The world used to be an exotic place – at least it seemed so from a remote village. Travelling was not commonplace and many Finns had not even been to Helsinki. Before television, the understanding of the world was based on studying maps, reading books and watching the newsreel. During the Olympic Games in 1952 a few dark-skinned athletes walked the streets of Helsinki. It aroused genuine curiosity and was very exciting.

Finns have always been internationally successful in the world of games. Even before online games Afrikan Tähti – Star of Africa – was immensely popular all over the world. It has been translated into 16 languages and a few million copies have been sold abroad.

The idea for the game came about in 1948 when Kari Mannerla (1930–2006), captivated by the Humphrey Bogart films, looked at the map of Africa and marvelled at the exciting place names. The idea for the game is to look for a 625g diamond that was originally found in Transval in 1905. The first edition of the Kadonnut Afrikan Tähti (the Lost Star of Africa) was published in 1951. In the next edition the name was shortened into its current form, Afrikan Tähti, Star of Africa.


Although dolls houses might be regarded as a girls’ plaything or a women’s folly, it originally had the very masculine purpose of demonstrating the family’s wealth and social status.

In the early dolls houses of the 17th – 18th centuries expensive materials like gold, silver and ivory were used. Sometimes the elements of a doll’s house had to be sacrificed to finance a war – this was the case with the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, who was reluctantly forced to do so.

Doll’s houses have functioned throughout the ages as a teaching aid for girls to learn household management. An old dolls house reflects well the way of life at the time, the ideals, styles and interior design.

In the mid-19th century, dolls houses slowly started to become toys. Unlike today not many could afford such luxurious toys. The popularity of dolls houses peaked at the end of the 19th century and they were popular, even in Finland.

A Finnish dolls cabinet was often shaped like a cupboard, it had glass doors and two or three storeys. Often there was a drawer at the bottom of the cabinet.

In the 20th century doll’s houses became more common and began to reflect ordinary life. They were after all now available to common folk.

Nowadays a dolls house enthusiast may be an adult who finds joy in doing handicrafts and dreaming of other realities. The established dolls house scale of 1:12 is relatively new. The inhabitants, furniture and furnishings in the old dolls house were combined into a merry assembly irrelevant of their scale.


Hearing is a source of great pleasure, and the mystery of music and craving for beauty are part of being human. Mechanical music has been around for centuries, for example, the music of church bells or Renaissance hydraulic organs.

The history of the music box is connected with the history of clocks. In 1796, the Swiss clock maker Antoine Favre patented a pocket watch that was equipped with a musical mechanism. In the oldest mechanical musical instruments the mechanism was a written cylinder that was read by a steel comb. In the 1820s the familiar music box was invented when the mechanism was packed into pretty wooden boxes. Boxes with changeable metal discs appeared on the market in 1887. It was another step towards the gramophone, presented by Emil Berliner to the wider public in 1889.


The doll is as old as human civilization. People have a natural desire to recreate their own image.

The history of the doll illustrates the history of fashion and the changing ideals of beauty. The doll always reflects the ideals of its era in the same way as children’s games mirror their era and society.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, children were regarded as little “adults in the making”. Children were dressed in small adult clothes and therefore almost all dolls represented adults. Adult dolls functioned as role models that would instil respect and turn little girls into young ladies. The idealized baby doll of the 19th century with its innocent angelic features represents the transformation of ideals. For the first time people started to believe that childhood had some value in itself and parents started to pay a little attention to it.

The 20th century can justifiably be called the century of the child and the changing winds brought the education of children. The new attitude towards children had a paradigmatic effect on doll design and the doll itself became a research object. The adult doll of the previous centuries gave way to the realistic baby doll and for the first time in history the child itself was represented in the doll.

Caricature dolls appeared alongside character dolls as an extreme phenomenon of fashion. This type of doll marked the heyday of personalized dolls and appealed to the adult taste as well. For example, about 5 million Kewpie-dolls were sold (no.29).

As motion pictures became more widespread in 1920–1930s new film-inspired dolls were created. A cheerful looking Shirley Temple doll conquered the world in the 1930s (no.25). In 1959 a new conqueror was born – Barbie (no.22).

