Toy museums: What’s at play?

Much could be said about toy museums, as a contemporary phenomenon. Their very existence sparks reflection about nostalgia, fast changing societies and consumerism. Without dwelling on those issues, we note the diversity of toy museums and how they might evolve in the future.

We find toy museums on every continents. See a list, along with links, in this Wikipedia article. As summer holidays come to a close and lockdowns are being lifted, visiting one makes for a fun family excursion. Many of them are small and grew out of personal collections. Probably by grownups who could not bare to see these cute objects collecting dust, in the attic or at the local antique fair. See the one in Hamilton (CA), or the charming one in Helsinki (FI).

Others have impressive collections, be it by their size, historical or specialized content. The Farm Toy Museum (Dyersville, IA), the Shankar’s International Doll Museum (New Dehli, IN) and the Ore Mountain Toy Museum (Seiffen, GE) are three examples. A few have full-time curators and collect not only rare items, but tourism awards too. Interestingly, the state of Missouri has two, both founded in 1982. Spain also has more than one such museums.

We found two institutions of special interest, each for a couple of reasons. First, they do not call themselves toy museums. The Strong National Museum of Play (Buffalo, NY) is one of the largest in the world. Its pinball online collection caught our attention. The Museum of Childhood (Edindurgh, UK) is another one. Its collection includes books of children literature, published before 1850, and they are presented in the informative blog.

Parallel to toy museums, the so called children’s museums have also proliferated in recent years. They are usually more playrooms than museums, even when located in fine art or history museums. The museums in Buffalo and Edinburgh bring these two concepts together most effectively and their names appropriately reflect it. In their facilities, nostalgia and popular brands co-exist hand in hand with the ever relevant crayons, paper, glue stick, and scissors. Toys are about play, play is about learning. Toys are for kids, toys are for the family. Toy s are about experiencing childhood in play. That is what this type of museum is about. It goes far beyond the toy itself

Logos, Toy Museum of Helsinki, FI and Tartu Toy Museum, EE. Sources: lelumuseo.fi ; mm.ee, 23 August 2020.

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