Dolls, Bears and Robots


29 June 2013 -  8 September 2013


This child-friendly display offered an entertaining, informative and often nostalgic look at the history of toys and games, from the 19th century to the present day.

Organised in collaboration with our partner museum, Beamish, this show provided a fascinating insight into the ways in which children’s interests, aspirations and preferences were influenced by the objects they played with, especially in days gone by. The contrast between the sexes was clearly defined in the way early toys were marketed; the girls’ focusing on domesticity, with dolls, houses, cookers, prams and ironing boards, while those aimed at boys revealed a very different destiny: lead soldiers, fire engines, and board games with ambitious titles like ‘The Little Accountant’ and ‘The New Game of Stock Exchange’.

However, some toys transcend the gender barrier, none more so than teddy bears. This exhibition had a selection on display of all shapes and sizes, including some that had obviously been well loved. Two heart-warming stories surrounding the development of toy bears were revealed in this section: those of Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt and Margarete Steiff.

But if you prefer sci-fi to cuddly then you could have headed for the toy robots, from ‘Lilliput’ – the very first robot toy, with a wind-up walking mechanism – through to a toy Cyberman, and R2D2 from Star Wars. The robots were complemented by some fine examples of clockwork toys in a neighbouring showcase, highlighting different modes of transport including a locomotive, speedboat and a Victorian lady on roller skates.

The doll display featured examples of all main doll making techniques, from early wooden and wax dolls to the popular bisque, or china headed, dolls of the 19th century, and more modern composite or moulded plastic characters. The care and attention to detail that went into the hand-made outfits worn by many of the dolls was remarkable.

In another showcase well known characters such as Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Bagpuss and Muffin the Mule featured as examples of the impact television has had on toy production.

The exhibition also offered some handling wind-up and spinning toys for visitors of all ages to play with, not forgetting the added incentive of free admission to the Museum for accompanied children under 16.