Circus Toys Folk Art
Circus toys like all other toys reflect the times in which they are made. Circus toys -a very special niche of American folk art – are no exception.
Made primarily of wood, cast iron and tinplate with some mechanical moving parts, they represent a special time in American history. A time before televisions, radios (long before cell phones and video games).
Think rural America, a century ago, traveling shows and circus tents that captured the attention and imaginations of children and adults alike from miles around.
Those same traveling troupe shows were the basis of some popular circus toys treasured today by both collectors and historians.
For example the Schoenhut’s Humpty Dumpty circus collection, created in 1903 by Albert Schoenhut, were intended to replicate in doll form some of the more common circus character, such as ring masters, lion tamers, elephants, bears, and band members. This particular collection was also based upon a 19th century play written and performed by George Washington Lafayette Fox.
It was not uncommon for child photographs and portraits of the time to feature one or two favorite circus toys.
Circus toys are included in the ongoing Toys and Childhood exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
This American History Museum exhibit showcases a range of toys dating from the 1870s to the 1950’s. The display includes a variety of vehicles, such as boats and horse-drawn wagons, to American circus clowns and miniature Ferris wheels.
Considered old-fashioned by today’s digital standards, these simple, made to last toys still have the ability to spark one’s imagination.
To learn more about the Toys and Childhood exhibit, click here.