Last Updated on December 12, 2022 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
by Donna Manz
If every kid wants to spend his life collecting toys, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that one kid may grow up to do so. Ivan Steiger, a filmmaker, children’s author and cartoonist from Prague, did just that.
In 1983 he brought his collection of antique toys into an open-to-the-public museum in “old town” Munich – the Spielzeugmuseum – right at the arch of the original town hall on the Marienplatz. And after having visited the Spielzeugmuseum, I have teddy bear- and doll-envy.
Extraordinary Antique Toys
The collection has extraordinary antique toys. There’s a mechanical doll, a laufpuppe, from 1855 Paris. With no computer chip, he walks, moves his arms and head, and says ‘mama.’ In his display, his frontal “skin” is pulled down to expose the intricate components that gave him life. I was stunned by how complex it was.
Trains, carousels, vehicles, and, even, rocking horses made for children a hundred years ago, move by wind-up cranks.
Most of the patrons in the toy museum the day I browsed through the multiple floors were adults, reading each detailed card. The few children there pressed their faces to the glass fronts, peering into the faces of baby dolls and antique plastic figurines, from cowboys and Indians to military men. Field Marshal General von Hindenburg was immortalized in Elastolin, taking his place among World War I soldiers.
A Nice Teddy-Bear Collection
I think I was most-moved by the teddy bear collection. They weren’t pristine collectibles such as those favored by collectors today since many were obviously “loved” by a child at some time, obvious by a ragged ear or the stuffed toy’s fur being worn. There’s even an X-ray of the innards of a teddy bear that shows how the moving arms and legs were jointed for movement.
There is much more than teddy bears in Steiger’s collection. There are Barbie dolls spanning her creation and evolution. She was an astronaut before NASA put women in the space shuttle.
Examining each Barbie doll is a return to childhood for many women. If you remember the days of the chic uniforms of flight attendants – then, all female, young and thin – you’ll likely see her image in the Barbie collection. There’s Italian movie star Barbie and Chanel Barbie, with Ken thrown into the mix.
You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the mechanisms that activated a working Ferris wheel and construction equipment more than a hundred years ago. There are cranks and pulleys and awe-inspiring concepts I don’t understand. The train sets go back as far as the early 1890s and wind up to roll.
I remember a scene from one of the Dickens’ Christmas Carol movies in which Tiny Tim grins at the mechanical clowns and dolls in a toy store. The toy museum does more than merely nod to nostalgia. It brings back and creates memories.
If You Go:
Learn about the Munich Toy Museum – the Spielzeugmuseum im Alten Rathausturm – before you leave home. Alten Rathausturm refers to the “old town hall.” Go to http://www.spielzeugmuseum-muenchen.de/ Admission fee for adults is currently €4 per adult, €1 per child.
The Marienplatz, the heart of the old town, is easily accessible by foot, S- and U-Bahn and bus. There’s an underground stop outside the museum. It’s in the Marienplatz that the Glockenspiel rings out hourly, its characters coming to life three times a day.
Restaurants and beer halls line the streets around the Marienplatz, and sweet shops around the museum. There’s an authentic beer restaurant with memory-making potato soup off the courtyard of the new town hall.
Donna’s article peaked my imagination and brought the toy museum to light. She beautifully conveys the magic of the experience and makes me want to get on the next plane. Very useful information that adults as well as children will love this museim.
Carla Marie Rupp says
I would love to see this toy museum after reading Donna’s beautiful article, which is so nicely written with all the fun and facts.
I just paid 6 euro per adult
Jim Ferri says
Thank you for making me aware of that James. I’m going to look into why that article wasn’t updated and get it done when I return to my desk next week.
Laurie Walsh says
I have two very old dolls that say they were hand made by Hillgard Toys. I would like to know more about their origin but cannot find anything on line. I can send a photo through email. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Ferri says
Thank you Laurie.
Have you thought about contacting the PBS people who ran Antiques Roadshow? I don’t know if the show still airs, but maybe your local PBS station can put you in touch with them. You might also contact The Antique Toy Collectors of America.