The Wizard’s Attic at Hove Museum & Art Gallery

The Toy collection includes a wide range of dolls, teddy bears, mechanical toys, games, soft toys, soldiers, trains and construction toys. The Wizard’s Attic toy gallery at Hove Museum & Art Gallery contains a vast range of toys dating from 1700s to the present day. The gallery is themed around the idea of a Wizard’s Attic where a wizard collects and mends broken toys.

History of the Toy Collection

Part of the Toy Collection is the registered charity the National Toy Museum and Institute of Play Collection that dates back to the 1950s. In 1959 it was lent to the Brighton Corporation to be shown at Rottingdean Grange as an ongoing exhibition arranged by one of the trustees of the collection. In 1970 the charity offered the collection to the Corporation on the understanding that it would be redisplayed in Northgate House next to Brighton Museum. Unfortunately the plans for this had to be abandoned, but it allowed the collection to be amalgamated with the toy collection already held by Brighton Museum.

It was not until the redevelopment of the galleries at Hove Museum in 2003 that the collections were put on display together in the Wizard’s Attic toy gallery. Many had never been on display at all. The collection on display is still only a small section of the whole collection.


The collection contains many different kinds of dolls and they make up a large section of the toy collection. They are made of different materials using various techniques and both homemade and mass produced. There are also many national dolls.

Japanese dolls

Japanese Festival dolls are brought out during the annual Girls’ Day celebrations on 3 March each year. On this day Japanese families wish for their daughters’ future happiness. The dolls are dressed in traditional costumes of the emperor and his imperial court from over 1,000 years ago. The dolls are placed on different steps to represent their position in the court. The emperor and empress are at the top, followed by three ladies in waiting, five musicians, two attendants and three servants. Amongst the dolls there are cherry blossom tree models and miniature furniture and tableware.

Russian dolls

The best known type of Russian dolls are the nesting or Matryoshka dolls. The dolls are made of turned wood and are made in different sizes which fit into one another as a set. They are painted and varnished. They have different designs such as female peasants, famous Russian characters, religious figures and animals.

Peg dolls

Peg dolls are also know as peg woodens and Dutch dolls. They date from the late 18th century. The doll’s head and body are made out of one turned and carved piece of wood and the legs and arms are attached separately with hinged tongue and groove joints. The doll’s face is painted white with black hair and simple facial features. Their lower legs and arms are also painted, with the middle section left as rough wood as this will be covered by the doll’s clothing.

Baby dolls

Before the early 19th century dolls were generally referred to as ‘babies’ whether they actually depicted babies or older children and adults. From about 1860 baby dolls with more baby-like features were produced. The dolls’ features included squatter, pot-bellied bodies and bent limbs. An early manufacturer of baby dolls in the early 20th century was a Kammer & Reinhardt. These dolls were made of tinted bisque and had character faces made by Simon & Halbig.

Pierotti dolls

The Pierotti family were wax modellers of Italian descent living in London from the late 1700s. They used the poured wax method to create dolls. They used glass eyes and real human hair in the creation of their intricately crafted dolls. The family produced dolls throughout the 19th century. Many of the dolls they produced were portraits of royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of York in 1898 before they became King George V and Queen Mary.

Pierotti dolls

The Pierotti family were wax modellers of Italian descent living in London from the late 1700s. They used the poured wax method to create dolls. They used glass eyes and real human hair in the creation of their intricately crafted dolls. The family produced dolls throughout the 19th century. Many of the dolls they produced were portraits of royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of York in 1898 before they became King George V and Queen Mary.

Creatures great and small

This section looks at different creatures that can be found in the toy collection. They include teddy bears, farmyard animals, soft animals, Noah’s ark, circus toys and creepy crawlies.

Teddy bears

The German toy maker Steiff were one of the first makers of teddy bears. From 1905 Steiff bears had a little metal button in their left ear. Steiff bears are still made today.


Miniature farmyard animals became popular in post war Britain. They were made of lead and hand painted. One of the main manufacturers was W H Britain. They produced detailed sets of farmyard animals and included farmers, milkmaids, stiles and hedges.


Animals have long been a popular theme with toy makers, whether made of wool or felt or carved out of wood and mounted on wheels. Famous animal characters featured in comic strips, cartoons and books were often also made into soft toys such as Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.

Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Ark toys, based on the biblical story, were popular in Victorian times. These toys are usually made of wood and have a flat-based ark that is hollow inside. Carved wooden animals and figures of Noah and his wife are stored inside the ark. They were often the only toys that Victorian children were allowed to play with on a Sunday.

Circus toys

A well-known maker of circus toys in the early 20th century was Alfred Schoenhut. Schoenhut had immigrated to America from Germany in the late 19th century. He made high-quality toys and his circus toy sets became internationally renowned. These sets included clowns, leopards, mules and elephants along with various circus props and a big top tent. Although jointed dolls had been around for many years this style had seldom been applied to other toys such as animals. All Schoenhut circus toys had moveable limbs and the clowns had grooves in their hands and feet so they could be attached to the various circus props.

