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Toys from 150 Years Ago

Scouring toy catalogs and selecting their favorites is a holiday tradition for some children. We took a look in our collections to see what children might have selected in 1868. As you might expect, toys from 1868 are quite different from 21st Century toys. This trade catalog gives us a glimpse into playtime for children in 1868. Even though at first glance these toys appear rather simple compared to those of today, they still have some basic similarities.

The catalog is entitled Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys (1868) by Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works. It focuses mostly on children’s carriages, but there are a few pages showing toys at the very end.

child's carriage
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, front cover, child’s carriage.
title page and opposite page showing Vermont Novelty Works buildings
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, title page and opposite page showing Vermont Novelty Works buildings.

 

Just as a child in the 21st Century might push a doll in a toy stroller, children in 1868 did the same thing with a slightly different looking toy. Illustrated below are 1868 versions of doll carriages. The toy perambulator shown below had a handle at the back for the child to push it. It came carpeted and painted in a dark color. The page below that one shows the Large Toy Gig and the Toy Gig for Dolls which were also toy carriages, but they both had a handle at the front instead of the back.

toy express wagon and toy perambulator
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, page 35, wood rolling hoops, toy express wagon, and toy perambulator.
toy doll carriages, toy cart, toy kitchen table, and doll's rocking chair
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, pages 36-37, toy doll carriages, toy carts, toy kitchen tables, and doll’s rocking chair.

 

Another toy with some similarities to its modern counterpart is the toy bedstead shown below on the left. This 1868 version of a doll’s bed came in two sizes to fit different size dolls. The largest bed was 2 feet long by 14 inches wide while the smaller one was 18 inches long by 1 foot wide.

toy bedstead, toy stand, and log cabin play house
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, pages 38-39, toy bedstead, toy stand, and log cabin play house.

 

Even though toy building pieces might appear slightly different at different times in history, children still use their imagination to build. The Log Cabin Play House is shown in the illustration on the above right. This toy came complete with a door, windows, chimney, and roof. The wooden building pieces were painted and varnished red. The child could build, take apart, and build yet again. It was available in three sizes, which were 8 inches square, 12 inches square, or 18 inches square.

Other toys from this 1868 catalog include wood rolling hoops, toy wagons, sleds, and red, white, and blue toy fence rails. Children could build the farm fences they might have seen, just as the child in the below illustration is doing.

toy fence rails and boys' sleds
Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works, Springfield, VT. Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys, 1868, page 40, toy fence rails and boys’ sleds.

 

Ninth Annual Illustrated Price List for 1868, of Children’s Carriages, Sleds and Toys (1868) by Ellis, Britton & Eaton, Vermont Novelty Works is located in the Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library.

 

 

 

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