one that appears virtually identical. Play is therapeutic and entertaining. Its most immersive form induces a flow state in which time and self-awareness are lost.

Toys are the natural complement to the two types of human play — imitative and educational. And although some have developed, others stay strikingly constant with some of the first known toys – from sticks used as walking accompaniments to the natural curiosity with items that rolled around.

Toys have evolved with human civilization to become one of its genuine pillars, from discarded pieces of the natural environment to cherished mementos of joyful moments passed down through generations. Here are a few famous instances of toys that altered the way we play in their unique ways.

A Glimpse of Our Earliest Toys

Given that the earliest toys were believed to simply picked up and used from the natural environment, evidence is few, but it is hypothesized that they consisted of sticks and stones, bones, twine, or mixtures of these.

As a form of proto-training for the self-preservation required to survive maturity, it is possible that these were utilized to imitate adults employing weapons for hunting.

Among the earliest purpose-built toys, balls were likely among the earliest. Researchers have even found in a child’s grave in Egypt semiprecious stones resembling marbles believed to have come from 4000 B.C.

The Ancient Egyptians proved that they already had a highly developed culture of play and recreation. They had papyrus balls with hay or cloth fillings, primitive dolls, and board games such as senet. In antiquity, knucklebones were used to play games similar to the contemporary game of jacks.

Stringed Toys

yoyo-charm

Long a representation of childhood glee, it is unknown when the first kite was invented. However, it was certainly in China or Indonesia between 400 BC and 1000 BC. They appear to have been used for various purposes, including fishing equipment, communication devices, and measuring aids – the latter being important in warfare – as well as tributes and toys.

We don’t know much about ancient models because kites aren’t well-suited for preservation over thousands of years; however, the first were likely constructed of paper or silk, with mythology-inspired designs or accessories.

In the hands of adults, the kite would transcend its military origins and evolve into an increasingly sophisticated scientific instrument, sparking a fascination with the aerodynamics of flight and finally giving rise, in the most literal sense, to aviation. However, the simple design (though not the materials) of the earliest kites persists in modern toys.

Similarly, the yoyo most likely originated in China and expanded throughout the east and west. Discs made of stone and, later, wood and terracotta were used to play the game in Ancient Greece as early as 1000 B.C. Throughout its history, the yoyo has been known by various names, including the bandalore, whirligig, and in France, the l’emigrette, which has a sinister connotation due to its popularity among French aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution. It recovered ‘yoyo’ in the United States in 1916, when it was mentioned in a Scientific American story about toys from the Philippines. Some sources assert that “yoyo” in Tagalog means “come-come.”

The Mightiest of Classic Children’s Toys: The Doll

Dolls are among the oldest and most culturally widespread playthings. Miniature representations of humans are potent symbols that have been used in art, worship, as talismans, and for so-called dark magic since ancient times.

Wooden carved “paddle dolls” were discovered in Egyptian tombs dating to around 2000 B.C. In 2017, a carved soapstone doll with stunning eyebrows and cheekbones was discovered in the burial of a young kid in Siberia dating to the Bronze Age, approximately 4,500 years ago. In addition, young female Ugandan chimpanzees have maternal proclivities for short sticks, which research suggests not only provides insight into play behavior but also exposes gender-based toy preferences among our primate ancestors.

Dolls were made from every imaginable material, including clay, pegs, paper, and even corn husk. Each culture had its say on the ideal doll. The Japanese had the Daruma dolls. The Russians had the Matryoshka dolls that nested on top of each other. Iran had Layli dolls.

Dolls were made from every imaginable material, including clay, pegs, paper, and even corn husk. Each culture had its say on the ideal doll. The Japanese had the Daruma dolls. The Russians had the Matryoshka dolls that nested on top of each other. Iran had Layli dolls. 19th century, ‘China dolls’ with porcelain heads and bodies became more popular. Artisans crafted these dolls from leather and clothing. Europe went crazy for the new doll form, and another generation was introduced (once again) to a new classic toy.

19th century, ‘China dolls’ with porcelain heads and bodies became more popular. Artisans crafted these dolls from leather and clothing. Europe went crazy for the new doll form, and another generation was introduced (once again) to a new classic toy. Around 1850, an increasing number of dolls began to resemble children, frequently with custom-made clothing and accessories and complex homes. Bisque dolls, so-called for the ‘biscuit’ porcelain that gave their features a realistic matte appearance, gained popularity in the 19th century, with premium models sometimes sporting natural human hair.

