FANCY A BOOK ABOUT AUSTRALIAN TOYS OF THE 20TH CENTURY WITH WONDERFUL PHOTOGRAPHY? Wendi Bradshaw has reviewed Australian toys; a collection, by Luke Jones, with photographs by Mark Spaven (Melbourne, Vic: Melbourne Books, 2019).
This hard-back book detailing a collection of Australian toys is both an informative compendium and a beautiful dip-in book of coffee-table quality. At 360 pages each is graced with at least one photograph, most in colour, of toys that were overwhelmingly manufactured in Australia, from the early 1900s.
After a brief introduction the book is divided into three sections. The first part covers Australian toys made to 1939 under the sub-headings ‘Tinplate’, ‘Wood’, ‘Paper & cardboard’. The second section on toys made after 1939 comprises two thirds of the book, in similar sub-headed categories including ‘Pressed Steel, tinplate and die cast’ and ‘Plastic & Rubber’; and a final, ten-paged section ‘World toys for Australia’, includes a selection of the author’s favourites manufactured overseas).
As could be expected from these years, at least half the toys displayed are of tinplate. At the book’s end there is a brief index listing manufacturers by name, yet the book begins with companies such as Leckie and Gray, makers of ‘Pep-o-mint Life Savers’ and ‘Sunshine Biscuits’ toy trucks, plus numerous biscuit tins, drums and washtubs – to name a few; James Marsh & sons; going on to other manufacturers. It is noted in the introduction that the book isn’t an exhaustive catalogue of toys from Australian manufacturers but a record of one person’s private collection, and whilst this may be somewhat limiting to the range of toys included, the collection is impressive.
Jones states his passion began as an 11-year-old, following an earnest discussion with an adult who suggested ‘antique toys were popular collectables and currency in Europe’ (page 4). He took his decision seriously, as is attested by an image of his hand-written notebook recording his purchases, beginning in 1985, from several antique shops and centres around Adelaide. It is probably no surprise then, that most toys included are traditional ‘boys’ toys’, being automotive or transport themed, aside from a selection of board games, wooden blocks and farm animals, and some other tinware. There is one image of a young girl with a toy mop and bucket and a listing of a ‘wonder iron’ – unsurprisingly stereotypical of their time. Aside from a few plastic toys produced by well-known early plastics manufacturers including Marquis, Duperite and Gay ware the collection overall doesn’t extend beyond 1970. Yet, what a beautiful collection it is! The book is enhanced by commentary as well as Jones’ recollections of specific toy acquisition. Anecdotes from fellow collectors or experts adds meaning to the value of individual items, the toy histories and the collection overall.
Also dispersed throughout the book are charming black and white photos of small children at different times, with their beloved toys. And it is the quality of the photography, in precious flaking detail, bringing each toy to life that I found most engaging. And whilst I could personally value each toy for their individual aged beauty and appeal (rather than as playthings) the nostalgic angle is obvious. When reading a book like this it isn’t hard to become attracted to the allure of individual items, and I can say that my favourite toys would have to be the Leckie and Gray Australian Animals Tea Set, from the 1930s and their Father Christmas Money Boxes. We’ve reproduced the images at the start of this post, so do hope you can get a further look in, yourself.
The book is still available to buy for under $50.
This review was first published in the January 2023 #17 issue of Ephemera news.
DUPERITE – Moulded Products (Australasia) Ltd (later known as Nylex), marketed plastic products under the ‘Duperite’ brandname from the 1930s.
‘Duperite’ was made from a moulded thiourea-formaldehyde resin powder, originally developed the British Cyanide Company in 1928, also known as ‘Beetle’ powder.
Probably acquired as an example of Australian-made synthetic polymer products. Information from Museums Victoria collections. The Dunlop-Perdriau Rubber Company was the sole distributor for Moulded Products items during the 1930s. Information from Powerhouse Collection.