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Antique toys touch heart of childhood

November 28, 2003|by Chris Copley

chrisc@herald-mail.com

FREDERICK, Md. - A leather cow on a wheeled platform. A cast iron, horse-drawn fire engine. A tiny Windsor chair with huge rockers and a homemade horse's head. Two dolls - Hattie Pin and Baby Pin - from the 1930s.

These are a few of the items in the display of antique toys and children's items exhibited at the Historical Society of Frederick County. The toys - dolls, games and children's furnishings from the collection - date from the 1830s to the 1940s.

Heidi Campbell-Shoaf, curator with the Historical Society of Frederick County, put the exhibit together. She likes showing off the museum's more playful side.

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"I really like the cow on wheels," Campbell-Shoaf says. "If I were an artist, I would take the cow and the lion and put them in a 'Peaceable Kingdom'-type arrangement - you know, the painting by Edward Hicks - but with the animals on wheels."

The toys in the display cover a wide spectrum of items and materials. Several of the dolls have porcelain heads. A tiddlywinks game features ivory disks, a wooden cup and lithographed target board. German toy makers shaped leather into lifelike cows and other animals mounted on wooden platforms with tiny cast iron wheels.

Some of the items have a lost-in-time quality. A flat, wooden, jigsaw-cut donkey is labeled a "dissected animal" puzzle. A doll's bed is "sprung" with string. Cardboard alphabet-decorated bricks feature animals in fanciful military uniforms. And the "Major League Indoor Base Ball" board game features cards for then-contemporary stars: Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

Then there's the tray-less high chair.

"Older visitors have reminiscenses: 'Oh, I had that or my sister had that,'" Campbell-Shoaf says. "They look at the high chair - there's no tray or any way to keep the child in the chair. This one dates to 1860. This was the age before the consumer safety movement. You were on your own."

One porcelain-head doll dates to 1830, the period when dolls were beginning to be mass-produced in America. During the early 1800s, in fact, American society began to pay attention to children's play needs in a new way. Urban playgrounds became popular as places where city children might safely play. Books written specifically for children were published. Board games for family amusement became popular.

Campbell-Shoaf's display shows toys and games from that period up through the 1940s.

"We want to open up people's eyes and draw a connection between the historical and the present," she says. The display continues through Christmas.

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