In the early 20th century, dolls were made from less delicate composition materials – a mixture of resins, glue, and sawdust – and featured more intricate designs, such as the cherubic Kewpie and the Bye-Lo doll with glass eyes that closed when reclined. In 1959, Mattel’s Barbie – an 11-inch representation of a “teenage fashion model” – made her debut in a swimsuit with two hair colors, thanks to plastic and synthetic materials advancements.

The doll, whose name is an abbreviation for Barbara Millicent Roberts, was and remained a cultural phenomenon: Since its introduction, over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold, and the doll has had over 200 careers.

Although Ken joined Barbie in 1961, gender stereotypes at the time meant that males would have to wait until the imitation game crossed the gender barrier with a doll – or rather an “action figure” – marketed for them before they could participate.

When it did, it did so aggressively: G.I. Joe entered the American toy market in 1964 and two years later appeared in the United Kingdom under license as Action Man.

The Industrial Revolution in Classic Children’s Toys

Mass production techniques and the advent of steam travel also led to the creation of intriguing new toys. Mechanical wind-up toys in the 19th century marked a turning point in the play.

With “industrial technologies that allowed the mass manufacture of gears and mechanisms at a reasonable cost,” autonomous toys that could be wound up to “do their own thing” became increasingly inexpensive.

The appearance of miniature “real” mechanics led to the incorporation of scaled-down adult advancements that continue to influence the design of many toys today. This type of technological development has led to the creation of toys like Tickle Me Elmo and Furby in modern times — toys that have more electronics and batteries.

Midway through the 19th century, replicating the smoking, lightning-fast marvel of travel sweeping the globe, the first toy trains appeared.

Early models ranged from lumps of molded cast iron or lead with stationary wheels to active miniature steam models dubbed “dribblers” for their tendency to set their owners’ floors and furnishings on fire.

However, these trains were not part of a set that could be extended and expanded like a natural track system; instead, they were independent toys.

German toymakers Marklin, whose experience with endlessly expandable (and therefore endlessly lucrative) doll’s houses led them to create the first customizable train track sets in 1891, complete with mass-produced “tinplate” trains and standard gauges, were inspired by the success of endlessly expandable doll’s houses.

The genre persists at both ends of the age spectrum, with figures like Thomas the Tank Engine retaining children’s interest and a strong hobbyist community loved by detail-oriented adults.    

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear Charm

While animal carvings have been discovered in Ancient Egyptian children’s tombs and homemade rag dolls filled with straw or fabric scraps since Roman times, purpose-made stuffed animals are a comparatively modern creation.

In 1902, political cartoonist Clifford Berryman depicted Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt with a meek, puppy-like bear, satirizing a hunting expedition in which Roosevelt decided not to shoot the animal.

The cartoon inspired Morris Michtom to make a prototype plush animal titled “Teddy’s Bear.” Coincidentally, Steiff began producing bears about the same period, and both toys became wildly popular, with the term “Teddy Bear” infiltrating children’s society almost immediately.

Peter Rabbit, created by Lake District novelist Beatrix Potter and patented in 1903, was the first plush toy in the world to be patented.

The Great Depression in the United States spawned a fad for ‘sock monkeys’ that were hand-made.

Today, as a result of modern breakthroughs in material safety, these soft toys – also known as plush toys – are omnipresent as comforters for young children and are among the items that many adults continue to cherish.

Play as Creativity and Invention

Friedrich Froebel’s pedagogical tenets inspired the ‘whole child’ approach to innovative play-based early education and led to the creation of the word ‘kindergarten’ In addition to fostering activities such as origami, art, and braiding, and opening the first of these in his hometown of Bad Blankenburg in 1840, Froebel produced a set of ‘gifts’ – simple wooden geometric blocks – with which children might construct buildings during play.

Toys that inspired inventive building based on adult equivalents made enormous strides. Frank Hornby, a Lancashire inventor, established Meccano in 1900. He was later responsible for Dinky Cars and his namesake clockwork train system. This year also witnessed the first commercial manufacturing of plasticine, the clay-like molding medium conceived by British artist William Harbutt as a means for ‘free expression’ three years earlier.

Later toys emphasized physics above aesthetics. For example, Richard James was inspired to create the Slinky in 1945 after gently observing a spring ‘step’ to the floor and then settling upright. Each Slinky is constructed from 80 feet of wire that have been coiled almost 100 times.

A similarly legendary toy in Europe had similarly unfortunate beginnings. Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish household carpenter on the edge of bankruptcy during the depression, began manufacturing simple birchwood toys in 1932.

Finding the toy industry profitable, he enlarged his facility, receiving the first plastic injection molding equipment in 1947. Then, in 1949, the company began manufacturing an educational toy called the ‘automatic binding brick.’ At this point, it also had a name, a combination of the Danish terms leg godt and play well: LEGO.

Please contact us if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for reading!

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