Doll materials

Dolls have traditionally been made from natural raw materials – wood, clay, bones, beeswax, and various textiles. From the late 18th century paper-mache was used. 19th century industrial production introduced porcelain, rubber and celluloid as raw materials and it is possible to see a direct link to the most popular material of our times – plastic.

In Europe wax dolls were made already in ancient Rome, and the same methods were used until the end of the 19th century. Whole dolls were cast and shaped from wax. Also, separate heads and arms were made from wax and later attached to wooden or textile-covered bodies. Wax, however, was not a good material – it could melt, harden, or turn sallow. For best results the outer coating was made from wax and the rest of the doll was made from another material, for example, paper-mache.

Paper-mache was introduced in the late 18th century. It was made from pulped paper, chalk, gypsum, and glue thinned with water. Whole dolls as well as heads, arms and legs were made from paper-mache.

Detachable doll heads were a groundbreaking innovation. Many a tragedy was resolved and ended happily when a doll’s broken head was replaced with another one.

In the beginning of the 18th century porcelain became a strong competitor for paper-mache. Heads, arms, and legs were made from porcelain. Smaller dolls could be made fully from porcelain, while larger ones had bodies made from leather or textile. The first porcelain heads were white, covered with a shiny glaze and had painted eyes, lips, and hair. The neck merged into a smallish shoulder section with tiny holes in the bottom edge for attaching the head to the body. Paper-mache and other materials were also used for the limbs. Ball or socket joints were used to enhance the mobility of the limbs.

The production of dolls’ heads that could turn and had the neck placed into the shoulders started in the 1860s. Unglazed hard biscuit porcelain was used and the facial features were painted. An innovation in the 1870s was to imbue the material with paint to achieve a more natural skin tone.

Dolls have also been made from metal, though as a material it is rare, if one does not count mechanical dolls made from tin (tin toys).

In 1839 Charles Goodyear, an American, invented rubber made from caoutchouc obtained from rubber trees. There are very few old rubber dolls because rubber becomes fragile as it ages and finally disintegrates.

The production of celluloid dolls began in the1860s. Despite the potential hazard of celluloid caused by its flammability, it was used extensively until the 1950s, when plastic replaced it. Textile dolls and rag-dolls have naturally always been around.


The story of the Sandman in East Germany is filled with tension, politics and a legend.

In 1959 East German television received a tip-off that its Western counterpart would launch a new program for children featuring a character based on H.C. Andersen’s story The Sandman. In addition, the program would air at the same time as the children’s evening program in East Germany and this would entice the children to watch Western television.

Gerhard Behrendt (1929–2006) had two weeks to design an East German Sandman. The Sandman animation (Unser Sandmänncher) was ready to be televised on the 22 of November in 1959, approximately a week before the Western one.

The East German Sandman won the children’s hearts in the very first series when he fell asleep in a heap of snow at the end of the program. Legend has it that the postal service was swamped with letters from concerned children, who wanted to know what had happened to the Sandman. He didn’t freeze in the snow, did he?

The Sandman was also known for his unique vehicles, and his varied travel destinations. He spread his magical sand on Soviet pioneer camps, as well as in Finnish Lapland. Sandman appeared on Finnish television in the spring of 1973.

This particular Sandman dressed in blue arrived in Finland as a Christmas present in a postal parcel from an East German pen pal in 1965.


The surrounding reality is always reflected in games and toys. This was also the case in times of war.

Lotta dolls – dolls in gray army costume – were dolls dressed in Lotta uniforms. The doll might have been a present to a little Lotta Girl, a prize at the Lotta organisation’s lottery or a keepsake. Old Lotta dolls usually have the original owner’s badges on them.

The Lotta Svärd organisation was founded in 1921. Before the war the Lottas organised recreational and hobby activities, educational courses, and provisions. During the war the Lottas worked in hospitals, evacuation centres, veterinary services, provisioning, communications, air surveillance, meteorology services and equipment services.

Little Lottas were 8–16 year-old girls whose activities resembled that of present day Scouts. They practiced important skills, like first aid and received a patriotic upbringing. During the war, however, many little Lottas ended up doing demanding work
in hospitals or canteens and helped the grown Lottas in equipment services. The Lotta organisation was abolished in 1944 by order of the government when they drew up the peace treaty.

