Games People Played: A Century of Vintage Toys & Games

This entry is a blog-formatted version of my 'Games People Played' talk that I gave on November 19th. In case you missed my talk, the following YouTube video is a recording of the lecture. Below is the lecture itself, reformatted so that you may read about the detail of these objects directly. Additionally you will have the opportunity to view the objects that were displayed in the presentation in higher quality. I would like to thank everyone who attended the lecture, as well as you - the reader - for wishing to read about this topic I've written about. Enjoy!


Between the 19th and mid-20th century, both toys and games of all varieties have seen widespread popularity and even continued development. Some of these toys can be seen as precursors for what kind of toys would become popular as time has progressed. Within the Rogers Mansion, many toys and games have been gathered ranging from board games to mechanical stuffed animals. This lecture will discuss quite a few objects in our toy collection, exploring their history and how widespread they were, and their status as collectibles.


There are four main categories in which this lecture will group the following toys being discussed: Die-cast toys, Tin toys, Mechanical/Motorized toys, and finally Board games. Some of these toys and objects will unfortunately have much of their own personal histories lost due to unavailable maker’s marks and such, but exploring them is still vital due to their prevalence. Other toys will have a much more fleshed out history due to specific manufacturers being incredibly present during their time, with some companies still existing to this day. Subcategories in each case will be explored based on how much known history is attached to them.


Die-cast Toys:


Die-cast toys and models are abundant in the collection of the Rogers Mansion. Die-casting is based on the shaping of lead alloy or iron into that of recognizable objects and figures. The most commonplace die-cast toys during the early 20th century are scale models of automobiles, fire engines, air crafts, horse and carriage, and especially trains.

This is one of our horse-drawn carriage toys we have, which is one of many in the collection. It’s one of the simpler designed die-casts we have, as it depicts a single silver-painted horse drawing a black carriage. The horse is attached to the carriage via two thin metal bars hooked to the front. You’ll notice the horse is rather worn-down with its paint chipped off in spots, as well as the rear wheel of the carriage being a bit lopsided. This tends to be the case with these toys considering their age.


Here we have a horse-drawn wagon, a much more elaborate die-cast than the previous. We see a white horse pulling a yellow-painted wagon with a man as the coachman. More wear and tear can be seen here, what with paint on both the horse and wagon chipping away. Interestingly the rear of the horse is attached directly to the wagon as some kind of extension, with its rear and back legs being partially painted yellow. The man in the wagon also happens to be a separate piece, with its own rear having a peg that slots into a hole in the wagon seat. This was a common feature with these toys that had people being towed.


This is one of the most detailed horse-and-carriage pieces we have. In this piece, there are two black-painted horses towing an elaborate carriage featuring a coachmen and a rider inside. Not only are the wheels of the carriage painted red, but also the wheel that sits between the two horses, allowing the toy to be more mobile than prior toys. The coachmen is once again detachable, as well as the rider who is painted entirely red.


This die-cast is of an old ambulance that was contemporary for its time, painted entirely in white with the exception of the red cross on the side right next to the driver-side window. A few chips in the paint are also seen, as well as the white tires showing cracks all around.


Here we have another old service vehicle, namely what appears to be a yellow fire engine featuring a driver on top. On the side of the engine is written “Coal Wood”. The wheels on the engine are incredibly worn down, most likely from frequent use deteriorating its otherwise silver color.



Another variety of die-cast toys comes in the form of human and animal figurines. In our collection, we have a variety of toy soldiers made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company. A former New Jersey-based company specializing in these toys, they were known widely for their “dime store soldiers” as seen here – named such for their availability at variety stores or “five and dime shops”. After getting their start in 1922, they bought out another company in 1939 - Tommy Toy - and created a line of toy soldiers that could be purchased for a nickel each. This is a selection of those soldiers, wearing brown uniforms and silver helmets. A few of the toys have their helmets missing, exposing the tops of their head which are hollow. All of which taking up arms of some kind, or indeed lending assistance to their fellow soldiers. A more contemporary version of these would be the plastic army soldiers as seen for the last few decades, usually painted green or brown.


