THERE IS a saying that the toys of today are the tools of tomorrow.
In other words, what children play with will equip them with skills for the future.
So it is interesting to look back at the sorts of toys and amusements that children of yesteryear had access to.
Hunters Hill Historical Society is currently staging an exhibition of old toys at its Museum at Hunters Hill Town Hall, and the display gives a stimulating and entertaining insight into the past.
Unlike today’s children who are exposed to the latest electronic gadgetry and who appear to possess an innate technical understanding, youngsters in earlier and Victorian times had access to fewer and much simpler toys.
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THE ECONOMIC divide in 19th century Australian society could be seen in the types of toys that were available.
Poor families produced their own playthings such as dolls made out of clothes pegs, skipping ropes and hobby horses fashioned from a wooden pole.
Children used their meagre pocket money to buy spinning tops, skipping ropes and kites.
The more affluent were able to afford rocking horses with real horse hair manes.
There were china or wax dollies, elaborate dolls’ houses with miniature furniture and tea sets for the girls while the boys played with tin soldiers and clockwork model trains.
Instead of video games and computers, earlier children were equipped with only their imagination and often utilised whatever was to hand to create a toy that satisfied their need for entertainment.
Victorian children loved to play marbles.
Poorer children used marbles made from clay while rich children had ones carved out of real marble. It is worth noting that religious observance meant that rarely were toys allowed to be brought out on Sundays.
The one exception was Noah’s Ark because of its biblical connotations.
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RATHER THAN DVDs and trips to the movies, probably the most popular picture toy of the past was the Zoetrope.
It was one of several pre-film animation novelty devices that produced the illusion of movement by displaying a sequence of drawings or photo images which blurred together.
There was also the kaleidoscope.
A child could look through one end and see a brightly coloured design at the other end. As the child twisted or shook it, the psychedelic design would change into another fascinating design.
One childhood amusement that has changed very little is the football, even though the shape and substance of it has gone through some variations over time.
Kicking a ball, fashioned out of leather or animal skin, has been around for thousands of years. Football was played on lawns or in the streets by all classes and by both boys and girls.
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THE EXHIBITION has artefacts which will interest and delight all ages; old games like dominoes and Chinese chequers and felt mice created as Christmas decorations as well as an assortment of boys’ and girls’ books.
One artefact on show is a ‘Knitting Nancy’, a small hand-held device that enables items to be produced out of twisting a strand of fibre.
The fibre is wrapped round a peg-like object.
The Museum also has some ‘hands-on’ exhibits which today’s children will not have had the opportunity to play with before; extinct examples such as a typewriter, a set of weighing scales and a candle snuffer.
The Museum is open Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 12noon. School groups are welcome.
However groups should first call the Museum on 9879 9433 to arrange a visit.
CHRIS SCHOFIELD is President of Hunters Hill Historical Society