The Finnish solders

Gustaf Mannerheim on horseback leading the White Army with the Finnish flag, made by Siro, Finland 1923. The Siro company was founded in Viipuri in 1919 and operated until 1927. Finland lost the Viipuri town to Soviet Union during the last war. Siro produced a variety of animal and human figures. A mixture of resin and sawdust was used for raw material and the frame was made of metal wire.


The oldest known tin soldier is a Roman legionnaire from 200 AD. Its predecessors – as well as many other tin figures to come – were votive objects, pilgrims’ souvenirs or decorations. 17th century French kings gave their children gold and silver toy soldiers. The ruler was the commander of the army and this small army served as an educational toy.

As society prospered, markets opened up to mass-produced toy soldiers. They were usually called tin soldiers although the figures were made from a mixture of tin and lead, because tin on its own is too soft as a raw material.

The tin soldier industry boomed in the area of modern-day Germany during the 18th century because the enormous lead mines near Nuremberg provided affordable materials. Tin soldiers were also cast at home, even in the 1950s. A tin alloy was poured into a mould and left to harden. Once hard, the figures were painted.

A gentleman who once visited the museum told us how as a child, he had collected old lead letterpress types from the printing house to cast toys. His mother never knew, because lead was poisonous, and it would have been forbidden.


Civilisation for homes

In the beginning of the 20th century the autonomous Finnish grand duchy suffered oppression by the Russian Empire. In 1899 Nicholas II announced the February Manifesto, which limited Finnish autonomy and the governor-general, General Bobrikov, eagerly began to carry out his orders.

In spring of the same year Lucina Hagman (1853–1946) founded a society called Sivistystä kodeille (Civilisation for Homes). The idea was to advance the nation with the help of women – a nation is what it is educated to be. Czar Nicholas II did not grant permission for the society to operate, but the women were not discouraged and cleverly changed the rules of the organisation and changed its name to Martta. The new name suitably referred to religion. Permission was granted, but at first a police officer had to be present at the meetings to oversee what the women were doing.

The organisation offered cultural and civic guidance and its rules emphasized women’s responsibility as mothers and educators. The women voluntarily spread knowledge and skills to homes across Finland – the idea was to help financially and

The association made a good start in the countryside, because guidance in gardening or chicken farming was easy to give, but the Martta organisation tenaciously also sought ways to create work opportunities for city women.

“Let us make Finnish children Finnish dolls, so they do not have shoddy, foreign rubbish foisted on them,” proposed Aurora Jansson from the Martta sewing society in Turku. The idea that first aired in the sewing circle, turned into a 70-year-long success story in Finnish toy manufacturing.

In the beginning the dolls were sold at markets and fairs. The operation was expanded and the first travelling salesman was employed in 1912. Soon they had forty employees. The number of retailers grew and in 1925 it reached 240. Records show that in the same year 33 366 dolls, and a large number of detachable parts were sold.

Martta-Nukketeollisuus made dolls in Finnish national costumes for the 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games, but these were cancelled because of the war, and the dolls were unsold. For the 1952 Helsinki Olympics dolls were also made. The second time the dolls did not enjoy their anticipated success, as they were too expensive for the sports lovers. The Martta dolls in national costumes were more than souvenir dolls – they were also intended for playing with.

During the war years of 1939–1945, when there was no import, Finnish dolls were in great demand. In 1943 the Ministry of Supplies decided to regulate the production of toys and forbid doll-making. Soon dolls were allowed again, but only from paper fabric and at the prices set by the ministry. The Ministry of Supplies loosened regulations in 1945, but the shortage of raw materials continued.

In the 1950s the shortage of supplies became less noticeable, but the new decade caused new problems. Imports increased and more durable massproduced plastic dolls flowed onto the market. Nukkela ended its unprofitable business in 1974.


These viewing devices make it possible to look at three-dimensional images. To enhance the impression of depth, each eye sees a separate image. The idea of a stereoscope is old and they were particularly fashionable in the 19th century. The View-Master was born later.

A stereoscope had two paper images, one for each eye. The View-Master had 14 slide images. In both, the pictures can be changed.

The View-Master was invented by William Gruber, an American piano tuner, photographer, and camera maker. He improved the stereoscope by using newly developed Kodachrome colour film. In 1938 Gruber met Harold Graves, who worked at Sawyers, a company specialising in postcards and photography. With his new companion the new stereoscope quickly became a product and the View-Master was patented on 20 January, 1939.

View-Master was originally a souvenir product, similar to tourist postcards. It was sold at photography studios, newspaper shops and souvenir shops. The first View-Masters arrived in Finland in parcels sent by aunts and uncles in America. The gadget did not appear in the stores until the mid-1950s. View-Master was later turned into a toy and the image discs and featured, for example, Disney characters.


Prototypes of small ceramic moomins were probably designed by Tove’s mother, graphic artist Signe Hammarsten-Jansson (1882–1970).

Ceramist Leo Tykkyläinen (1919–1984) manufactured the ceramic Moomins in his ceramic workshop in Helsinki. In 1956–1963 Tykkyläinen made approximately 15 000 Moominvalley figures that were personally approved by Tove Jansson. Tykkyläinen transported the products for sale to the Stockmann department store in his own car. Tove Jansson owned the copyright for the characters.

The production of ceramic Moomins stopped in January 1964, when Leo Tykkyläinen started working at the Finnish porcelain factory Arabia. He worked there as a model maker until 1979. The rights for making ceramic Moomins were transferred to Arabia, but these Moomins were never made at Arabia. Similar Moomin figures have also been made in Sweden by the Bo Fajans ceramic factory for the NK department store in Stockholm.

In 1991 a new line of ceramic Moomins, designed by Tuulikki Pietilä specifically for mass-production was produced in Arabia porcelain factory.


The world of the Moomins is both exciting and safe. The sea, storms and all kinds of disasters excite the independent and compassionate Moomins.

The adventurous Moomins were born in the soul and mind of the Finland-Swedish Helsinki-based artist Tove Jansson (1914–2001) during the war. The first Moomin book was published in 1945. Jansson illustrated the books herself.

Atelier Fauni

The Finnish Atelier Fauni was established in 1952 when Helena Kuuskoski (1919–2013) sewed the first big-eyed furry and somewhat scary forest trolls. They enjoyed great popularity.

The first Moomin characters, made from leather and fur, were made in the mid 1950s and were personally approved by Tove Jansson. The inhabitants of Moominvalley were often dressed in designs by the Finnish Marimekko textile company.

The Finnish department store Stockmann was the first to sell Moomins, but they were usually sold out before they even reached the shelves, as there was a long waiting list. Over 80 000 pieces were sold to Sweden too in the 1960s.

Atelier Fauni closed its business in 1971.


The troll-character was launched in 1956 under the name Lykke troll – the elf of luck. The trolls were made of cast rubber and filled with wood shavings. Since 1961 they have been made from PVC plastic.

The troll was created by a Dane, Thomas Dam. He started to sell his wood-carved troll figures from door-to-door in the neighbouring town of Alborg. His business with wooden toys was so successful that it became his livelihood.

One of his loyal clients owned an amusement park and he decided to order huge monster-like trolls for his haunted house. Since these sculptures were large, they were first modelled from clay, from which moulds were taken and cast in rubber. Dam became fascinated with the new technique and wondered if it would suit the little trolls. By using moulds and casting them he could make more trolls than by sculpting them one-by-one.

In the 1960s the trolls began their world conquest. In 1964 they were the second best selling toy in the United States after Barbie. The trolls appealed to children, as well as flower children, hippies.

Trolls made their comeback in the 1990s. However, these plastic figures with bright artificial hair were copies made in China.


The dear Teddy bear started its life at the beginning of the last century. Like many other good ideas, the concept of a toy bear was born simultaneously in a number of different places. The idea was to make a toy animal that a child could play with in the way that she or he played with dolls. Another favourite, alongside bears, was monkeys.

In 1902 Steiff designed their first toy bears and they were somewhat clumsy, hairy beasts with long limbs. They were exhibited at a toy fair in the spring 1903. By 1907 Steiff had manufactured a record-breaking 975 000 toy bears. At the same time, in the United States, Morris Michtom designed a toy bear.

The oldest Teddy bears have pointy muzzles, long limbs and movable joints. Cardboard or hardboard was used in the joints and paws had soles made from felt or leather. The claws were made with the same thread as the nose. The Teddy bear’s stomach sometimes hid a sound device made from metal or cardboard and covered with oilcloth.