Tin Toys:


Another variety of toys, not too dissimilar in subject material to die-cast toys, are the tin lithograph toys also found within the Rogers Mansion. This style of toy saw painted tinplate-based mechanical toys following the invention of sheet metal stamping very early in the 19th century. This allowed for a mass production of toys that would explode throughout the late 19th and early 20th century from specific manufacturers. These were seen as a much more cost-effective substitute for wooden toys, with lithography used to print designs onto each object. American-based toy companies would take advantage of the ore mines opened in the state of Illinois while European-based companies would also take precedence in the market. Such objects would range – much like die-cast – between automobiles, carriages, sea vessels, locomotives, human and animal figurines, and so on.


Here we have a steam ship with three wheels underneath allowing for mobility. It’s in this piece where we can see the distinction between tin toys and die-cast models, as the painted side of the ship is much more elaborate than possible on the previous toys. The wheel towards the front of the ship is purposefully misaligned, allowing the ship to bob up and down as it moves forward in order to simulate a ship when its on the seas.


This tin toy is of a German touring car, one of the tin toys of European origin (fittingly enough). The elaborate design features a roof over the driver’s seat with the rest of the vehicle having a closed interior. This toy originally came with a driver, but he has been unfortunately lost. On the side of the door the number 130 is painted. The top of the car is painted green and the bottom yellow, with a blue bar extending down the hood and front of the car.


Here we have a tin gymnast toy, with the athlete holding onto the acrobatics bar attached to a red wheel suspended over a green base. One could twist the wheel on the side of the bar to allow the athlete to flip entirely around the bar, as seen by acrobatic performers.







This is a PAYA brand tin sedan, circa 1923. The PAYA company is a Spanish toy maker dating all the way back to 1902, started by Rafael Paya and his sons. PAYA was one of the competing European toy companies, not only with German and French companies at the time but also with American companies in the toy market. They wound up shutting down during World War II like other companies at the time, but later in 1985 many of their toys were being reissued. Many of their toys, such as this sedan, range between the $200 and $2000 mark as far as collectibles are concerned. This toy features a green body with black roof, front window and undercarriage. The wheels are painted teal and black, the PAYA logo is seen on the doors, and the driver is rendered varying shades of blue in attire.


Marx Toy Company:

One prevalent tin toy manufacturer from the early 20th century is Louis Marx and Company. Getting its start in 1919 and headquartered in New York City, named after its founder Louis Marx, they specialized in tinplate lithographed toys. Their logo was prevalent on all their products: it featured the letters MAR with an X through it, in order to resemble a railway crossing since locomotive-based toys were a well-known output of theirs. Each model train line they produce beginning in 1934 featured this logo. The following years would see models such as the Union Pacific M-10000, the Commodore Vanderbilt, the Canadian Pacific 3000 and the Mercury enter into the market. Their tin plate sets were manufactured until 1972.


In a previous Deep Dive, we discussed the Marx Railway Express truck as seen here – painted entirely green with red bumpers and undercarriage as well as yellow outlines featuring doors, hood and grill. An interesting feature on this piece is the raised/lowered ramp on the rear of the truck, allowing for potentially a hand truck or shipped goods to be loaded on. Unfortunately the handle controlling the ramp does not currently work.


Here is one of many wind-up train toys that Marx had produced. This features a late 19th century locomotive towing passenger cars going through three tunnels around a town, with elaborate renderings of town folk going in a circle around the base of the toy with dogs, goats, wagons and horses chasing one another. Within the “rails” are painted cars, churches, bridges, rivers and even a castle. The central building is the only 3D rendered facility, as it houses the key used to wind up the toy for the train to circle around.


Here is another wind up locomotive toy by Marx, titled the “Honeymoon Express”. A much more contemporary passenger train is the feature of this piece, resembling that of many passenger trains we see to this day. The two tunnels are made of stone that appear to have moss overgrowth in patches, as well as an elaborate iron bridge going over a river. The vehicles parked next to the 3D building are of a style from the 1940’s.



Finally from the Marx collection, we have a toy gas station pump set. Two separate pumps are seen here, the blue-and-gold one featuring motor gas and the red-and-black pump dispensing ethyl gas. Two signs indicate where to enter and where to exit, stemming the possibility for confusion and traffic at the pump. In the center of the base is a dispenser featuring oil, grease and anti-freeze compound. The Marx logo is prevalent on the base of the two pumps.


