An “atmosphere-ist’s” take….
Some toys that have stood the tests of time are still being produced. Some of the toys listed below (and they’re marked) are speculative, as in “could have been made”, or they are things that have changed use (hula hoops). Some of these are modern materials, but are something that will work until you have time to make better ones. Some of the toys are less dangerous than the period ones (wind wands!) There’s also a listing at the end of toys that are not period, but people often think ought to be. None of this is intended to be advertising and certainly is unpaid, but these are examples of possibilities.
…and I’ve had a couple of comments that no one should be using these things since “they aren’t period”. Guess what, folks? It’s better to have a pack of 5 year olds screaming after a ball that’s close and doesn’t destroy the mood than having them fighting over who gets the tablet, next….
You can use these
Dolls – … get problematical when you say, “but of *course* they had dolls of all types!” Don’t go there. First, the “plastics” they had were leather and wax. There are a few bits and pieces that may be leather dolls,
but the extant ones that we have are mostly bone, wood, ivory, terra cotta and metal. The one extant wax doll that I know of (The Infant of Prague) is kept in a glass case and has
*never* been played with! Modern Barbies, if dressed appropriately, are a decent stopgap for the fashion dolls of late period, but a better bet are rag dolls in proper clothing (the 12 inch ones fit Barbie patterns) or peg dolls, which are a direct descendant from the stump dolls or tocke. Peg dolls do *not* need to be finished and dressed, nor do rag dolls need to be dressed to be played with. You can let the kids make their own clothes or just use ’em as is!
All of these above were found on Etsy, but you can get your own peg blanks here: http://www.caseyswood.com/shoppingcart/zen-cart/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=294_46
…finger puppets here http://www.caseyswood.com/shoppingcart/zen-cart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=294_545&products_id=2842
…and rag dolls, 14 inch – https://www.consumercrafts.com/store/details/catalog/basics-dolls/1236-55 , 8 inch – https://www.consumercrafts.com/store/details/catalog/basics-dolls/1232-33 , 5 inch – https://www.consumercrafts.com/store/details/catalog/basics-dolls/1232-19 (or search “muslin doll”)
Balls – Some modern balls are still made the same as in period. Croquet balls, while they would not have been used for the modern game (although there are period equivalents) are one ball that hasn’t changed. Possibly the patterning on the ridged balls isn’t period, although some of the pictures suggest that was done very late. Period balls had leather covers or fabric and were stuffed with a variety of things or even inflated (yes, those existed). Modern inflated balls are probably too colorful and the sewn,
distinctive patterns on soccer and basketballs are intrusive. The too-bright color of the balls at the top of this section won’t wash, either, but the ones at the left (except that they bounce) are actually ok,
since balls existed with painted patterns of that sort (on wood).
Ones that actually work far better are kickballs and the “beachball” pattern on the ones in this next picture >> is actually one of two period piecing patterns for balls! See the page on balls for more info on that.
Many of the lightweight balls made for infants and toddlers will work as they are
usually stuffed, like this << Galt Toys infant ball, which is stuffed with a jingling center, and these are not made to bounce, either.
Another option is the soft or stuffed balls that are made for pets, often as cat toys, such as these >> striped ones, although if you find one stuffed with catnip, you might be too popular with felines… 🙂
You could also go with ball pit balls, which give the feel of some lightweight, non-stuffed balls, or modern kickballs, if you can find covers that are less glaringly obviously modern than these below (knotted-cord-covered balls are found!), or even sew fabric/leather covers over the foam balls below to give a modern approximation of horse-hair or wool waste filled ball feel.
Marbles – Games with rolling things are documented as far back as Ovid and there are things that were probably used in the same games (rocks, nuts and balls of wood, stone or ceramic) Modern marbles >>>> are generally not the same as period ones, the glass ones having patterns that are characteristically modern, and the glass ones in period being made from left-over bits and pieces, not having a consistent pattern. If you get rock or ceramic balls (and yes, they’re available) those are certainly appropriate. Plain glass ones (except in colors like neon pink or acid green) are also appropriate.
Other than that, it’s going to take an expert to determine which patterns are modern and therefore not good, and which actually are period (and there are some).
<<< These are rose quartz, probably more expensive than you want to hand someone as a playtoy, but….
Wind Wands were mostly home-made from strips and rags, but a stick can be something to make a parent cringe. The modern equivalent here is a good compromise, and the metallic ones actually bend enough that they’re not a problem for the smaller ones that might fall on ’em. Strips of pool noodle also work for a stick or a handle.
