Victorian London - Childhood - Toys - Toy Shops

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Punch, December 7, 1878

    TOYLAND.—As sure as ever Christmas draws near, the bazaars and shops of London put on a festive appearance. Toys innumerable, and various in shapes, sizes, and patterns, are thrust forward, so that kind-hearted uncles and aunts and indulgent grannies, as well as thoughtful fathers and loving mothers, may see what can be done to give pleasure to the little ones.
    What a bewilderment of pretty things, to be sure! Here are cups and saucers and tea-pots, that little girls may serve out tiny cups of tea to thirsty companions, or to the family of dolls in the nursery. And what a lot of dolls!
    Shelves are piled up with boxes, and in all of them, wrapped up in tissue-paper, are dolls. Baby dolls, and dolls dressed as brides; some of wax, china, or rag. Here are cradles in which dolly may sleep, or in which she shall be put when she is sent to bed without her supper when she has been naughty; and peram­bulators, that her little mistress may give her a ride in the park when she has been good. Skipping-ropes, battledores, tennis rackets, and hoops by the dozen, for the girls. And what for the boys ? Lanterns with green and red lights for boys who go stamping and puffing about the house, to be used as signal lights; and engines, that they may shut off steam and put the break on as they play at trains. Rocking-horses, that they may go riding as gentlemen, with a gallop, gallop, gallop; or, as farmers, go to market with a trot, trot, trot; or, as huntsmen, over imaginary fields and hedges after invisible foxes, they may go a-hunting and a-hohoaing, ‘Tally Ho!’ Trumpets and drums, that they may play soldiers; puzzles, to keep them quiet when mother’s head aches; and bats and balls, bows and arrows, for outdoor play. Also, elephants, Noah’s arks, Punch and Judy, and windmills, for the amusement of the very little ones.
    Such a host of toys are crowded into these shops, that I expect those who come to buy are as puzzled as can be to know what to take home for the child­ren. Now, if you had been a little bird, able to see and know all about uncle, you might have watched him at odd moments for some days past, conning over a list of his nephews and nieces, and the toys which he thinks will give them greatest pleasure, and perhaps wondering if he has got all their names down. But now, when he comes to buy, he is face to face with such a fine display of toys that lie is fairly at his wit’s end to know what really to buy. Toys have improved so much since he was a boy; and he finds so many that he did not expect to see, that his carefully prepared list becomes of no use, and he goes diving here, there, and everywhere amongst the toys for what he can find. His face is a very picture of pleasure as he picks a doll here, some Chinese lanterns there; a bicycle-horse here, a drum there; a fully rigged ship for one of his nephews, who, may be, wants to go off to sea one of these days; and a box containing a regiment of bright-coated soldiers; and so on, until at last he goes away with pockets and arms full, leaving the shopkeeper to send on what he can’t carry. Well, uncle can manage very well for the boys, but what can he know about presents for the girls? Dolls are not in his line; but wait till aunt goes, and then we may expect just the doll. It shall have flaxen hair, sparkling blue eyes which shall open or shut just as you please, a charming face, and the very pinkest of pink toes. And then the dress. Of course aunt knows it must be nicely dressed, and I expect she will make it the daintiest of bride’s dresses, with tucks and flounces, lace and ribbons, and a veil that shall reach to her feet, just showing the prettiest of satin shoes. Then I suppose it must have a cream dress for lawn tennis, another dress to receive visitors, and another when its little mistress takes it out walking.

Well, I hope you wi1l each have some good uncle or aunt, as well as father and mother, who will visit Toyland for you, and bring you some toy that will give you pleasure. But as the best way to enjoy a pleasure is to let others share it, so I would like you to remember those who have no kind parents or uncles or aunts. Dr. Stephenson, in his Children’s Home, has many such. Will you try to be the kind uncle or aunt to those children, or to the little ones lying in pain in our hospitals? Yes, did you say? Well, send in your toys. Dr. Stephenson and the nurses at the hospitals can always find children to play with them.

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)