Playthings catalogue, Walther & Stevenson, 1954-55 State Library of NSW: 688.7207405/1

Sydney's Toy Kings

Walther and Stevensons started as a small saddlery on Hunter Street in 1900. Success brought them additional premises on George Street which opened in 1911. Rural mail order customers soon began enquiring about toys available at Christmas. Sensing a profit the saddlers introduced toys as a sideline and by the 1930s their catalogue Playthings, billed as a "toyshop in a book", boasted to contain every toy that any boy or girl could want.

In 1930 the basement floor of the George Street store was converted into a toy department and stocked German made model trains, farm animals and toy soldiers. A veritable Aladdin's Cave, it was a must see stop for every child visiting the city. In fact, the shop was so enticing for little visitors that in 1935 the Sydney Morning Herald reported three small children breaking into the shop to get their hands on the toys.

Front cover of toy catalogue Playthings featuring boy with toys
Walther &Stevenson, 1954-55 State Library of NSW: 688.7207405/1
Three boys, two aged 11 and one aged 10 ... made a determined assault on the premises in George Street ... They hacked at the wood about the lock, but a stout bar on the other side of the door defeated them. They then turned their attention to two windows at the back, but ... found that they were also guarded... Finally the boys went to a plate glass window at the side ... [The Police] found a small boy standing in the street outside the broken window and clutching a toy sailing boat. The detectives crawled through a broken window into the shop, and after a search found two more small boys hiding behind a door.

 - The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1935, p9

At the outbreak of World War II it became increasingly difficult to import goods into Australia and Walther and Stevenson struggled to source new stock. As a toy shop famous for their mechanical toys and trains these shortages were acutely felt. Walther and Stevenson enlisted local manufacturers and hobbyists to fill the gap and keep stock on their shelves. For many local manufacturers, such as Ferris and Renown, toys were mainly a side business. For others such as Frederick Steward, founder of O Gauge House, and Ted Wallis and Ted Peell, founders of Scorpion, what started as a backyard hobby became a busy enterprise.

Import restrictions were relaxed in the 1960s and cheaper toys made overseas entered the market, putting increasing pressure on local manufacturers. Many toy companies struggled to compete and folded under the strain. Around the same time shopping centres opened in suburban and rural areas, in convenient locations with parking for large numbers of Sydneysiders out in their family car. With more competition and less city shoppers Walther and Stevenson closed their doors in 1969.

Walther and Stevenson, as well as many locally made toy trains, feature in our exhibition, Toys Through Time. Here are a few of the objects on display.

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