The bears were made from expensive mohair fabric. The fabric was composed of a woven cotton base and wool from an angora goat. Mohair can be treated in many ways – it can be crushed, flattened, curled and coloured. Thus, every bear had its own individual look.

The bears were filled with wood shavings or kapok. After the war, as the production of Teddy bears spread, hygiene requirements became tighter and the use of wood shavings started to diminish. The oldest Teddy bears have wooden or metal shoe button eyes. Glass eyes became commonplace in the 1920s. After the World War II the heads got plumper and limbs gradually shorter. Mohair gave way to artificial fur.

The present-day Teddy bear is soft and without pronounced joints. A Teddy bear without detachable parts, with artifical fur and flock filling is not only machine-washable, but also cheap to produce. The number of operations, level of complexity and quality of materials is always indicated in the final price.


The bear was named Teddy bear after Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858–1919), the president of the United States from 1901–1909.

President Roosevelt was known to be a hunter. In November 1902 he was invited to a four-day hunting trip on the Mississippi with his entourage. In case he had bad hunting luck a bear was brought to the hunting grounds for the president to shoot. The president refused such unfair play.

Clifford K. Berryman drew a political caricature of the president’s hunting trip with the text “Drawing the line in Mississippi”, clearly referring to other political undertakings at that time. The humorous picture was published in the Washington Post on the 16th of November in 1902.

This is how the Teddy bear got its name. Some believe it to have been an election campaign to soften his tough-guy image. This might be the case.


The monkey, a soft toy that is somewhat rarer today, was also born in the early 20th century, at the same time as the Teddy bear.

The creation of both toys was inspired by the idea of making a toy that would suit the more affectionate games of boys. In other words, a toy monkey or a toy bear could be played with inthe same way as girls played with their dolls.

Monkeys were especially popular in the 1920s and 1930s when they were used as humorous characters on perfume bottles, manicure sets, powder boxes and other accessories.

The monkey slightly resembles a human being and clearly inspires stronger feelings than the ever-so-sweet and trustworthy Teddy bear. It seems to be easier to love a Teddy than a monkey. Monkeys play around, do tricks and pranks. They also have a sense of humour of their own, which does not appeal to everyone.


The horse has been man’s dear friend and helper for centuries. The oldest surviving rocking horses date back to the 17th century and they belonged to royalty and nobles. The rocking horse had an important role in teaching little princes and lords to ride on horseback.

The royal courts have had a significant role as instigators of toy crazes. Rocking horses were soon found rocking in places other than palaces and manors. In the 1880s rocking horses were commonly found in middle class homes. It became a toy and soon a symbol for childhood and it was immortalised in photographs of children taken in photographer’s studios.

A good rocking horse is sturdy and well-balanced. There are certain tricks to make one, which a skilled craftsman learns through trial and error. The main structural principle of the rocking horse is that its upper part is made from a lighter wood and it is often hollow. Heavier wood is used for the legs. Finally the horse is painted or covered with leather to achieve the right effect.

The pedal car soon replaced the rocking horse and since the 1950s rocking horses have not been as popular.


The Soviet Union was the first conqueror of space, so it is no wonder that space-related themes found their place among toys. The first artificial moon was launched into Earth’s orbit in the autumn of 1957 and soon a satellite orbited the Earth in the shape of a metal toy.

Laika, the dog was hurled to space in November 1957, Belka and Strelka survived their space flight in the autumn of 1960. Space-dogs have been a part of children’s games ever since.

When Juri Gagarin became a space hero in April 1961, cosmonaut dolls were of course made. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in the summer of 1963, and naturally girls then found playing cosmonauts more heroic than playing house.


In the Soviet Union toys were produced mostly by the state. A group of psychologists and experts were involved to make sure that the toys were pedagogically and ideologically suitable for children. Only then were the toys accepted into state-owned production and sales. Although the toys were carefully selected, the material was of poor quality. The dolls were made from plastic used in the food industry and their colours faded, or were made from other odd materials.

Some of the designs of the finest toys was a class of its own; the toys were designed by highly trained artists. One is Lev Smorgon (1929), who is known not only as a toy designer, but also a sculptor. But some toys were copied and stolen from abroad.

