Toys through time
From peg dolls to spacemen
From peg dolls to Barbie, tin soldiers to spacemen, come and see over 200 original toys and treasures that capture the spirit of play and the creativity of Sydney’s unique toy story.
Take a fascinating look back at the beloved toys of generations of Sydneysiders and discover the stories of our city’s toy manufacturers and famed toy sellers. With an absorbing mix of the familiar and the forgotten, the exhibition promises a captivating trip down memory lane for people of all ages.
Let your imagination fly as you follow the kids' trail through the exhibition to the play space, where you can play traditional games and make your own toy to take home.
You’ve never seen such an amazing collection in all your life! Toys of every kind to thrill and delight you – quaint old toys, brilliant new ones, strange toys, familiar toys, wonderful toys… an attraction for young and old!
Menu from The Children’s Restaurant, Farmer & Co Department Store, 1930s.
This silver and mother-of-pearl rattle was owned by Mary Matilda May and was probably given as a christening present shortly after her birth on the island of St Vincent, West Indies, in 1827. She brought it to Australia when she arrived as an adult in 1863 and it has been enjoyed by successive generations of her family.
Hill's Alphabet Blocks
These wooden blocks were owned by Kathleen Rouse (1878-1932) who grew up in a privileged family at Rouse Hill House & Farm, west of Sydney. Hill's was one of the earliest companies to mass-produce blocks in the USA on a commercial basis.
Companion, confidante, protector, bedfellow, playmate - toy bears hold a special place in the hearts of many children and adults. Changing little since their first appearance in 1902, teddy bears were quickly very popular, existing in the everyday world of the child and in the land of whimsy, fairy tales and classic stories such as Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear.
Walther & Stevenson was originally established as a saddlery in Sydney. By 1930 the company had introduced toys as a sideline to their business, and by the end of the decade toys became the mainstay. Walther & Stevenson ran a bustling mail order trade for rural customers, and no visit to Sydney was complete without a trip to this two-level toy wonderland.
Red rattler train set
Unable to purchase train sets for their children at Christmas in 1947 due to postwar shortages, brothers George and Bill Ferris, along with their cousin Jack, expanded their radio manufacturing business to include the production of toy train sets. One of their first and most distinctive lines was modelled on the suburban electric trains of the New South Wales Railway, known as ‘red rattlers’. The company stopped producing the toy trains in 1958.
Barbie 'fashion queen', 'after five' and 'solo in the spotlight' with wardrobe
Barbie was developed by Mattel’s Ruth Handler, who based her design on the successful German Bild Lilli doll. First released in 1959, Barbie went on to be the world's most successful doll. For collector Jean, her fascination with Barbie was less about her doll’s looks and more about her doll’s fabulous fashions. Jean was given her first Barbie at age 7 and collected a range of glamourous dolls, stunning clothes and accessories. Jean’s mother eventually bought her a wardrobe to house her Barbie fashions. Safely stored in the wardrobe and forgotten in her teen years, the vintage costumes and dolls reemerged years later when Jean had daughters of her own. She now has over five hundred Barbies and fashion accessories in her collection.
Space Station Morse Code Signalling Set
On 4 October 1957 the USSR launched Sputnik I - the world's first artificial satellite. The space race was on and the world's attention turned skywards. Popular culture soon followed, stretching the imagination and realm of possibilities as we ventured into the unknown. A flurry of toys emerged in the golden era of space flight, and Australian children were not immune. With the Parkes Observatory in NSW, colloquially known as 'The Dish', used to broadcast live images of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, space really was beamed directly into living rooms around the world.
'The healthiest play is outdoor play!'
Sydneysider John Heine began manufacturing flat-framed tricycles in 1913. By 1926 Heine's company, Cyclops, was supplying wheeled toys such as doll's prams and pedal cars to stores across Australia. In the 1950s Cyclops was acquired by British toy conglomerate, Lines Bros, but continued to operate from their Leichhardt factory until 1985. In 1992 Cyclops returned to Australian ownership and bicycles are being still being manufactured under the company name today.
25th Century Rocket Ship and The adventures of Buck Rogers book
The futuristic space adventurer Buck Rogers, created by writer Philip Francis Nowlan in 1928, starred in comics, radio serials, movies and television series and featured on a range of toys branded with the Buck Rogers name and image. This rocket ship and book are on loan from the Leuralla Toy & Railway Museum, located at Leura in the Blue Mountains. The museum houses the Southern Hemisphere's largest collection of toys, trains and associated memorabilia. To find out more visit Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum.