Paper Toys Scale Monumental Heights in Historical Society Collection

Industrial Revolution made space for playthings for children.

HUMANITIES, March/April 2015, Volume 36, Number 2

Toys only became more common as the playthings of children as a result of the Industrial Revolution. In ancient and medieval times, parents played with gadgets of all sorts, deigning to allow children to play along only on special occasions. Moreover, according to the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, it was only when mass production got a foothold that adults passed on to children novelties such as water-powered mechanical figures.

Paper toys came on the scene in the mid nineteenth century. Among the surprisingly sturdy ones was the Monument of London toy set. The Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania used an NEH grant to do a conservation assessment of its collection, which also includes paper dolls. The set pictured here was part of a collection donated by longtime historical curator Bart Anderson. According to the historical society’s current curator, Ellen Endslow, the set of toy parts are “printed paper mounted on stiff blue card stock and . . . cut out around the shape.” How the game made its way from England to Pennsylvania is unknown. Inside the box lid an affectionate birthday greeting from a grandmother to a girl, dated March 18, 1873, is still legible.