*** boys' toys : country trends

Children's Toys: Country Trends

English toys 1920s
Figure 1.--This little English boy was photographed with what look to be his toys, probably in the 1920s (figure 1). Notice the studio back drop. Clearly this is not his home. Thus the toys appear to be those from the photographic studio. He has blocks and toy animals. They are not stuffed animals, I'm not sure about the material.

We are also collecting images of children in different countries showing the kinds of toys the children played with over time. Here most of the images we have collected are American, English, French, and German. We hope to gradually add images from other countries over time. Germany before World War I was especially known for manufacturing children's toys. The Steiff stuffed animals, especially well known. I'm not sure yet how the popularity of different toys varied from country to country.

America, North


Boys of course loved toys, all kinds of toys. They could be use both inside and outside, depending on the toys. Many of the impages of 19th century toys are from studio portraits, meaning that they were probably studio props. With the advent of the amateur snapshot around the turn-of-the 20th century we begin to get more realistic images of boys actually playing with their own toys. There are many different toys. These hve varied over time both by age and changing technology. Some toys like puppets were popular with boys and girls. Dolls were more for girls, but some younger boys played with them, especialy if they had older sisters. Other like toy soldiers were the exclusive territory of boys. And of course toys guns were a much prised toy, not to mention the BB gun. Boys in the 1930s-50s had the prenial confrontation sith mom over getting a BB gun--imprtalized in the film "A Christmas Story. Hoops and balls were perenial favorites. Things that made noise like whistles, trumpets, and drums were also popular. Boys loved to sail boats in the local park. Another favorites was toy trains--especially the model electric train when they became available in the 1900s. The train was a great toy because you could combine it with other items like toy soldiers. Construction toys beginning with blocks were popular. They have included Erector sets, Lincoln Logs and more recentlt Lego sets.




China today produces an incredible share of the world's toys. I believe that the actual design of the toys is done in the West, but then manufactured in China. I think the percentage of toys designed there is very small.


I believe Japan began exporting toys in the inter-war era during the 1920s and 30s, rather much like China today, We do not, however, know much about this. We do recall a lot of Japanese toys as a young boy after World War II.


In modern times we see European countries priducing a wide array of toys. This was basically an economic function. A Europe entered the industrial era and became wealthy, parents had more monmey to spend on their children. And this was no longer a small elite, but a large portion of the population. Industrial economies generated a substantial middle class--the largest middle class in all of human history. But it was not just the middle-class that had money to spend. The proleteriat working class also had money. Now compared to modern times, they did not have a lot of money, but they again were better off than ever before. They were thus better fed and better clothes than workers in any other era, especially agricultural workers which until the industrial revolution constituted the great bulk of the population. This of course varied from country to country. The most affluent workers were in those countries developing democratic political institutions. In this regard it should be noted that while Germany has a still governing monarchy, it had a parlimentarian system with a strong developing rule of law. Some of the countries with the largest toy industries included England, France, and Germany which of course were the countries with the largest industrial economies. And the toy industry became a part of the industrial economy. At the turn-of-the 20th century, even in the new industrial power of the United States, European toys were highly regarded. We see English toy soldiers, French bisque dolls, and German Steiff bears which today are precious collectors items. Japanese toy did not begin to make inroads until after World War I.

Middle East

We have a number of questions about toys in the Arab and wider Muslim world. We are especially interested in dolls and cuddle toys. Related issues are aditudes toward animals in general. We are also not sure if little girls play with dolls. There are religious prohibitions about creating human images. Apparently this has not been extended to dolls. Nor do we know if children are given stuffed animals to play with. The British term is "cuddle toys". And if so what animals. Teddies are a favorite in the West, but there are many other animals to choose from. We do not know if some animals are preferred in the Arab world. And we do not know if the children name their stuffed animals and if so what names are used. This would all be interesting to know. Hopefully HBC readers will be able to provide some insights. This will help us to understand the Sudan teddy affair.


We know very little about Tunisian toys or Arab toys in general. Today Tunisian manufacturers are selling toys to Europe and Tunisian toy boxes are popular there. But all of this as far as we can tell has nothing to do with toys that were traditionally popular in Tunisia. It seems to be types of toys that are popular in Europe, but now manufactured in Tunisia with low-cost labor. Some do have Tunisian themes such as stuffed animals like camels. Which is interesting given the trouble the much beloved Western teddy expereienced in close by Sudan. The whole topic of toys in Muslim countries is an interesting one. We wonder if the development of toys in the Arab world was impeded by the Islamic prohibition against depicting humans and animals. Such toys are popular today, but mostly developed in Chriusian Europe. The only information we have on Tunisia toys at this time is a magic lattern slide from the 1910s. But they look to us more like French-influenced toys.


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Created: September 25, 2003
Last updated: 1:09 AM 9/1/2018