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Classic Children's Toys

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The nostalgia trip begins... Remember the toys you played with, the classic toys that are a cherished part of everyone's memories of childhood? Some are still being manufactured; some have disappeared; and some have degenerated into shoddy plastic shadows of their former selves, made in garish colours - but the ones we remember best will never lose their shine.

Building Blocks

The most basic of toys, building blocks are usually made of wood painted in primary colours. They come in rectangular, square, cylindrical, triangular shapes and arches. Their main purpose is for building such things as castles and skyscrapers that can then be knocked over. Elder siblings are usually the ones who take on the job of knocking over whatever you build, often before the structure has been completed. This sometimes results in the secondary use of the block: as a projectile weapon. These blocks are still being manufactured. They are just the same as they were 50 years ago. They cannot be improved upon as a toy, with the exception of empty cardboard boxes and pots and pans.

Alphabet Blocks

These blocks are also wooden. They are cubes. They have the letters of the alphabet carved into the sides, alternating with various patterns. The raised letters are painted in primary colors. Some have little teeth carved into the tops and bottoms, so that they can be interlocked. You can build a higher tower with these, because of the interlocking parts.


A close relative to an ancient game formerly played with stones. You bounce a small ball and, while it is in the air, you pick up a certain number of markers or 'jacks', catching the ball before it makes a second bounce. There are ten jacks in the set. The pieces are six-pointed, so that they can be scooped up easily. The old-fashioned jacks were made from some kind of heavy metal. Modern types are coloured, and made of a lighter alloy or plastic. The lighter ones are much harder to scoop up.

Two things about jacks: if you play on a rough surface, like cement, you will end up with bloody knuckles; and if they are not gathered up after the game, they are extremely painful to step on. More pain may be experienced by the owner of the jacks, if they happen to be stepped on by a parent.

Back in the days when there were 'boy toys' and 'girl toys', jacks were considered to be girl toys.


Marbles are spheres sold in bags. They come in various sizes, colours, and patterns. The big ones are the shooters; the small ones are the shot at. Some marbles are quite beautiful. In the olden days, boys were proud of their collections. Some still are.

First, you find the dirtiest, dustiest place you can1, and you all sit in a big circle. In the centre, you draw a small circle - about 18 inches in diameter - with a sharp stick. Then you put all your small marbles2 in the centre of the circle. Then, using your favourite shooter, you try to knock as many marbles out of the ring as you can. If you are successful, you win the marbles that you have displaced, and get to pick up your shooter. If you don't succeed, it can be quite upsetting, because chances are you've just traded your favourite shooter to one of your co-players.

Bubble Stuff

Bubble stuff has no technical name... at least, not one that is widely known. It is only known as 'bubble stuff'. It consists of a small bottle of soapy liquid and a wire or plastic 'wand'. The ring on the end of the wand is dipped into the bottle of liquid, and a film stretches across it when it is withdrawn. When you blow gently, bubbles are formed and rise into the air. You can also wave the wand in the air, and if you have the right touch, bubbles will cascade from it. Modern improvements have led to all kinds of new wands of various shapes and sizes... but the bubbles still come out round.

Bubble stuff is a wondrous thing that will delight all, from the smallest baby to the eldest lady. If you blow too many bubbles you will get dizzy... and be careful not to get any in your eyes.


The original colourforms consisted of a set of gummed paper stickers of various geometric shapes in the ever popular primary colours. They could be licked and then stuck to heavy black paper, also supplied with the pack. The patterns shown in the illustrations were wondrous, but they usually didn't turn out that well. They either got stuck on crooked, or the most important shape ran out before you finished.

The improved version is made from heavy plastic film cut in the shape of cartoon characters and such. The plastic sticks to a shiny cardboard sheet, thanks to static electricity. You can move the cutouts around on the sheet and be creative - or degenerative - as the mood strikes you. The improved version actually is improved. The original was pretty primitive by comparison. The plastic revolution was needed for this toy to mature into the great plaything it is today. It is a great, inexpensive, selection to be taken as a gift to children's birthday parties.

Doll's Houses

In the olden days, doll's houses were made from wood, or at least heavypressboard, not from plastic. Sometimes they were built by a parent or grandparent of the owner. They did not come with their own residents. They did not require the further purchase of a sportscar, swimming pool, or stereo system.

The furniture was also cleverly made of wood, with little doors that opened on some of the pieces. If you were really fortunate, you had a set of painted plaster food, and tiny wood or metal dishes. A turkey, fruit, and bowls of 'mystery food' may have been a part of part of the set.

Fuzzy Felts

Spears Toys from the UK made Fuzzy Felts. Pre-cut bits of felt in various geometric shapes were stuck onto a 'fuzzy' board to make your own tableaux. Later, the company got more adventurous and made themed sets, such as jungles with palm trees, lions and tigers; and a farmyard set, which contained a felt tractor and some animals. It was generally regarded as a girls' toy by parents of the '60s who tended towards stereotyping.

Erector Sets/Meccano

Erector Sets were the serious child architect's version of tinkertoys. They contained metal girders, nuts, bolts, belts and pulleys... and even an electric motor to run the ferris wheel model!

Meccano was made in Liverpool by Frank Hornby, who also made clockwork, and later electric, model trains. Meccano consisted of perforated metal parts, which you could bolt together along with gear wheels, pulleys, and cranks, to make engineering models. There can't be a British man over 40 who didn't assemble a crane out of Meccano... and then immediately wonder what to do with it.

See also the Guide entry on yo-yos.

1Good dirt is the best playing field, of course.2Actually just the ones you don't mind trading

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