Toys From Wheeling Childhood

Oglebay Institute’s Mansion Museum is debuting a new exhibit that celebrates the spirit of childhood by exploring the history and fun of old-fashioned toys.

“Toys From Wheeling Childhood” is a family-friendly exhibit that examines the playthings that have entertained generations past through an interesting display of toys from the Victorian time period, 1870s, to the Baby Boomer time period of the 1950s and 1960s. Special guest curator Tim Luke, an expert collector, appraiser and auctioneer who has been an energetic presence in the toy world over the past two decades, hand-picked each item for the exhibit from the Mansion Museum’s vast collection of classic toys.

“I discovered a treasure trove of wonderful playthings in storage and decided to utilize these pieces and share them with the public in an exhibition. These items needed the spotlight of an exhibition to showcase the merits and contributions of the many designers and manufacturers of playthings throughout the ages,” Luke said.

The more than 100 objects in the exhibit are a “miniature reflection of society throughout the ages,” Luke explained. Some are metal. Some are plastic. Some were mass manufactured. Some are handcrafted labors of love. They have at least one thing in common: they inspire children and children-at- heart to play.

“Playthings date back to dawn of mankind. We are wired in our DNA with an appreciation for playthings,” he said. “Even today as adults, look at the electronic playthings. Cell phones, tablet computers and all the electronic gaming devices turn grown men into 9-year-olds again. That is the power of the plaything. Toys stimulate the use of your imagination and take you to faraway places without leaving your home.”

“Toys from Wheeling Childhood” is interpreted through four main categories: 20th-century girls’ toys, 20th-century boys’ toys, Victorian toys and toy materials.

Clear gender distinctions emerged in toy advertising and packaging in the 20th century,

Luke explained. Toys such as trucks, trains and planes offered career guidance to young boys. The world of home economics was the focus of girls’ toys.

“From cooking or grocery shopping to weddings and ‘dream houses,’ these toys instilled a sense of nurturing and duty reflected in the home,” he said.

Luke chose to incorporate information on toy manufacturing materials into the exhibit because these materials not only help date the time period of production but also showcase the manufacturing advancements made through time.

“From the cast iron of the Industrial Revolution to the use of molded rubber in the 1930s and then to plastics and die-cast metal in the 1950s, all of these materials have played an important role in the evolution of playthings in modern times.”

As for the exhibit space, Luke said, “I wanted to break all the rules with this exhibit and utilize the entire space like it was my own personal playhouse.”

Visitors will enjoy 8-foot reproductions of World War I-era paper airplanes suspended from the ceiling, life-size paper dolls, a larger-than-life game board on the floor taken from a 1920s automotive dice game and a chalkboard wall where guests can share their favorite toy stories and draw pictures of their favorite toys.

“How often do you get to draw on the walls in a museum?” he said.

Visitors will also benefit from Luke’s expertise as an appraiser and auctioneer. The exhibit includes information on “Tim’s Seven Keys to Collecting” as well as examples of recent auction items and prices paid for playthings on the antiques and collectibles market.

Oglebay Institute museums director Christin Byrum sees the exhibit as a springboard to conversations among grandparents, parents and children. “Whether it’s a doll, car, puzzle or game, everyone fondly remembers playing with childhood toys,” she said.

Luke agreed, “Toys generate sentimental attraction because they represent our earliest and most cherished memories. Those things we love to talk about. My goal with this exhibit is to get people talking about playthings. They will be awed, inspired, moved, entertained and learn something about the magic and value of playthings.”

Byrum said she is thrilled to have Luke serving as guest curator for this exhibit. “From his early days at Christie’s auction house where he became vice president and head of the department of collectibles to his life today as a widely traveled auctioneer, appraiser and author, Tim has infused the world of antiques toy with enthusiasm and personality,” she commented.

Luke was the featured appraiser on HGTV’s show, “Cash in the Attic,” and has participated as an appraiser on public television’s “Antiques Roadshow.”

He is currently co-owner of TreasureQuest Appraisal Group Inc., has written two books and is a featured writer for several publications including Antiques Roadshow Insider, AntiqueWeek and Antique Toy World. As a key participant in the world of toy collecting, he has witnessed numerous significant discoveries and presided over record-breaking sales.

“Toys from Wheeling Childhood” is sponsored by National Road Utility Supply Inc. with partial funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council. It is on display in the Sauder Gallery in the Mansion Museum.

The exhibit opens with a special Oglebay Institute members-only preview at 5 p.m. Friday, June 22. It opens to the public Saturday, June 23, with special programming conducted by Luke, including a gallery talk, exhibit tour, and an adult-child toy show and tell. From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., guests may take an exclusive tour of the exhibit while discovering fun facts about the toys on display, their makers and the roles they played in the lives of children.

From 1-2 p.m., guests can re-discover their inner child by bringing stories, questions and their favorite vintage toys for a special presentation moderated by Luke. All ages may participate.

The charge for Saturday events include general admission, gallery talk and tour, and show and tell. Children, age 12 and younger, are admitted free and must be accompanied by an adult.

An optional box lunch is available for purchae at 12:30 p.m.

The exhibit is on display through Sunday, Oct. 21, and is free to Oglebay Institute members and included with the regular museum admission price for non-members.

For more information or to make reservations for the special programming Saturday, June 23, call 304-242-7272.