Antique Toys: 1860s Christmas Toys

Antique Toys


For boys there are leaping-horses arranged on a platform in order not to injure the carpets; goats that bleat, and dogs that bark; menageries with all sorts of wild animals; fire-engines with hose that throw the water across a room; livery stables with vehicles, hostlers, and horses; grocery stores and restaurants; pack-mules with well-filled panniers, driven by Swiss muleteers; express-wagons heavily laden with boxes, barrels, and parcels; steamers, and craft of every nation; locomotive and train; canes, riding-whips, etc.—all exact imitations of those used by the grown folks every day before admiring boyish eyes.


Antique Toys


A very expensive present for a little girl is a miniature dinner-set of French china, ornamented with a painted wreath. In the same case with the china are cut-glass goblets, silver-ware, cutlery, bronze candelabras, and table linen—every thing, indeed, that the most fastidious little folks could desire for a bountifully spread table—all carefully packed away in an oaken chest.

Another case contains a tiny and complete toilette set, brushes, combs, hand-glass, pomade-jar, etc. Still another is a drawing-room with rosewood and brocatelle furniture; again, there is a dining-room, a kitchen, an old-fashioned cupboard well supplied with crockery, and doll equipages of every kind, carriages, coupes, and sleighs.

Antique ToysA useful present, called the Little Embroiderer, is a work-box furnished with worsteds, patterns, needles, and simple directions for using them. A color-box is supplied with paints, pallet, and brushes. The Moss Rose Surprise-box is a bunch of roses and buds. As you stoop to smell the perfume a concealed spring opens the largest rose with a loud noise and a doll fairy flies at your face.



There are clowns performing most absurd antics when turned by a crank, nodding and dancing; orators gesticulating and shaking their heads in the wisest manner; caricatures of Napoleon and Bismarck consulting the thermometer of Europe; apes blacking boots; Punch and Judy wrangling as usual; a huge Russian swallowing a Cossack; grotesque figures holding a carnival on wheels—when drawn along they move about in a ludicrous dance; and hosts of other absurdities that make one laugh at the first glance.



There is an immense variety of puzzles and games. There are gipsy oracles and Yankee fortune tellers; the games of squails and parlor lotto; Chinese billiards and croquet for the floor and for the table. There are ruined castles and the Coliseum all to be rebuilt of blocks of wood; Swiss chalets, with peasants' goats and Alpine scenery; the Siege of the Mountain, Zouaves at bivouac, and village school-houses, built of alphabet blocks, with illuminated letters and engravings; scenes in Normandy, fox-hunts, and most terrible shipwrecks. There is a metamorphoscope exhibiting a hundred different figures, groups of children, landscapes, battles, villages, processions, etc. An improved kaleidoscope produces, as if by magic, the most beautiful pictures from common garden-flowers.


Antique ToysDOLLS: 

A handsome doll, possessed of a stately and dignified mien, is dressed in the style of a French Marquise of the ancient régime. A trained skirt of cherry-colored satin opens in front and discloses a white silk petticoat, ruffled with blond lace. The waist is made surplice with a blond chemisette. Sleeves tight to the elbow, where they form a ruffle lined with blond fluted lace. Filigree necklace and bracelets. Cherry satin high-crowned hat with tiny tufts of white ostrich feathers at the side.

Another is a younger lady with a pretty blonde face of wax—arms and limbs ditto—blue eyes of glass, yet not glassy—and golden curls of real hair. When standing—and she preserves her equilibrium admirably—she is quite tall, three feet and a half indeed. In a reclining position her eyes close as if in slumber. Her clothing, made in her native city, Berlin, is exceedingly stylish. A dress of white poplin gored á la princesse is elaborately braided with blue. Her girdle is of blue silk, with reticule attached containing a tiny mouchoir and porte-monnaie. She wears a jaunty little white felt hat and long blue veil, and high Polish boots of bronze, adorned with tassels and gilt buttons.

A happy-faced bride wears a white silk trained dress with lace tunic, blond veil and bandeau of tiny white flowers, gloves of white kid, buttoning up to the elbow, bouquet, lace kerchief, and pearl jewelry.Antique Toys

Another young lady is a miniature copy of a New York belle. She has a bisque head, hazel eyes, rosy cheeks, and sunny brown hair arranged with short curls over the forehead, and large braided chignon. Her dress of blue poplin, of Pyne's best Irish, is made and trimmed in the prevailing style —gored tight in front with a long train. A trained petticoat of crinoline supports her when standing, and displays the graceful sweep of her flowing skirt. Gilt ear-rings and pin.

A saucy little body is jauntily attired in a street suit of Bismarck velveteen—short skirt, redingote, and toquet, such as are seen every fine afternoon on Broadway.

