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The Way We Were

Toys May Be Just Childhood Memories, But They Can Also Be Valuable Collectibles
Steven K. Ryan
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

Think back. Try to remember a birthday back in your childhood. Try to remember wanting a particular toy with a passion that burned like the sun-baked chrome of your Schwinn. You saw it in the store, you dreamed about it, it became a minor obsession.

Or maybe a major obsession.

Passion for toys does not necessarily subside as one grows older. In fact, it can grow more intense. When we were children, our toys helped define who we were and who we wanted to be. As adults, those same toys can remind us who we were and maybe even recapture some of the innocence. After all, some of us may still want to be astronauts.

The hobby of toy collecting is a recent phenomenon, one that has soared in popularity in the past 20 years. There has been a significant increase in demand for antique toys of all types: from metal toys to die-cast to action figures. More and more adults (especially men) are rediscovering their love of toys, often by accident.

Old playthings tend to have an alluring effect. They can trigger happy memories and a smile of recognition. Perhaps in an attempt to hold onto that peaceful feeling, a person buys the toy. A single piece of once-upon-a-time happiness often leads to another, and thus a collector is born.

Where did toys come from, and why do they seem to have such mythical powers? A quick look at toy history will help to illustrate where toys fit into our contemporary world and why collectors adore them.

No images of Geoffrey the Giraffe (the Toys "R" Us mascot) have been found in Thebes or at Giza. But toy-like objects have been found in Egyptian tombs. These objects include dolls, animal figures, boats, pull-toys and miniature armies. It is generally believed that these were objects to accompany the dead to the afterlife. Were they portable reminders of the living world? Were they symbolic talismans?

Or were they something for the dead person to play with?

In the collection of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is an animated ivory toy dog that is dated to the 18th Dynasty of Egypt (1570-1342 B.C.). The jaws of this graceful canine are operated by moving a rod. The animation feature (albeit crude) of this remarkable piece would suggest that this is a toy for toy's sake.

Although there is abundant evidence of toys in antiquity, it is difficult to know exactly what value the societies placed on toys. Roman and Grecian urns dating before Christ show scenes of children playing with balls, hoops and even hobby horses, and that evidence would suggest that play was not only tolerated, but encouraged.

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