The toy market is a place that’s constantly evolving – every year new products are devised and released, only to be forgotten in the next. A few of these toys, however, have managed to stand the test of time – and they’ve brought joy to successive generations over the last century.
If you’re looking for a gift for a child, then a classic gift is sure to please – each of them, after all, has been thoroughly road-tested. But even if you’re shopping for someone a little bit older, a traditional toy is sure to serve great as a decoration – and it’ll provoke that tantalising sense of nostalgia.
Let’s examine some of the more traditional toys that have proven especially appealing over the years, and see if we can determine exactly what’s made them so successful.
No list of classic toys would be fit for purpose if we didn’t include the most famous of all stuffed toys: the teddy bear. These Steiff bears began to crop up during the 19th century, but it wasn’t the turn of the 20th that the toy took on its now-classic nickname. The then president of the United States, Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, famously refused to shoot a black bear that had been tied to a tree. The incident prompted American cartoonist Clifford Berryman to immortalise it in the Washington Post in 1902, making the bear look distinctly harmless and teddy-ish in the process. The marketing departments at toymakers across the world went into overdrive, and the ‘teddy’ nickname soon became synonymous with the bear.
Today, teddy bears aren’t just toys for children. They’re high-value collector’s items that are crafted by hand – producing a luxurious item that’s worthy of being placed on a high shelf where no child could reach it, or dangling over the dashboard of a car. Perhaps the most notable proponents of the art form are the Steiff company of Germany, who’ve been selling their cuddly toys for well over a century. If you’re looking for a gift for an adult with a penchant for stuffed toys, then a high-quality teddy might make just the right gift. Of course, stuffed toys aren’t just limited to teddy bears – you’ll find other fluffy animals like rabbits and penguins on offer, too.
The skipping rope is something that a child can make use of. They’re also something that professional athletes tend to use, as they’re great for improving cardiovascular fitness. If you’re shopping for a child, then you’ll want to select a skipping rope that’s good to look at as well as being functional. Something with hand-painted wooden handles is sure to please more than the more austere, grown-up versions you might find at a sports shop – but it’ll do exactly the same job.
Wooden cubes are a classic of toymaking. They’re exceptionally simple, and yet hugely pleasing for children of all ages. Coming decorated with bright colours, numbers, letters and other shapes, this toy will help to familiarise a very small child with all of the shapes they’ll encounter throughout their life, and help them during those early learning stages (even if it doesn’t show them what any of those shapes actually mean).
Of course, being such a classic of design, this particular toy isn’t just limited to children. It’ll make a great decoration for any shelf, too. You’ll be able to use the number and letters to spell out any phrase you like – and evoke that all-important sense of nostalgia in the process. If you’re looking for a flexible piece of shelf-ornamentation that’ll double as a toy, building blocks are certain to fit the bill.
Board games are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, with grown adults across the country finding more and more time to get together over a few rounds of their game-of-choice. But if you’re shopping for a particularly young child, you’ll want to stick to the simple classics. Snakes and Ladders and Ludo are two games that are sure to provide entertainment for young and old alike. They’re simple to understand and play, which makes them a great precursor to more advanced board games.
For a child with a vivid imagination and an interest in all things mechanical, miniaturised vehicles are certain to go down excellently. An enormous number of them can now be obtained, from faithful reproductions of modern agricultural equipment, like tractors, and motorcars like the BMW i8. Small children with an interest in the subject are sure to get something out of these items – but toys like these are sure to look great on the shelves of fully-grown people, too – so if you know someone with an interest, professional or otherwise, in farming or motor-racing, a small gift like this is certain to go down a treat.
If you’re looking for a more classic take on the formula, then a stylised wooden car, with its simple shape and charm, is sure to please both the young and old. With their smooth contours and simple colours, they provide the imagination with a canvas on which to run wild.
A musical instrument makes a great gift for even the youngest child. If you’re looking to buy for a one, two, or three-year old, however, you might not want to spend hundreds on a full-sized guitar or piano. For especially young children, it’s a better idea to give them a musical toy which can be used to explore the possibilities of sound without taking it too seriously. You don’t need any instruction to play the pan flute – but doing so is sure to acquaint you with simple concepts like pitch and rhythm. With the right encouragement, a child who experiments with this sort of device might quickly progress to something more elaborate. Starting early in music is something that’s hugely worthwhile – and toymakers have long appreciated this. Simple percussion instruments have long been favourites – and they’re sure to provide your child with the musical grounding they need.