Time has been — but that was in the days when a thousand a year was an ample income — when children were thought to be provided for with a jointed doll or two, a tiny set of pine chairs and sofa, painted red and chintz-covered, and wooden teacups and saucers that might be contained in a good-sized pill-box. But let any house with any pretension to style be examined the present holiday season, and behold the varied accumulations of toys, at an expense that would have provided a year's lights, if not fuel, in the days of our grandmothers — the dolls' houses — furnished with damask, and brocatelle, and Sheffield plate, dolls with embroidered linen and ermine sets, rocking-horses costing scarcely less than a Shetland pony, and, as in one case coming to our knowledge, a doll's tête-á-tête set in gold, tray and all.
Since fathers and mothers do lavish so much upon the indulged little ones of the present day, the center-table circle may have their invariable question, "What shall we give the children this year, my love?" in part replied to by the very sensible suggestions which we find in a late number of the Horticulturist on the subject of outdoor playhouses:
"The best plaything for a child is not a splendid and complex rattle-trap, but some simple and rough, thing which may be applied to various uses and purposes, and aid to stimulate invention and contrivance. The best of all such things for girls is a house.
"My daughter, at six or eight years of age, took possession of a tiny shed originally made to shelter a bee-hive. Sundry articles of furniture, of the most impromptu style, some of them requiring a good deal of imagination to supply their deficiencies of construction, were added by degrees — a board for a table, a box set on end for a cupboard, some blocks for chairs, a scrap of old carpeting, a broom with a broken handle, half a dozen cracked teacups, etc. By and by, the open side was boarded up, a hole being left for a window, and another for a door, which was a board hung up on two bits of leather. The pleasure derived from occupying this cabin was so great and enduring that, when next carpenters were busy about repairs of our own house, I had a little one built on purpose for our rising generation, the success of which has been so great that I here describe it as a hint for other parents, and for the benefit of little people in general."
"Apple-tree Cottage, as it is named from the sheltering boughs which overhang it, stands on a cross-walk in the garden. It is built of pine-boards, without any timber frame, eight by ten on the ground, and six feet high at the eaves, neither ceiled nor plastered, but open within to its roof of planed boards. It has, on each side, two windows, each a four light sash of seven by nine glass, hung on hinges for convenient ventilation, and a real batten door, five feet high, with a knob-catch, and genuine lock and key to secure the property or privacy of its owner."
LIST OF 1859 TOYS
Set of red pine chairs
Wooden teacups and saucers
Doll's embroidered linen
Doll's ermine sets
Doll's gold tête-á-tête
"This was the contribution of pater familias to his daughter's amusement; and it was at once occupied with the intensest satisfaction. Little by little, as in the economical and thrifty progress of older housekeepers, articles of furniture were added. First, there came a present of a real tea-table, with leaves to let down, suited to the dimensions of the apartment, and three chairs large enough for small people. The next acquirement was a set of small teacups and saucers. A tin teapot, a set of knives and forks followed from one quarter, a small broom and dustpan from another. Some window curtains were put up by the united exertions of the proprietress and her friends; and at last grandfather completed the whole thing by sending an "old-maid cooking-stove," a little affair but fifteen inches square, but perfectly capable of baking, and frying, and boiling, and competent to make the apartment as hot and happy as need be."
"In this small edifice, there has probably been more genuine enjoyment than in most palaces; and I doubt not that the young princesses at Windsor would find it a happy exchange for the stately halls in which they, poor little things, are doomed to dwell. Not only is tea drawn, and currant-jelly made, and biscuits baked, and fish fried for hospitable entertainment within its wooden walls, but even the pains of ordinary housekeeping are here converted into pleasures. Mopping and sweeping, dusting and window washing are enjoyed exceedingly; and half a dozen times a year there is a delightful general house cleaning, which recalls to mind Hopkinson's famous description of that annual epidemic, and realizes his recommendation that a small, separate building should be provided near every homestead, where its subjects can spend the force of their excitement without disturbing the peace of the household itself."