Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tea Sets, Toyland & Trivia!

It's been on my bookshelf for several years now, but I just got around to actually reading "Under the Tree: The Toys and Treats That Made Christmas Special, 1930-1970," a 2007 book by Susan Waggoner. You don't *have* to be a fellow Baby Boomer to enjoy looking at all the fun photos and reading the fascinating history and trivia about toys, but it sure helps!

I was not a bit surprised to see so much about tea sets in the book. It said that one of the Shirley Temple doll's accessories was a Shirley Temple tea set, and this photo shows that the famous Chatty Cathy doll is seated at the table with a teacup and saucer. I am told I had a Chatty Cathy doll as a child, but I must say I don't remember her. I do, however, remember getting quite a few of the fancy for-display-only dolls the book mentions as well as the pocket-sized Liddle Kiddles it shows. (I also remember Dancerina, the dancing ballerina doll which came out in 1968. You held down the crown on her head to make her dance, and I loved that! I also remember the Crissy and Velvet dolls, whose belly buttons you pushed to make their hair grow. Interesting concept, that.)

"Under the Tree" also talks about the popularity of homemaking toys, and I remember having a number of kid-sized furniture pieces. In fact, I felt a little guilty reading this book as I realized what an indulged child I was! The ads for such pieces are so fun to read today, like this little steel hutch, made to look like wood, that came complete with teapot and dishes ($6 for all in 1954).

And if I could time travel, I know I would go back and buy mint versions of all the tea sets, the ones for adults *and* the ones for children. This plastic tea set from 1944 even came with little Scottie dog napkins, and at $1.59 I'll bet that was a good buy even then. I could go on and on about the fun facts in this book, but here are a few of the highlights I found:

• A little boy named Joshua Lionel Cowen, age 7, made his own miniature train out of wood and gave it a steam engine, and 13 years later he made one with a real working fan, creating an electric train that ran on a brass track. A store in New York used the set in its display window, causing customers to clamor for sets of their own, and the former "little boy" used his middle name, Lionel, to form his own train company. (There's loads of fun stuff on trains if you're a train aficionado, or married to one!)

• What really made the Madame Alexander doll company a household name was the creation of the Dionne Quintuplet dolls after the birth of the quints in 1934. And "Madame" Alexander's real name was Bertha. "Mommy, may I please have a Bertha Alexander doll for Christmas?" Just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

• In the early 1900s, a woman named Elizabeth Magie created the Landlord Game, which "was supposed to demonstrate the ills caused by unequal distribution of wealth." To her dismay, the players not only didn't learn to have compassion for poor people, but instead they loved winning big piles of money and enjoyed watching the other players fall into bankruptcy. No one wanted to manufacture the game — until 30 years later, the game came out with a new name, Monopoly, and became a hit toy during the Depression. Who knew!

Finally, I thought I'd share one more detail from the book, which I first noticed because of the great variety of tea sets at the bottom, but then I zeroed in on the Little Hostess buffet at top left and went in search of an old family photo.

Yes, I apparently got that Little Hostess buffet myself for my second Christmas in 1965 (the same year my parents decided for some reason to dress me in a striped dunce hat), and I would not be surprised if I got a tea set to go with it as well. "Under the Tree" was quite a fun trip down memory lane, and some of you might enjoy reading it as well. If you have a memory of a favorite toy, I'd love to hear about it!


  1. What fun! I do remember some of those toys, I'm sure I'd find more in the book. Nice memories! Have a wonderful Christmas Eve. I'm about to put the kettle on and start the day with some holiday tea.

  2. What a fun book to go through. As a baby boomer older than you I recognized a few things but I'm sure Canada didn't have near the variety available in the US.
    When I think back, my favourite toy was a doll that came in a red velvet coat trimmed in white fur and a matching muff. I named her Ruth and have no idea what happened to her.
    I know I did have a miniature tea set in Blue Willow and I still have the platter which I use for a soap dish.
    Ah, childhood memories...
    Merry Christmas Angela.

  3. Oh my word did I ever enjoy this post! Crissy doll? YEP. I still have my Tressie Barbie-sized doll whose name is Connie. LOL.

    Little Kiddles - tho weren't they spelled funny like Liddle Kiddles? - and the itty bitty ones that one could wear as jewelery, as a brootch and necklace, still have mine. Remember another version of the Liddle KiddlesCologne Kids? I still hae all these - my Violet Cologne Kid still kinda smells Violet-ey. Julie D gave it to me for my birthday. Funny I can't remember what I wore yesterday but I can remember 30 y ears ago like it just happened. Ugh.

    I was a tad y oung young for Chatty Cathy but my friend Jami's sister had one. I was called that more than once over the years though, does that count?

    I had a dollhouse plastic version of the buffet - but there were 5 kids in our family so no room for neat dreamy playhouses and real kid sized furniture. I had a good friend within walking distance across the park who was an only rich of extremely wealthy older parents, her father owned the largest commercial contracting companies in our county....and he built her a big seperate-from-the-house PLAYHOUSE all pink and cute with a real sink and electricity and beds and a tea table and every lovely thing a girl could ever dream to play in. I think of that all the time, what an awesome place that was to sleep over, loved its magic.

    I love going to ebay and looking up toys from the 60s, my toys - brings back such memories. In fact my little sister and I played a game called CAREERS (no wonder we did the strong gal career thing in real life, haha.) But we played it every time it rained, I swear - it was stained and loved and well worn. We were talking about it sometime earlier this year, laughing about the memories of it b/c she would never EVER play Barbies with me but she (Tom-boy) would play Careers (ironically ended up having 4 children) so it's a surprise gift - found one a while ago and bought it to give to her for Christmas. I think her 3 girls will think it is fun and hilarious. I didn't really open it up and look, just enough to make sure all the pieces and cards were there - thought sis and I could do together.

    Anyway, this is embarrassingly long, sorry, had a lot to share. Loved this post.


  4. I was too old for a Chatty Cathy, but I had a Betsy Wetsy!

  5. Great book and a fun read. I still have my dolls including the first one that is life sized and now has one arm -- thanks to a brother who tore one of her arms off! I still love this doll and at age 66 have carried all my dolls around my whole life. I don't always display them. I just cannot part with them. Angela, I enjoy your blog so much and appreciate you. Merry Christmas!

  6. What a fun post, and I loved seeing your second Christmas photo. So cute! Like Linda J., I had a Betsy Wetsy. I don't know what happened to her, but I can still visualize her. I had a china tea set that I vividly remember too, but it broke into pieces when I sat it on my wooden ironing board that collapsed. :-(

  7. I don't have many memories of favorite toys, but do remember a favorite panda bear that I threw in the washer because it was dirty and my mother threw it away because it was water logged. Oh how I cried. I know I have several dolls, as I still have them.

  8. What a great photo, Angela - you look adorable! I remember one of my favorite toys was a 'Chatty Cathy' doll - very fun. Merry Christmas to you & yours, Joanie


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