By Rachel Hudson
This week’s object is a unique little tin wind-up toy of an ostrich pulling a mail cart. We found this object while going through storage in Deyo House. According to the Lehmann toy collecting website, this piece is literally titled “Africa” as written on the side of the cart, but has also been called “Going to the Fair,” “Kamerun,” and “Zulu” in later versions. During my research, I soon found that some toys were not just meant to amuse, but were also meant to teach kids about currents events.
In the early 1800s, wood was one of the main materials used to make toys. However, as industrialization began to take hold in Europe, a new method of mass production was called for. Tin filled this need because it was cheap, easy to bend and fold, and was lighter than the cast iron toys that were previously being made at this time. Lithograph techniques that developed in 1875 made it practical to paint objects like these with bright colors and detailed decorations. These toys were called ‘penny’ toys because they were so affordable to the general public. (Source: Powerhouse Museum Collection)
This piece was made by the Lehmann Toy Company in Brandenburg, Germany between 1889 and 1918. The company originally sold tins for aniline dyes, but soon began selling flywheel toys and eventually became one of the main exporters of cheap tin toys at this time. Many of Lehmann’s toys were designed to appeal to both girls and boys and often depicted humorous subjects, like dancing animals, topics of gossip and current events of the time.
Parents often favored toys that would serve as an educational tool for their children, and current political events would have been popular subjects. During the late 1800s, the major European countries were dividing control of Africa under the policy of Colonization. Africa would have been a common subject in the news, both in Europe and in America. A toy like this would have put a romanticized spin on the subject, making it both appropriate and appealing to children. It brings up ideas of exotic, faraway places where huge birds pull mail carts down busy market streets.
Here is the teaser picture for next week. Can you guess what it is?