Remnants of the Toy Room

Remnants of the Toy Room by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

Attic toys in great profusion
Lying here in strange confusion
Cut into the memory like a knife
Smiling dolls and faded cotton
Dusty world I had forgotten
Tell again the story of my life.

Nana Mouskouri

I grew up in an era when the best toys were often 95 per cent kid and 5 per cent toy. Something as simple as pots and pans and a little imagination worked on a rainy day. It didn’t take much.

Balls, kites and yo-yos are some of the oldest known toys. Greek children played a game similar to jacks. The pieces consisted of ankle joints from small, cloven-footed animals. Donkeys were used to take Greek farmers and their produce to market and little toy clay donkeys carrying produce have been excavated.

Life is like a Ferris wheel. One minute you’re on top, the next you’re at the bottom. Just stay in your seat, enjoy the ride, and hang on until you reach the top again.
— Susan Gale, author

Archaeologists unearthed a 4,000-year-old stone doll head in 2004 among the ruins of a village in Italy. It wasn't found in a ceremonial ground suggesting it was probably a toy.

Marbles were popular during Roman times. A well preserved moth-eaten rag doll from Rome was discovered in the dry soil of Egypt.

An ancient toy camel unearthed in Egypt would be banned from stores today because it was made of lead.

Toys provide a link to childhood. They reflect the mood of an era and demonstrate the technological level of a society.

One toy in particular I found under the tree one Christmas some 60 years ago stands out to me. It was tinplate, windup Ferris wheel. I was dazzled by the brilliant lithographed red and yellow colors on this toy. As I turned the key the six cars magically spun round and round. Time spent playing with this toy lingered on for years.

“Life is like a Ferris wheel,” said author Susan Gale. “One minute you’re on top, the next you’re at the bottom. Just stay in your seat, enjoy the ride, and hang on until you reach the top again.”

Maybe that was the lesson for this 8-year-old. I knew my toy was enchanting--just like being at the carnival itself. I was on top of the world when on top of the Ferris wheel!

Pictured at the base of my toy was a hot dog stand on one end and orangeade stand on the other. Happy faced kids stood alongside waiting for their treats. In between the two was the ticket-taker.

My Ferris wheel wasn’t made by Marx, Mattel or Fisher-Price. It was created by an American firm named Chein & Co. Founded in 1903 they produced a menagerie of windup boats, cars, trucks, and amusement park rides. By 1960 they produced 1000,000 toys a day.

Then along came government regulations concerning sharp edges on tin toys. They were deemed dangerous to kids. So Chein moved into plastic toy production. Unfortunately they weren’t successful enough and the toy division of the business closed in 1976. They shifted to housewares and the company shut down completely in 1992.

The rise of plastics and other synthetic materials after World War II resulted in a huge decline of wind-up toy production.

On March 9-10, 2019, Bertoia Auctions featured four different toy collections on the block including Michael Bertoia’s Penny Toy collection. Michael built his collection over a 30 year period with the help of his toy expert parents Jeanne and the late Bill Bertoia.

Here are some current toy values.


Clown Hand Pedaling Tricycle; key wind mechanical; 8 inches high; $2,160.

Early Ferris wheel; wind-up toy; mechanism is mounted on frame at center of wheel; has electric street light on one side of platform; 17 inches high; $3,600.

Still Bank; two-faced devil; A.C. Williams; circa 1904;-1912; 4 /24 inches high; $4,500.

Ferris wheel; flags and four figures have been replaced; 19 inches high; $16,800.

Wind-up Racer; early race car with boat tail design and huge hood housing race engine; 11 inches high; $29,400.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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