The year is old, but a most important part of the human race is appraising new possessions, busily winding up things, or merely staring by the hour through the tiny curtained windows of doll houses. Millions of spinners are spun, gallant little green, yellow and blue race horses are moved so many spaces forward, and cries of dismay rise if the directions say inexorably GO BACK TO START. In the vast, unorganized economy of the world of children, this is the season when new games and toys are being tested, to be incorporated into the natural order of things if they come up to some mysterious, undemanding standard, to be discarded and eternally forgotten if they do not.
In the eight pages of color photographs that follow there is a demonstration that the great work going forward at this season of the year hasn't changed much over the centuries. These are pictures of toys and games of the past, generally safely preserved in museums, but brought out now from behind glass to be played with again. They are all old (or new adaptations of ancient pastimes), they are all simple and inexpensive (or would be, if they were not valuable antiques) and they all possess some magical quality that led generation after generation of children to play with them, sometimes to knock them down and set them up again, hour after hour, to arrange them and rearrange them, but in any event to hold, fondle, protect, preserve and treasure them.
Any parent who has ever found a rusted toy automobile buried in the grass or a bent sand bucket on the beach knows that objects like these can be among the powerful things in the world. They can summon up in an instant, in colors stronger than life, the whole of childhood at its happiest—the disproportionate affection lavished on some strange possession, the concentrated self-forgetfulness of play, the elusive expressions of surprise or elation that pass so transparently over youthful features. They may have the power that Hawthorne said was given to children—to set the memory ringing and chiming with forgotten sounds, to thrill the heartstrings as if music had passed over them—and they serve as a reminder at this season of the year that the best games of childhood are timeless, and that there seems to be nothing more natural than play.
PATIENCE AND CONTROL
Beautifully carved wooden jackstraws, now a museum treasure, once were delicately separated by skilled, steady, childish hands
December 26, 1960
When snow covered the lawn, croquet could be played on the carpet, through artfully balanced wickets
GAME OF SKILL
Played with carefully turned ninepins, carpet bowling in the past century required only a ball and lots of floor space
GAME OF CHANCE
Marbles, rolling around the wooden figure, dropped into different-numbered holes and enthralled generations of juvenile gamblers
HOUSE OF CARDS
Children once built tiny houses with tiny cards; now huge cards are made for big games—and big houses, too
WATER, SOAP AND AIR
The most perishable of playthings, airy and evanescent, soap bubbles last a moment—and forever