Old toys stir memories of Christmases past for some area residents

Old toys stir memories of Christmases past. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)
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ROBINSON, Texas (KWTX) Old toys like real Barbie dolls and those steel trains and trucks, for thousands bring back very special memories of childhood Christmases when times moved a bit slower.

“The old cast iron and steel toys and the dolls are just really special, and then, of course, they don’t make them anymore,” Karen Briggs, owner along with her husband Steve, of ABC Antiques, in Robinson, and a part-time Midway ISD teacher, said.

“I love toys,” she admits.

“It came from my father who grew up during the Great Depression and he never had toys as a child because they couldn’t afford them.

“Then when he got older, he fell in love with toys, of all kinds, and that’s where I get it,” she said.

Briggs said she turns her displays over about every three months, and at Christmastime the shop at 105 South Robinson Dr. is brimming with toys and everything red and green.

So basic is the marriage of toys and Christmas that the Bell County Museum currently has a special showing of toys just in time for the season.

Antique toys are “very special,” said Coleman Hampton, executive director of the Bell County Museum, “they were built to last, to endure, to be passed on to others.”

The museum’s “What’s in Santa’s Workshop … Toys,” exhibit, including four stations where children can interact with such toys as Legos, runs through Jan.18, and is free for kids to visit.

Briggs’ shop is a hodgepodge of very old toys and games, the oldest of which dates to the late 1880s, and her collection winds its way through the last century with recognizable names like the “Blue Lady Doll’” a German built metal toy depicting a young mother holding a baby, that when activated moves the mother’s arms up and down as if she is playing with her child.

Reader Bear is a metal and celluloid toy that shows a furry bear holding a book as if reading and the wind up mechanism makes his right hand move to the page of his book where a tiny magnet grabs the metal page and flips it as his hand moves back.

Reader Bear is a Japanese-made toy from the 1930s, Briggs said.

Dapper Dan is a dancing toy that is a lanky-legged man who when activated dances and spins, also built in the 1930s, but in America.

Marx Brothers, a renowned U.S. toy maker, built many of the metal toys in Briggs’ shop, including a little metal wind up train, “The Honeymoon Express,” that races around a 10-inch track through tunnels and past stations, and the Hillbilly Express that shows a mine train darting in and out of an engine house.

And, the original GI Joe, and it’s probably not the same one most are thinking about.

This one is pressed metal, about a foot tall, made by a company called Unique Art, in New Jersey, and it was called “GI Joe and his K-9 Pups” when it was marketed in the 1930s.

The metal toy’s hat moves up and down and his legs march after his wind-up motor gets started.

Briggs said he was 35-cents new and is worth several hundred dollars today.

The museum exhibit is a traveling exhibit, meaning at the end of its run in January, another issue will take its place, Hampton said.

Abd many of the toys in the exhibit are owned by Bell County residents who actually got them as presents when they were kids.

“These old toys bring back all kinds of memories and their owners can tell stories about them,” he said.

He agreed that old toys made fort special moments at Christmastime because, mainly, they were so simple.

“They were manual, no electric parts and they things they did didn’t just happen but the kids had to interact and employ their imaginations,” he said.

The origins are murky, but toys date back thousands of years

“The origin of the word ‘toy’ is unknown, but it is believed that it was first used in the 14th century,” the dictionary reads.

The origin of toys is prehistoric, says the Etomology Dictionary, in that such things as dolls representing infants, even soldiers and representations of tools used by adults are readily found at archaeological sites.

The oldest known doll toy is thought to be 4,000 years old and archaeologists have excavated toys from the Indus Valley civilization (3010–1500 BCE) including small carts, whistles shaped like birds and toy monkeys which could slide down a string, a paper entitled “Daily Life in Ancient India, including the Mysterious Indus Valley,” Sept. 19, 2008, says.

Family practitioners of all kinds, from physicians to psychologists and counselors to coaches, say playing with toys is essential “when it comes to growing up and learning about the world around us, according to Peter K. Smith, a British psychologist, in his 2016 book entitled “Children and Play: Understanding Children’s Worlds.

“Younger children use toys to discover their identity, help their bodies grow strong, learn cause and effect, explore relationships, and practice skills they will need as adults,” Smith wrote.

In earlier days toys closely mimicked tools their parents used every day, which, of course, taught the kids from an early age about those tolls and how to use them.

To kids they were toys but to the adult world they were irreplaceable learning tools.

Kids eyes still pop out and shouts of joy and excitement still fill living rooms on Christmas mornings but that’s shortly replaced by the whizzes and whirs emitted by any number of electronic devices kids today seem to prefer.

In most cases today that signals an end to any conversation that might be taking place.

The old toys didn’t do that, didn’t take up all the fun of imagination by providing all the sights and sounds toys have today.

Most of the fun was in making up the reality that the toys encouraged.

Back then the toys became part of the family experience and the play they became part of became part of the family experience because it all happened in the same place at the same time.

That’s why today those who collect antique toys say there’s just something special about them and it goes far beyond just remembering having those toys when they were kids and playing with them.


Old toys stir memories of Christmases past. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)
Old toys stir memories of Christmases past. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)
Old toys stir memories of Christmases past. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)
Old toys stir memories of Christmases past. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)