Still another with baby face, light frizzed hair, and night-dress, says papa and mamma when pressed to do so. Lying down she folds her arms and closes her eyes in slumber. One, very small, is put to sleep in a swinging cradle by pulling a cord at the side. On pulling another string she opens her eyes; at a third pull she cries; a fourth jerk and she throws up her arms; one pull more and she sits bolt upright, screaming at the top of her lungs.

 Antique Toys

Besides these there are tanned leather dolls warranted to fall without breaking, and to wash, with soap and water, without fading. There are rubber dolls dressed in crocheted suits, and in Scotch costumes. Again, there are Papal Zouaves, gay hussars, Swiss peasants, and Russians clad in furs; Napoleons with fierce eyes and fiercer mustache, beside meek little little Riding Hoods; angel dolls in cherub array, with a sash about the waist and outspread wings; bootblacks and contrabands; whole families of paper-dolls, with mamma and daughters displaying the latest Paris fashions; rattle-dolls á la Japanese, with little jingling bells every where, and an ivory handle; patriotic misses draped with the flag; and china-dolls provided with three changes of dress. 



The handsomest toy of the season, sold by-the-way at eighty-five dollars, is in a rosewood box about two feet square. The front and top of glass disclose an amphitheatre filled with spectators and gayly dressed figures on the stage, above which is stretched a tight rope. On turning a crank at the side of the box music is heard —very sweet music too, and played with good effect, for the figures on the stage begin to dance in a frenzied manner, but in excellent time, and a tiny Blondin appears on the tight-rope above, wheeling a barrow back and forth, amidst the fluttering of flags and tossing of caps in the audience.

Another toy, handsome enough for a parlor ornament, represents a fairy with her wand and lyre reclining in a grove under a globe of glass. An outer globe is filled with water in which are tiny sold fish, alive and swimming. Keen through the water the nymph of the sea appears to be a great distance away. When a concealed crank is turned she seizes her lyre, assumes an attitude, and almost deludes one into believing that the fairy-like strains of music on the water proceed from her magic fingers instead of the machinery in the box beneath her.

A miniature ball-room is another musical plaything. Gayly dressed couples represent the Fezziwig festival —"people not to be trifled with, who would dance, and had no notion of walking."  When the machinery is wound up the music begins, the fiddlers play in earnest, and away they go; "top couple down the middle and back again, new top couples starting off again as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them."

Small hand-organs for parlor use are sold for fifteen and twenty dollars. They are enclosed in pretty rosewood boxes, and, play four dancing tunes—a waltz, polka, schottish and quadrilles.  A round music-box, scarcely larger than the palm of the hand, is made of tin. It may be thrown about in the roughest manner without injury, and set in operation by a very small child. Turn a screw, and it plays Il Bacio and Somnambula in sweet low tones with perfect accuracy. There are musical sewing machines and spinning-wheels; whistles of every shape and sound; and drums that are played upon by sticks moved by a crank playing a tattoo —far preferable to the monotonous rub-a-dub-dub heard in the nursery when the sticks are guided by hands unused to the art.



Some of the most ingenious toys are of Japanese and Chinese origin. The "All-Right" top-spinning sword is not a novelty; the real Japanese humming-top is newer. When wound up and set in motion half a dozen smaller tops issue from the large one, spinning and humming for several minutes. Two dollars and a half is the price.

The Steam Top and Jig Dancer is made on scientific principles. An alcohol lamp under a saucer of water generates steam. The steam spins the top and makes a merry negro suspended above it dance a jig. Price two dollars. A Chinese plaything represents the steps of a pagoda, on which are athletes on a ladder turning somersaults. The sides of the ladder are tubes in which are balls of mercury that give the proper impetus and turn the figures down each step, never missing one or tumbling over. Others perform wonderful antics while being drawn on a wagon with wheels of watch-springs.

The Automatic Swimming Bird must be placed in a large bath-tub after being wound up by machinery. By means of a screw between the metallic webs the position of the webs and the course is regulated, the duck swimming to the right or left, backward or forward, in the most natural manner.

A Chinese juggler is made to toss plates over his head and catch them again, dancing all the while to music proceeding from a box beneath him. Another leaps through a hoop, and throws balls in the air in the most methodical way. The Zoetrope, or magic wheel, by an optical delusion, produces in a mirror all sorts of amusing scenes.

Hand-grenades that may be used in the parlor send out harmless missiles in every direction. Japanese lightning is an innocent kind of fireworks, the stick, held in the hand, sends out stars of fire through the room. Most curious of all is the Chinese wonder-paper for perfuming a room. Crimp a slip of the paper, set it on a table, and apply fire; instantly green grass an inch high springs up, and a delicious odor is diffused through the apartment.  [From Harper's Bazaar, 1868.   Illustrations from the Wonderful Toy Shop (1852)]

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