Tops! – Oh, tops! If they’re not made of plastic, they probably qualify. I’m not too certain of the mushroom form, but toys with representative shapes were certainly known, even down to the metal bit at the tip!
The turnip shape of the ones on the left is probably the most common European shape, and those designs are close although most tops were home-made and likely uncolored as in the extant ones below (from 1600 or so) although when I look a bit harder are those traces of paint?
A good option would be to go to wood places that sell blanks or craft stores and find unfinished ones and paint them yourself, like the ones on the left from a craft kit.
Noisy toys – Kids love to make noise, to put it mildly. Most of the instruments from the rhythm section, such as drums, bells, jingles and the simpler rattles all were used as toys. The modern vuvuzela or “sport horn” is nothing more than a plastic version of a period instrument.
Children made their own whistles, but toy-makers did fancier, brightly colored, zoomorphic ones as well, similar to these bird-shaped, fipple whistles.
Pretend Play and Miniatures – If they used it, someone made a miniature of it at some point. The problem with period versions of these things that could be toys or could be “collectibles” as they’re called now, is finding extant ones…. So use that first statement as a rule of thumb. Small versions of pavilions, knights-in-armor toys (even plastic, but wood or “lead” would be better) kitchen equipment and tableware, small looms and spindles, kid-sized versions of real tools. Try to stick with wood, ceramic or metal. Here are some possibilities.
Period, but you might have to modify
Bubbles! Very… but not in a bottle. The blower would have been a straw or possibly a pipe (if you were willing to risk the wrath of the smoker).
Boat toys change with the shapes of boats that children see. This modern make-your-own sailboat kit would be quite familiar in shape to a modern child. The rigging and sail shapes would be far less recognizable in period, but put a crossbar and hang the sail from it and you’ve got a viking ship. Or put the cross bar and an angle and you’ve got a gaff rig!
Not period, but fun
Building blocks – Constructing things of left-over materials and stacking things for small people to knock over are certainly period, but I can’t find any evidence for blocks as a manufactured toy. We had a set of Castle Legos for my kids, and a Fisher-Price castle as
well as home-made building blocks and trebuchets in camp at all times. ….just don’t get the idea that those are period. 🙂
The same goes for the castle play sets and doll houses. Just out of period “baby houses” got a start. In period we don’t see any. …but they’re fun and a good way to give kids something more appropriate than Barbie Houses. …and there are more playsets out there. The Nativity scene actually is a good choice.
Plush Toys – Kids like squishy, soft, plush toys. They probably always have. There is no real evidence for these in period. Honestly, there isn’t…. but toys like this get loved to death, so how would we know? Obviously modern ones, like Teddy Bears, or Caterpillar Glo-Worm ought to be right out unless you have a kid that will melt down without, but simple, representative, non-character toys are probably a good bet, at least in camp. I don’t think I’d enter one in an A&S competition, but I can see them being given as largesse.
Knights in Armor sets, Toy Swords, etc. – I’m utterly certain that kids had toys like these, but please try to keep your kids from hurting each other. I discovered the hard way (9 stitches, shared between 3 kids) that the swords from this armor set can cut! There are other ones that are even harder and less lightweight, but inflatable ones can be had and aren’t likely to damage the kids. Making swords, lances and even stick-horses of pool noodle and duct tape is another option.
No, these aren’t period!
Bouncing Balls – Not even tennis balls! …although the period racquets are awfully close….
Balloons – …although paper balloons existed in the Orient and might have made it as far as Europe….
Baseballs, tennis, soccer and basketballs, or any ball with a recognizable “sports” pattern. The only one that works is the beachball coloring pattern.
Matryoshka or nesting dolls. (Sorry, but these are 1800’s.)
Modern pinwheels with the light-weight curved petals on the side of the stick . Period scopperels were held horizontally.
Companies listed as sources – I don’t know how fast I’ll be updating these item numbers, so be aware…. Also, things like Etsy items are usually impossible to get more than one of, so I’m looking for things that quantities are available. It means a lot of Chinese imports…. I’m not happy with that….
OTC – Oriental Trading Company, http://www.orientaltrading.com/ – Item numbers for this company search by the numbers including the slash. The two letters and hyphen sometimes will get you there and sometimes not. That’s the *current* designation.
Amz – Amazon.com – You know who these people are! 🙂 I’ve just given search terms since their supplies change so fast.
Consumer Crafts – https://www.consumercrafts.com/home/index
Page created 4/25/15 and published 4/20/15 (C)M. Bartlett
Last update 1/21/18