Creepy crawlies

Creepy crawlies are a popular theme for small toys. They were often used for mechanical toys such as one of the German maker Lehmann’s long-standing favourites in the early 20th century, the crawling beetle. Today rubber is used to create anything from tarantulas to alligators and they are often quite realistic in appearance.

Moving toys

Moving toys include mechanical toys and spinning tops. Mechanical toys were operated by hand or contained a clockwork mechanism and were wound up by hand or friction. Spinning tops were spun by hand or with a whip or plunger. Before electric trains became popular early trains were steam driven, friction driven and clockwork.


The explosion of rail networks in the mid 19th century saw the beginnings of toy train manufacturing. The first toy trains that appeared were push-along toys and were made of wood. From the 1870s wooden trains were replaced with painted tinplate and contained a self-driven steam engine. Later they used friction driven or a clockwork mechanism.

The German maker Marklin was an early producer of toy trains. They created three different gauges of trains with matching tracks to run on. These were numbered 1, 2 and 3. This creation saw the standardisation of toy train gauges made by other firms such as Bing and Carette so that they could all produce train sets that could be added to. A fourth gauge was created by Marklin a few years after this. This was a smaller gauge and was numbered 0.

In the early 20th century the British manufacturer Bassett-Lowke imported Bing trains and made British modifications. They also produced an even smaller 00 gauge. They also developed the trix twin range, which allowed two trains to be running on the same track at slightly different speeds.

The most famous British manufacturer of toy trains is Hornby. They started producing clockwork trains in the 1920s after having a long period of success with Meccano construction toys. Hornby produced their first electric trains in the mid 1920s. Their popularity continued until 1940 when all train production ceased during World War II. In 1946 production resumed and they began to produce coaches made of plastic. By the 1960s Hornby trains became less popular and the company was taken over by Triang (Lines Brothers).

Mechanical toys

Mechanical toys, also known as automata, first appeared as cleverly devised amusements for aristocrats in Europe. The expertise behind these highly crafted pieces came from clockmakers who applied detailed clockwork mechanisms in the 18th century. As the toys became cheaper to produce they became more widespread. The technological advances in printing on sheet metal led to an explosion of cheap tinplate mass-produced mechanical toys.

At the turn of the 20th century Germany was the principle producer of these toys. Makers such as Lehmann, Bing and Schuco were the main German producers. They created a vast range of different toys such as crawling beetles, tap dancers, clowns, cars, zeppelins and many animals.

Spinning tops

Spinning tops were popular in Victorian times. Simple to mass produce out of turned wood they were played with indoors and out. In the early 20th century novelty tops were produced such as sets of miniature tops called ‘tiny tops for tiny fingers’ and tops resembling dolls.

Everyday life: work and play

Toys often mimic work and play in adult life. Toys also reflect work and play time in children’s lives in themes such as school, Sunday school and the nursery.


The Education Act in England in 1870 meant that the majority of children under the age of 13 had to attend school. Writing equipment included slates, ink pens and inkwells. Bone alphabet letters were produced to help with reading and spelingl and could be used as an educational game.

Sunday toys

Sunday toys were the only toys allowed to be played with on a Sunday. These toys include Noah’s Ark and games and puzzles about biblical stories. Today many of these toys are in good condition as they were only played with once a week.


Children’s nurseries were transformed in the late 19th century. What were once little more than functional spaces began to develop into highly decorated rooms designed for children with child-sized furniture and friezes depicting children’s stories and nursery rhymes. Larger houses had two rooms, a night nursery where children slept and a day nursery for learning and play.


Rattles are used to pacify babies. They have a hollow part which contains small balls which rattle when shaken or have bells attached. In the 19th century the more elaborate rattles were made from silver and had bells, a whistle and a section of coral. The coral was added as a teething stick and had medicinal purposes to cool a baby’s gums.


There are many different types of game in the collection. They include outdoor games, skill games, card games and board games. Many games were produced for adults as well as children to encourage families to play together.


Flats were a precursor to the toy soldier and were produced in Germany in the early 18th century. These were flat pieces of metal cast from slate moulds. They were hand painted and depicted hunting, festival celebrations, markets, travel and war.

Construction toys

Stackable alphabet blocks have long been a popular early learning toy. The printed paper on wood designs first appeared in the 1830s and were still popular throughout the 20th century. The first stone blocks were Richter’s Anchor Blocks in the 1880s. These simple arched and square blocks could be used to create elaborate buildings.

Frank Hornby created Meccano construction sets. Previously named ‘Mechanics Made Easy’, the name was changed to ‘Meccano’ in 1907. These construction sets contain strips of metal which could be bolted together to construct various machines and vehicles. Lego first appeared in 1953. The word Lego comes from the Danish for ‘play well’. Play-Doh first appeared in 1956. At first there was only one colour, which was dirty white. Primary colours were introduced in 1957. William Harbutt invented Plasticine in 1897. It first went on sale in 1908.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *