History Museum brings toys back to life

  • 2010-01-13
  • By TBT staff

CHILDREN'S TREASURES: Toys and toy stories are waiting for both children and adults to come and enjoy.

RIGA - When the Christmas fever is over, many people feel some kind of emptiness in their souls and are just desperate to prolong the Christmas magic at least for a little bit longer. This is because, for many adults, Christmas time takes them back to their childhood; but for children Christmas is all about toys, games and fun.

Following its ‘neighbor,’ the Tartu Toy Museum, the Latvian National History Museum (LNHM) on Jan. 6 opened the new exhibition “Toy Secrets in the Castle,” which is meant for both children and adults and gives a perfect chance to feel the childhood spirit. While parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts can remember their childhood, and admire dolls, bears and the cars of their youth, children can play “Ricu-racu” (a board game), walk through the labyrinth, live the stories of well-known characters from children’s books, such as “Pippi Longstocking and Karlsson-on-the-Roof” by Astrid Lindgren, “Little Devils” by Rudolfs Blaumanis or “Tom Thumb” by Anna Brigadere and various princesses from different fairytales.

But let’s first take a brief insight into the history of toys in Latvia. Up to the 1930s, the most beautiful and elegant toys in Latvia were brought in from abroad or custom-made. Children treated their toys with care, fixed them if broken. Several generations could use the same toys over and over again.

The most famous toy factories in the world were The Lehmann Company, Kraus-Fandor and Margarete Steiff GmbH. Their toys have historical value nowadays and some of them are presented at this exhibition. In 1938, there were 17 toy factories in Latvia. They were making toys from wood and cloth. Due to World War II, toy manufacturing was suspended in many countries, including Latvia. Therefore children played mostly with self-made toys: self-made rag dolls or wooden figures. Toys were expensive and rare in the post-war period as well.

In the ’50s, the USSR picked up the production of celluloid toys, which were very popular before the war. Factories were making rubber dolls, which precisely reflected the most characteristic children’s hairstyles and clothes of that time. Painted papier-mache horses with wheels were also very popular.
The factory “Straume” produced mechanical toys – a doctor and a cook – which appeared on store shelves all around Latvia in the ’60s. Clockwork toys – birds and animals – were among the most popular. Back then a new theme also emerged in the toy world – outer space.

In the early ’70s, animated cartoons had a major influence on the production of toys. Famous Soviet cartoon heroes – crocodile Gena, Cheburashka, Karlsson and Buratino – were reproduced in toys and had great success among children of different ages.

However, shops also offered quite expensive toys which were working on batteries – dogs carrying suitcases, dolls pushing baby carriages and many more – but these were mostly for girls.
The most beloved toys among boys were weapons and military equipment. It was always fun to see when a crowd of ten boys, fully equipped with weapons and military stuff, were running around ‘playing war.’
In the ’80s, the factory “Dobele” started to produce rubber toys which became very popular and were demanded all over the USSR.

At the exhibition it is also possible to see ‘witnesses’ of ancient times – dice, which were popular during the Middle Ages, reeds and many other things that children played with back then and have come to the museum’s collection as archeological finds.
“Every one of our visitors can donate a doll or a toy car. All these gifts will be placed in a separate showcase which will become a part of the exhibition, but later a part of the museum’s collection,” says Inese Bule, the museum’s history department specialist. “The museum beforehand thanks everybody who will enrich it with the new treasures, which will warm up some child’s heart.”

The exhibition will run through May 30.