On Why to Make Handcrafted Toys

Posted by jdg | 12:33 PM

"At a party filled with the denizens of the mainstream of Human Progress, I was once introduced to the smiling ensemble with a good deal of gratifying enthusiasm as 'the fellow who makes toys.'

There was a moment's hesitation while the smiles were quietly reinforced, and then one tanned, good-natured smile asked with much interest, 'That's nice, but why?'

Did I make a lot of money at it? Was it for political favor? Did it attract the ladies, being the fellow who makes toys?

Why, in fact, should a grown, sane---for the sake of argument---semi-responsible adult, with no special fascination for the woodshop and no particular promise of remuneration, waste his time making toys when there are shops full of the same on nearly every street corner?

Why make toys at a time when, as never before, toymaking has become such a colossal industry---when at this very minute toys are being made that use almost every shape and theme known to man?

. . .

Toymaking, as everyone knows, is a major industry and, as such, must obey the rules of survival for any other profit-making giant. The goal is to appeal at the time of potential sale, and all else is incidental. To do this, many concerns must slavishly follow adult consumer trends, pander to short-term interests, exploit a childish fascination with the grotesque, and back it all up with a fundamental faith that man's desire to dominate will sell forever---especially to kids.

Because a toy, to the merchandiser, is not a necessity or a functional item, it must follow strict criteria to insure consumer acceptance. The commercial toy must be as gaudy and as cheaply made as possible, with a consequent loss of durability, safety, and lasting value. The toy must knock down to handy shipping size, must sell at a fixed multiple of its worth, must fill proper display requirements, and must attract a suitably significant slice of the populace. It must be so intricate to manufacture that no other concern will risk the cost of tooling to steal the idea once the first concern has the jump on the marketing promotion.

Thus the boom in twentieth-century toymaking, complete with all the technological resources of computerized research, has pushed and stretched the meaning of the word 'toy' to cover everything from pliable sex-appeal dolls to fully functional miniatures of that character-building, time-honored sporting tradition of our culture---the jalopy derby. 

As a result of the machinations of big business competition, only the hardiest marketing risk can survive. And so it has come to pass that in spite of the toy boom, or perhaps because of it, never has so few true toys been offered."

      from The Art of Making Wooden Toys (1975) by Peter Stevenson, 1941-2012

One of my favorite books. Stevenson Projects lives on here.

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