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World of childhood dreams

ToyYears ago I remember coming across a sentence in a book by the famous Turkish novelist Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar (1864-1944) which brought my childhood dreams vividly back to mind: 'He filled several rooms of the house with toys for fear that the child might get into mischief playing in the street.' What child would not wish to possess a room filled to the brim with toys? Dolls, marbles, jigsaws, spinning tops, binoculars, teddy bears, trains, cars, lead soldiers, puppets... As a young children spending most of our time at home, our closest relationships after other family members were with toys. Toys even provided our role models. As little mothers we sang lullabies to our dolls, waiting for the father of the house to arrive on his tricycle. We entertained neighbours on our miniature plastic tea service, and washed dolls clothes in the battery driven washing machine.

Toys both amused and educated us. Child psychologists agree on the useful function of toys, which enhance childrn'sg self-confidence, teach physical coordination and communication skills, develop the higher brain functions, and improve social abilities. Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (1782-1851), who developed the concept of the kindergarten, believed that toys should provide images of life enabling children to discover the world through creative play, while Maria Montessori designed educational toys which taught children concepts like size, numbers, and colours. . The history of toys is thought to have begun in ancient Egypt, where tops, marbles and hoops were known in 1400 BC and wooden horses in the 5th century BC. Dolls dating back to the 2nd century BC have frequently been found in ancient Egyptian royal tombs, and dolls were also made in ancient Greece, Rome and China. These dolls made of baked clay with articulated arms and legs were painted and dressed. Pottery dolls were sold in medieval markets, and wooden dolls were made in 17th century Germany.

The history of Turkish toys begins in Ottoman times, when toymakers set up workshops in the district of Eyüp on the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul. The area between the ferry boat quay and the police department building became known as oyuncakçılar or Toymakers, and the toys made and sold here may be regarded as models of all the toys made throughout Turkey. Painted balloons made of inflated gut, hoops, wooden carts, pottery whistles and miniature tambourines were childrn'si favourite toys.

The materials and methods used in toy making reflect the technology, social and economic conditions and culture of their time, which is why the study of historic toys is so fascinating. Today, for the same reason, there are toy museums in almost every country. The Toy Museum at the Faculty of Educational Sciences in Ankara was established on 20 April 1920. Director of the Museum, Prof. Dr. Bekir Onur explains that the museum has two main functions; one to preserve examples of traditional toys that are disappearing in tody's world of rapid social change, and the second to conduct research into industrial, cultural and educational history through the medium of toys. The toys in the museum are classified into five main categories. The first consists of traditional toys, either home-made or the work of local craftsmen, that were available to almost every child, such as rag dolls, kites, catapults, hoops, and objects made of baked clay such as money boxes, figures of animals and whistles in the form of jugs.

The second category consists of factory made toys, the earliest of which date from 1938. These are subdivided according to the material, wooden toys being the oldest type in this category, and include carts, push-along toys and tops. Although tin toys are no longer made in the western countries, they are still being produced in Turkey, and include cars, trains, airplanes, trucks, kitchen equipment, and models of soldiers and animals.
Plastic toys form the most diverse and numerous group of toys manufactured in Turkey.
The third category in the museum collection consists of foreign toys, some bought by individuals as gifts and others imported commercially. The oldest of these date back to 1890, and are in a remarkable state of preservation.Photographs and reproductions of ancient toys found in archaeological excavations form the fourth category. The originals of many such toys are exhibited in Turkish archaeological museums, and the task of photographing and taking casts of these is still continuing.

The final category consists of modern toys, and as I gazed with admiration at the collection, I thought of the Japanese dolls made as companions for the elderly, and Carlo Collodi's classic story of Pinocchio, the charming wooden puppet which the elderly craftsman Gepetto brought to life because he was lonely.

It was from him that we learnt not to tell lies, because our noses would stretch if we did! My nose will certainly remain the same size when I say that the Toy Museum in Ankara is a marvellous planet of dreams which everyone who feels nostalgia for their childhood should visit.


Ankara University, Faculty of Education
Cemal Gürsel Caddesi, Cebeci, Ankara
Tel. 0312 363 3350
Skylife 04 /2002

Zeynep Akın, freelance writer

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