Monday, January 6, 2014

Toys for Teaching Design

"Toys That Teach" was the official slogan of the The Embossing Company of Albany, New York, who were considered a giant in the field of manufacturing wood embossed toys, such as dominoes, checkers, wooden blocks, puzzles and building kits. The company was formed in 1870 after inventor John Wesley Hyatt (1837-1920), improved the manufacturing process of embossing and painting the wood surfaces of dominoes and checkers. Even though Hyatt held the first three patents which were instrumental to The Embossing Company's initial start-up, he was most famous for his invention of celluloid, which he discovered quite by accident. As the story goes, Hyatt became a printer's apprentice in Illinois at the age of sixteen. In the process of making the metal cuts, a bottle of collodion overturned and solidified, giving him the idea of making celluloid. He later used the celluloid to win a $10,000 prize for the competition to replace the ivory billiard ball. Over the course of his lifetime Hyatt went on to develop 236 successful patents, exceeded only by a few other inventors, including Thomas Edison.
     The Embossing Company released the "Curved Designs" boxed toy featured above in 1935, long after Hyatt's death. This toy is a bit of a mystery to me beyond this, yet it appears as if it could be a very effective educational toy for teaching the mechanics of working with typographical printers' ornaments. These individual ornament devices are color-coded which may simplify some of the organization initially, though I presume the blocks are not individually color-coded. Even so, I believe it would assist in the visual thinking process. 
     The Albany Institute of History and Art describes this set of toy cursive design blocks, as having game pieces included, but has little other description. I discovered the source of it after researching the history of a recently acquired chromolithographed label for The Embossing Company's Toy Blocks, dating back to the late 19th century. 

This 5 inch square label of a charming circus clown and pig was originally glued to a wooden box of embossed and painted wooden toy blocks, such as those seen in this later 1930 edition of this toy. My research also lead me to learn more about some of the many other wonderful toys from this company, such as the set of Illustrated Cubes (wooden blocks) circa 1900 and the Wonderwood, Play it With Flowers toy, circa 1925. 

The illustrator of this box design with the wonderful wonderwood title created with flower petals, happens to be Norman Price (1877-1951), a 1978 inductee to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Color Cubes is another great teaching toy which I think could benefit a budding designer of any age. These simple and timeless toys are not just for blockheads. They are produced in four color variations, and one can create a myriad of designs within a square—again, much like miniature type ornaments. The examples below of this timeless toy originated from Sushipot.  

The Kolor Blox, also from Sushipot, is another similar learning toy, but with the addition of the half-circle shape, which invites all sorts of new options.

::Source of 1926 advertisement: Old Wood Toys

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