Mechanical/Motorized Toys:


Motorized and battery-operated toys also find a home here at the Rogers Mansion, some of which originating in the 1950's. This decade saw an explosion in the development of mechanical toys utilizing batteries, most prominently coming out of Japan in many cases.


This is Jumbo the Bubble Blowing Elephant, manufactured in the 1950s by the Eiichiro Tomiyama Company, who would later go on to be known as TOMY. As implied in its very name, the tagline on the box and base of the toy reads “it blows bubbles”. This fuzzy mechanical elephant - which came in a variety of colors such as brown, grey and pink - stands on top of a tin box with an on/off switch. Sadly the one in our collection no longer functions, otherwise this toy would be battery operated. Once activated, the elephant would lower its trunk, dip its bubble blower affixed to the trunk into a container of soapy water, and move its trunk upwards where air would blow from the elephant. This process would produce the bubbles and would go on until the water was depleted. The ears would also flap when activated. This elephant was known for breaking TOMY’s sales records at over 600,000 copies sold.


This is a Princess French Poodle, manufactured during the 1950’s by the Cragstan Corporation, also based in Japan. Adorned in plaid clothes on its torso as well as a matching patterned hat, this poodle’s eyes would light up as it would walk, sit up and down, and repeat these actions when activated. It’s controlled by a battery-powered switch attached to a wire affixed to the back of its neck where the collar is located. The dogs face, head and legs are covered entirely in a soft fur, with its feet featuring wheels allowing for it to move forward with its motor. Its mouth is also mechanical, presumably allowing it to bark but no speaker could be found on the animal.


Lionel Trains:


Returning to the subject of locomotives, one can’t bring up motorized trains without mentioning the Lionel Corporation. Initially after setting up the Electric Express model train as a storefront display, the founders Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant became one of the three major U.S. based toy train manufacturers at the end of World War 1. One of their biggest competitors were American Flyer, Ives, and the aforementioned Louis Marx and Company. Lionel would initially take criticism over its unrealistic paint jobs on their model railways, with the counter-point being their intended markets were for children and their parents who would purchase them. After World War II, Lionel’s line of trains would become more realistic, with closer resemblance to real life locomotives as well as featuring a special oil loaded in the smokestacks to produce smoke using an electric heating element. Lionel saw its highest profits in 1953, but later in the decade its sales would decline.


This Lionel engine in our collection is the 259E, a pre-War locomotive from between 1933 and 1942. This particular engine is painted in all black, with silver wheels and pipes and a brass smokestack. The front of the engine should be affixed with a light, which is sadly lost. The Lionel L-logo can be seen on the side of where the conductor would be positioned.

An additional coal car joins the engine, with the Lionel Lines title on its sides. The ladder and handle are both rendered with a copper color. Both the engine and the coal car have the hooks allowing for the two to be joined and link up with additional cars.






Some of those cars include a tanker car whose barrel is colored red with a brass top, a livestock car painted orange with a green roof and handles that the sliding door are attached to, and a dark red caboose with gold railings and ladders on both ends, as well as a green roof and light green windows.


Additionally in our collection is an American Flyer line Express Baggage car, one of Lionel’s rivals as mentioned previously. This car is painted green with yellow borders as well as red and white text, numbered 1205.




Board Games:


We now move to the final category in our toy collection: board games. In our collection we own several checkers/chess boards, with many of their respective pieces being mixed into one another’s sets. As board games require several pieces to be fully utilized, some pieces have unfortunately been lost over time prior to coming into our possession. One of the most prominent companies whose games reside in our collection are from the Milton Bradley company.


This is the Junior Auto Race Game made by All-Fair Inc., patented in 1922. The result of a strained business relationship, Elmer Fairchild created the All-Fair Inc in Rochester NY which focused on toys and games. This company was initially a subsidiary of the E.E. Fairchild Corporation, but would later merge back with the corporation in 1940, with all games and toys manufactured before that time with the All-Fair logo. One such game was the Auto Race Game, whose pieces are seen here. An incomplete set missing the game’s board, this game could otherwise accommodate 2 to 6 players. Each player is given a car, the players use 6 dice featuring the first initials of cars (Buick Ford, Paige, Maxwell, Dodge and Stutz), and the dice rolled would indicate who moves up and by how many spaces. If a player lands on a “blow out” square, they lose the move on the next throw. If they land on the “accident” square, they start from the beginning. The first car that crosses the finish line wins the game.

