Toys through the years

“It must have been a happy household,” was the remark made by one of our team members when she saw the artefact assemblage we are discussing on today’s blog post. Whilst children’s artefacts are relatively common finds on New Zealand archaeological sites, we rarely get an assemblage as large and varied as this one. These finds came from a vicarage constructed between 1867 and 1868. At first glance we might not directly associate a vicarage with children, thinking instead of the religious responsibilities of clergymen and the church. However, the vicarage was home to the reverend who lived there with his family, meaning a lot of the artefacts we found related to them and their daily life.

From the 1860s through into the 1990s, various reverends and their families occupied the vicarage. Many of the families were large with lots of children. Over the years the various children who lived in the vicarage lost toys through cracks and gaps in the walls and floors, lying forgotten until the friendly archaeologist came along to find them. We’ve done a few posts on the blog before about children, however this post is a bit different as it showcases mainly twentieth century toys. Generally, we don’t collect twentieth century material as it falls outside the legal definition of archaeology, however we do when excavating under floor deposits. This is because the assemblages we find under the floor typically build up over time, and contain nineteenth century material sitting alongside twentieth century.

Enjoy looking at images of the various toys played with by the vicarage children over the years.

This rough, hand carved doll was likely made by the first reverend to live in the vicarage for his daughter. We can date the doll to the 1870s based on the context it was found in. This is the only children’s artefact featured on this post which definitively dates to the nineteenth century and it is interesting comparing it to the other toys, particularly when considering the impact of mass-production on styles and tastes. By modern standards the doll is barely a doll, with no arms or proper legs, yet it is likely the girl who owned it thought it was beautiful and treasured it dearly. Image: C. Watson.

Games, games, and more games. This compendium of fun contains three games, meaning there’s something for everyone. Made by Tower Press London, the compendium likely dates to the mid-twentieth century . My favourite part about the set is that it includes play money, even though none of the games require money. I’m just picturing kids playing the steeplechase game and taking bets on whose ‘horse’ was going to reach the finish line first. Image: C. Watson.

This paper figurine was found tucked away in the corner of the room behind the wall. Lots of the finds discussed on this blog post were found in similar places. Images: B. Thompson, C. Watson.

This piece of cardboard in a delightful shade of pink reads “wrong for once Mr Sharp Eyes, I’m same size as my brother.” It was half of an optical illusion produced by the Stereoscopic Company, advertised as a ‘novelty and trick for winter evenings.’ The other half of the illusion, which we did not find, was a similarly shaped piece of cardboard (this time in blue) reading “Come! Guess now the larger. This one, or the other?” No doubt the illusion must have been arranged in such a way that the answer wasn’t staring the observer straight in the face. Image: C. Watson.

This paper plane was a very cool find, made even cooler by the fact that we can date it based on the piece of paper its made from. The plane is constructed from an unused Airfix Products Ltd product complaint form. Airfix Products Ltd formed in 1939, meaning the paper plane must postdate this year. Image: C. Watson.

This “Indestructible” comb appears to have been reasonably accurate, with only a few teeth missing. Indestructible was a favourite descriptor for various household items, with Indestructible Shoes, Indestructible Hats, and even the Indestructible Davis, a brand of sewing machine advertised in nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers. Image: C. Watson.

A selection of lolly wrappers found around the vicarage. The top right wrapper is for sweet cigarettes. These were a white sugar stick, similar to a modern spaceman lolly, with a red end imitating a cigarette. No doubt the child who ate it pretended they were smoking a real cigarette, something which would be very non-PC today. The bottom right wrapper is for Cadbury’s Maple Nuggets. Cadburys has a long history in New Zealand, with the brand introduced by Richard Hudson in 1868 . A quick google search revealed no results for a Cadburys Maple Nuggets product making the wrapper something of an enigma. However, lollies called maple nuggets were advertised in newspapers from 1916 through into the 1930s, suggesting the lolly was sold based on its name as opposed to the brand it was from. Image: C. Watson.

A selection of other toys found at the vicarage. Clockwise from top left: tin enamel shaped instruments, decorated with a slightly terrifying tiger and monkey. Glass marbles – these were all found under a fireplace. We think there must have been a crack in or close to the fireplace which the children would lose their marbles down when they played on the floor in front of it. Play money, possibly from the board games discussed above, and two puzzle pieces, one with a lion and the other a girl. Image: C. Watson.

Of course, it couldn’t be a post about old toys without a slightly terrifying one. This miniature plastic horse is scratching its nose with its hind leg. This is something which real life horses do, and apparently is quite hilarious to watch. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of this toy horse haven’t quite nailed the hilarity of the position and have instead ended up with something which looks more like a demon possessed horse. I think it was colouring the eyes red where they went wrong. Image. C. Watson.

If you thought the horse was terrifying then this doll’s eye is equally creepy. As a general rule of thumb Victorian era dolls are scary (check out more here) however the realism of this one, especially with its fake eye lashes, makes it particularly creepy. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson

5 thoughts on “Toys through the years

  1. In the 50’s the play money illustrated was certainly sold separately from board games, just I guess, for learning about money.

  2. The first wooden ‘doll’ looks like a wooden solider with a bearskin hat which my grandfather carved from on old chair leg for my father. Although my father’s one has swinging arms attached on wire through the body and is painted.

  3. Hi guys,

    What a lovely assortment of goodies you have plied us with here!.
    Continuing thanks for the great fascinating works/discoveries/getting~messy~times
    you are in deep in. 🙂

  4. The sweets wrappers on the left with the playing card symbols (clubs, spades etc) were from lollies called “Decks” e.g. Like a deck of cards. You got about 8 individually wrapped sweets in a ‘deck’. I remember them in the 1970s so although I’m old, not quite archaeological yet! Fun blog, thanks.

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