Architecture toys

Architectural Toys

Architectural toys have been treasured since the days of the Pharaohs and were left in their tombs for the afterlife. American and European toys of the 19th Century were made in wood and cast stone, anticipating years of rough play by legions of youthful architects.

The very boxes of these antique sets are works of art in themselves and the fact that they're still intact after more than a century speaks to the care they received while they were in use.

Froebel Blocks that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest dreams; Puzzle pictures of exhibition halls from the Philadelphia Centennial; and Art Nouveau doors and gates at Lillipution scale.

Mid-Twentieth Century sets of "Tinkertoys," "Lincoln Logs" and "American Skyline" will bring back memories of our own childhoods and point to the cheapening of today's versions for children who may never know the difference.

"Architectural Toys" will open Friday, December 5th and close Saturday, December 27, 2008.

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Notes on the Exhibition:

Architectural Toys

December 5 - December 27, 2008

I've owned this small collection of antique toys for at least a decade. Knowing that my tenth anniversary was coming up on December 1st, this seemed like the perfect time to set them up for Christmas. Also knowing that ArchiTech has lasted for a decade because of fortuitous PR, I thought the newspapers and magazines would latch onto the press release and pictures for the holidays.

I wasn't mistaken. Washington D.C.s "Architect Magazine" called about doing a big article on the show and wanted more info and pictures. Last year Hannah McCann there did a story on George Wetzel and the gift of his enormous toy collection to the National Building Museum. It was natural that ArchiTech's exhibition and sale fit the bill. But this wouldn't do at all. At most, I would display only fifteen or twenty sets and, though some would be museum quality, this collection might seem puny in comparison if played up in the magazine.


told her as much and suggested they put one image in a sidebar blurb so as not to look like the ArchiTech show wasn't up to their earlier standards. She understood.

But there was another little problem. My field of expertise is architectural drawings, not toys. If I got the captions or descriptions wrong on the website or price list, there was bound to be an angry chat-room or toy specialist somewhere pointing out the wrong screw or detached label on an image. The last thing I wanted was my legitimacy as a historian trashed by irate "toy nerds". I say that with love.

So. I went to school reading as many architectural toy sites as I could find. Golly. They're legion. Not nearly as many architectural drawing sites (mine comes to mind). But I realized just how rare some of my older toy sets really were. Mostly, the earlier ones were "Sunday Toys," played with on special occasions. That would explain the pristine condition of my wood and glass Art Nouveau set, "Architecture Universelle" and the pressed stone "Richter's Anchor Blocks."

Also, the only way to date the spectacular "Erector Set Ferris Wheel," was a slight paint and shape difference to the motor. Collectors really obsess about those things.

So, confidant that the details were correct, I actually enjoyed setting things up in the gallery. The Carbide and Carbon Building blueprints would remain on the wall from the last show and the toys would occupy the center of the room. Three hours tops. It was the easiest set-up in my ten years here.

Happy Birthday to me.

P.S. Early January.

Ahem. While putting my toys away after the show and rummaging in the storage vault for props for the new one, I discovered a heavy box on a hidden shelf. Inside were fifteen or twenty carefully wrapped antique toy block sets and original 1920s "Lincoln Logs!" Pristine sets of "Richter Anchor Blocks" were packed with 19th Century French made wooden sets.

Ouch. Maybe next year.

Please click here to read the press review from New City.

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