I just spent the morning at the Pollock Toy Museum in London, named after Benjamin Pollock who was a renowned maker of toy theaters in the late 19th century to 20th century. The museum houses a bunch of puppets, dolls, toy theater sets, tin toys, mechanical toys from different eras and countries. The museum opened in 1956 and each little room/exhibit is threaded together by narrow winding stairs. To my knowledge, there really isn’t anything like this in the US.
There were no toy instruments in the museum, unfortunately, but many old-styled science toys like a praxinoscope, magic lanterns and other precursors to television and animation. Some of the earlier board games from around the world are a representation of the culture that invented them. For example, there were a variety of “Snakes and ladders” games that are from the Hindu tradition. You can get ahead on a ladder by doing good deeds while you might also slide down the snake and start at a lower level in your next life. I particularly loved the toy theater sets. So many of these things are made from paper cut-outs and recycled materials. Another really interesting toy “set” idea was made from small match boxes. Some of these matchboxes would pull out and be a miniature two-story house. I saw a Pop-eye board game that was essentially one of those old-fashioned projectors with 35 mm slides that could be hand-held through the projector, kind of like a flip book. It made me think how some of the vintage toys were so much more clever without the use of modern technology because we could still see and experience the mechanical nature of the toy.
It occurred to me that the idea of “toy” is more about “make-believe.” In a way, it is a just a miniature version of life with a completely “imagined” set of rules to follow. There are toys for everything…toy food, toy tea sets, toy weapons(slingshots,beebee guns), toy science instruments, toy people (dolls/puppets) , toy societies (board games)and I play a toy instrument. When viewed by an adult, all of these things are a representation of what we experience in a more symbolic world. It was interesting–I had trouble finding the museum, so I asked a man who owned a street vendor in that area. He said that he took his kids there and they really didn’t enjoy it. He said it was a waste of my time. To the contrary, I really loved the museum and while wandering through it, I thought the experience would be more poignant for adults than children. I think toys have a really different meaning to us when revisiting them!