Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Art of Play: A Mechanical Toy Elephant, 1975

The Victoria & Albert Museum
Museum of Childhood

Here’s a toy that I could have played with—and would have. Made in 1975, this mechanical toy is lithographed tinplate upon a green plastic platform mounted on two black plastic wheels at the back and one tinplate wheel at the front. It depicts, naturally, an elephant riding a cycle while balancing a ball on its trunk—as they do.

When pulled along by the green plastic cord, the back wheels turn. These wheels are attached to cogs which turn the post for the ball while one of the cogs strikes a small paper-covered interior box, making the noise of the “motor.” As the ball is spinning, the attached tassels flare out.

The manufacturer of the toy is unknown and the piece is not marked. It was acquired in Peking in the mid-1970s and was probably made expressly for the Chinese market. This is part of a large collection of Chinese-made toys from this era which is housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Museum of Childhood.

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