Just a kid again

The toy box is open at the Albany Institute of History & Art. The exhibition “Kid Stuff: Great Toys

Julie Kilbride can tell the future.

The 33-year-old Troy woman discovered her mystic powers during a recent visit to the Albany Institute of History & Art, when 3-year-old Trevor Chauncey of Guilderland wondered if sweets were coming his way.

Kilbride picked up an oversized black billiard ball on display at the museum and waited for a sign. “Without a doubt,” she said, announcing words that floated to the bottom of the famous Magic 8 Ball, a diversion popular with kids since 1946.

The toy box is open at the museum. The exhibition “Kid Stuff: Great Toys From Our Childhood” shows off more than 40 vintage toys from decades past. Children are making play dates out of their visits.

Tammis K. Groft, chief curator at the institute, said kids aren’t the only ones having fun.

‘Kid Stuff: Great Toys From Our Childhood’

WHERE: Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany

WHEN: Through March 4. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $10; $8 for seniors and students; $6 for children 6 through 12; free for those under 6.

MORE INFO: 463-4478, www.albanyinstitute.org

“We’ve seen it’s multi-generational, with grandparents bringing their grandchildren, grandparents who grew up with these toys,” she said. “When you think some of them are from the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, you’ve got a pretty good range. And the fact that you can still buy them means that they’re still interesting to kids of today.”

Hot Wheels, the miniature speed demon cars from Mattel, are in the show. So are Crayola crayons, Duncan yo-yos, the Kenner Easy-Bake Oven, Lionel trains, the Ohio Art Etch A Sketch and games such as Twister, Candy Land and the Game of Life. Tonka trucks, Mr. Potato Head and assorted Pez dispensers also make appearances. Dolls Barbie, Raggedy Ann and G.I. Joe are also on the toy team. Sorry, Joe — “action figure.”

Toy stories

The exhibit, which originated in 1999 at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., is designed to educate as well as entertain. There are stories behind many of the creations.

“Lincoln Logs were invented by John Lloyd Wright, who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s son,” Groft said. “When Frank Lloyd Wright got permission to go to Japan to build a hotel that would withstand earthquakes, his son went along with him and really marveled at the Japanese style of building. They would build without nails, not necessarily for the hotel, but just in general. So he came back and created Lincoln Logs, called them Lincoln after Abraham Lincoln and logs because of the log cabin idea.”

Pop culture and current events also played roles in the development and success of some products.

According to exhibit notes, Twister, the party game that commands players to place their hands and feet on colored dots chosen by spinning a dial, nearly bombed. It was called Pretzel when it was introduced during the mid-1960s, and didn’t sell.

Television’s Johnny Carson saved the day. The “Tonight Show” host played the game with actress Eva Gabor on May 3, 1966, and people who watched Johnny tangle up with Eva suddenly became Twister fans. The Milton Bradley game company sold 3 million units that year.

The Magic 8 Ball showed up during a time when people loved to speculate about their futures. During the mid-1940s, drug-store scales provided figures for weight and words for personal prospects. Ouija boards were popular. And Chinese food came with fortune cookies, a short prophetic sentence on thin paper stuffed inside the crunchy sweet.

Odds were always pretty good with the M8B. Of 20 possible answers, 10 are positive, five are negative and five are neutral.

The name Pluto Platters came from marketing geniuses at the Wham-O toy company. The circular plastic disc — based on the silver pie pans from Connecticut’s Frisbie Baking Co. that students at Yale University used to toss around — came out in 1957. Americans were crazy about unidentified flying objects during the ’50s, and flying saucers for kids seemed like a natural idea.

Name of the game

The platters sold. But the product really took off when Wham-O execs — who would later market the Monster Magnet, Super Ball and Air Blaster — bagged the science-fiction name in favor of Frisbee.

Groft said some sensations started overseas. Pez candies began in Germany, and the dispensers were distinctive.

“The earliest one was a Pez space gun, and the candy was very minty,” Groft said. “For a while, they marketed it in Europe as a way of stopping smoking. You’d have a little Bic-like lighter . . . you’d eat the candy every time you wanted to light up. For the American market, the flavor was too intense. They introduced the fruit flavors and the fruit flavors really took off.”

Adults at the exhibit on a recent morning liked the idea of a playroom inside a museum. Kids and parents touched a Slinky, Hot Wheels cars, balsa wood airplanes. They looked at 3-D slides through a View-Master.

“The kids are having a blast,” said McBride, part of a small group at play. “There are some toys here I haven’t seen since I was young.”

Young Trevor Chauncey played with the Hot Wheels models, placing several cars on steep tracks that are part of the toy display.

“Ready, set, go!” Trevor said, sending two cars down tracks at the same time.

“Who’s the winner?” asked his mother, Wendy Parker, 35, of Guilderland.

“I am!” answered Trevor.

Groft is aware that people save mementos from their lives. But toys are rarely among them.

“I have heard that many times,” she said. “ ‘If only I had saved this, it would be worth a lot of money.’ My advice is to go on eBay. If you really want it, you can buy it.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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