Nobody knows when toys originated. Hardly anything is known about them before those of the ancient Egyptians. As far back as 2000 BC models of ships and animals were not considered toys. They were placed in tombs to help the dead on their journey to the next world. The first real toys only appeared about a thousand years later. The Romans even made rag dolls, one of which was found in a child’s grave.
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Collapse of the Roman Empire
Whereas toys for children were available in richer Greek and Roman households, following the collapse of the Roman Empire they became unheard of. Only a few medieval manuscripts show simple playthings. However gradually Germany became the hub of carved wooden toys. Back in 1614 Ben Johnson mentions toys being sold in fairs.
Carved wooden toys
Probably a child’s wish to emulate adult vehicles began with the appearance of carved wooden toys as models to play with. Thereafter, once cars were invented, models of these, some in perfect detail, became very popular. As well as buses, lorries and motorcycles. Dolls deserve an article to themselves.
The eighteenth century
By the eighteenth century toys came into their own, more as playthings than as educational aids. Even poorer families could afford paper toys, to be cut up and assembled at home. Dolls’ houses also began to appear, originally made in Germany. However these were intended as cabinets to display miniature objects. Maps in the form of jigsaw puzzles were also meant to help a child learn geography. Some date from the late eighteenth century.
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There is an enormous variety of Victorian toys available to the collector. Prices can range from a few pounds to over a thousand. Model theatres, wooden Noah’s Arks, cuddly toys, jig-saw puzzles and dolls feature largely. As well as clockwork cars, jack-in-the-boxes and pull-along toys. It is said that toy building blocks first appeared around 1800. Toy trains are immensely sought after, mostly from the early twentieth century. If found in good condition in their original boxes the value increases (trains in good condition can reach asking prices of over £500). Whereas a papier maché French bulldog on wheels has an estimated value of over £1,000. Dating from about 1880, it is almost lifesize with realistic glass eyes and can be made to growl and bark. In other words, the choice is endless.