This is a 1930's Milton Bradley Co. Bingo Set #4148, complete with embossed calling numbers. This high-quality bingo set comes with multiple elegantly-lettered bingo cards, a smaller box in which the wooden calling numbers can be stored and shaken up, as well as red wooden markers for each of the players to use. This bingo set is still in good condition within our collection.




Another one of Milton Bradley’s games in our possession is the Game of Geography from 1940, with its tagline “questions and answers about places and things you should know”. The premise is straight-forward given the subject matter, with the directions instructing one to act as the “teacher” holding the book of answers, with the rest of the players called “scholars”. After mixing the cards and giving at least six to each player, they hold onto them, ask one of the questions to the scholar to their left, and if they can’t answer the question they’re given the card. If the card makes it back to the teacher, they read aloud the answer. But if a scholar can answer the question, they keep the card with the scholar having the most answered cards being the winner.


Perhaps one of the stranger pieces in the board game collection is the Milton Bradley’s Educational Toy Money and the Game of Banking, dated 1937. Play-money, coins and currency marketed at children as an educational tool have been a Bradley product since as far back as 1879. It was after attending a lecture by Elizabeth Peabody, an educator who opened the first English language kindergarten in the U.S., that Bradley himself used his company to manufacture items to be used in a learning environment, as is the case with play-money sets. Each of the bills in the set reads “Educational Toy Money – not negotiable” on the front, with the company name and it’s location in Springfield, Massachusetts. There are multiple 5’s and 10’s in this bundle, as well as cardboard quarters, dimes, nickles, pennies and half-dollars. There are also many debt-payment slips detailing what each expense is used for, as well as a Bill Folds booklet included.


The Townopoly Game of Southampton:


The final entry in the board game category is the theme-appropriate Townopoly Game of Southampton. The publisher Pride Distributors Inc. - located in Farmington Hills, Michigan - was responsible for many custom board games as fundraisers in the 1980’s for various community organizations. Their Townopoly series was one of their endeavors, allowing townships to contact the company about a collaboration.


Southampton is one such town it based a board game upon, utilizing a game format similar to that of Monopoly (as is implied in its title). The properties and businesses on display in the game are, of course, based on those which exist in the town itself. Such businesses include East End Glass Mirror, First Hampton Realty, three Hampton Bagels properties, Windmill Video, and Cynthia’s Flowers/Plants Arrangements to name just a few. As stated in the rules, the object of the game is to be the only person not to become bankrupt, doing so by buying the businesses they land on and gaining customers as they circle the board.


The pieces the game comes with include a variety of colored money according to their respective amount, two dice, green and red dots to represent customers, plastic player pieces (as opposed to Monopoly’s metal pieces), Fate cards, Southampton Town cards, the rule book, and cards for each respective property.


The Southampton and Fate cards are all still attached to one another, thus showing this game in our collection has not yet been used. Both sets of cards come with their own risks and rewards. On the one hand you may advance to a specific property, inherent money, or receive a tax refund. On the other hand you may have to retreat by a few spaces, pay one of a handful of taxes, pay a doctor’s fee or go directly to Southampton court.


Finally we have the property cards for each Southampton business and facility. Once again, each card is still attached to one another, with each of the cards having a customer and bankruptcy value.







Conclusion:


It’s no great surprise that many of the aforementioned toys have become relegated to collector’s items by and large, as many can be viewed as potentially unsafe considering standards for toys these days. With safety standards, manufacturing costs and profitability in mind, many of these kinds of toys have been supplanted by plastic-based toys seen in the present day, as opposed to iron and tin. Many of these brands, however, are still seen to this day producing toys and hobby-based objects, both Lionel Trains and Parker Brothers of course spring to mind. It’s also become abundantly clear that newer technological innovations overshadow the hobby spaces these objects once dominated – the clearest example being video and computer gaming over the last few decades. Board games have also overlapped with the concept of tabletop gaming as they call upon similar setups and have increasingly elaborate play styles – such as Dungeons and Dragons and other adjacent pen-and-paper games. This of course does not stop the toys we discussed today from being sought after for their rarity, value, and cultural prevalence during their respective times.

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