Children’s literature was intensively merchandised. Gena, the Crocodile and Cheburashka became well-known in Finland too, as did Doctor Powderpill. The toys were quite cleverly marketed with postcards. The idea of any kind of marketing in the Soviet Union was of course outrageous, but they were clearly trading cards.

It was custom to put the price on the goods during the production phase and the price was engraved into the mould and could not be removed to sell the product for a higher price.


The birth of mechanical toys is part of the 19th century industrial revolution. The first American metal toys from New England date back to the 1830s. Some of oldest well-known factories in Germany were Hess, established in 1826, Märklin (1859), Bing (1865) and Lehmann (1881). At the first world fair in London in 1851 mechanical metal toys were displayed in their own section.

There is a certain naïveté to metal toys and as such they mirror the life and times of their era. Metal toys contain a significant degree of handiwork. The production of the parts, painting, assembly, testing and packaging involve many individual hand-made operations. Well preserved metal toys produced before World War II are a rare treat for any collector.

After World War II consumption increased, as did leisure time. 1960s was the decade of growth and optimism. As a figure of speech, one could go to circus every day.

Today many toys represent a utopia, but the robot was a forerunner. Robot toys have been around since the 1930s, but the real boom started in the 1950s–1960s when fantastic sci-fi television series invaded people’s living rooms through the brand new media of television broadcasting. The Cold War and the Arms Race only helped to fuel the fire.

Metal robot toys have been manufactured in the US, and especially in Japan. Japanese robots were successfully exported around the world. As the world turned to plastic, plastic robots also appeared on the market. The plastic robots from the 1970s–1980s are collectables now, especially those made in Hong Kong or Japan. Nowadays reproductions of old metal robots are produced in India and China, and a genuine old robot is a true find.

The Czech writer Karel Čapek coined the word robot in his play R.U.R., Rossum’s Universal Robots, which premiered in Prague in January 1921. The word is derived from the word robota, which means work.

20. LEGO

The word lego derives from Danish “leg godt” – play well. In Latin verb “lego” means to assemble.

Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891–1958) founded the Lego company in 1932 and it first made wooden blocks. The founder’s son Godtfred joined the company and in 1947 they acquired an injection moulding machine to make plastic toys. Soon they got keen on improving the Kiddicraft blocks that were already on the market by making them stronger and easily attachable. Lego patented its attachment system in 1958. It became a huge success in the 1960s.

In Finland, during the war, the import of foreign toys was restricted, but the period lasted until 1967. The entrepreneur Boris Strömsholm from Espoo, Finland managed to get special permission to make licensed Lego blocks. The permission stated that 70% of the blocks sold in Finland should also be made here. Strömsholm’s Lego factory was located at an old shed in Bemböle, Espoo.

Did you know that the legos are made of ABS-plastic, which is made from fossil oil. To produce one kilogram of this plastic, it takes two kilograms of oil.

Today, a Western child owns an average of 18 kilograms of plastic toys. Today, plastic is the most used material in the manufacture of toys – currently 90% of toys are made of plastic. Plasticine was invented in 1897 by the Englishman William Harbutt. Plastic has been produced commercially since 1900.


At first no one believed in so-called, boys’ dolls. The line was not crossed until Hasbro (Hassenfeld Bros. Inc.) thought of replacing the word doll with word action figure. So the myth of boys not playing with dolls was destroyed in 1964.

It was essential that the action figure could be put into different body positions and like a proper soldier that it stayed in these positions. The first action figure had 21 body parts and real hair. It was called G.I. Joe after the generic name for American soldiers in World War II. When the company was looking for a partner in Japan the scar on Joe’s cheek was designed to prevent copying. This way the doll would be clearly distinguishable.

Action figure called Action Man is more familiar in Finland. A British company Palitoy started making the Action Man doll under license from Hasbro in 1966. G.I.Joe and Action Man are virtually identical twins. As a new addition Palitoy invented gripping hands that were very useful for handling guns.


The Barbie-type doll is not quite Mattel’s invention; the first example was the German Bild Lilli. Lilli was originally created by the cartoon artist Reinhard Beuth in 1952. She was a sexy caricature who created drama on the pages of the German tabloid Bild Zeitung. The cartoon gained popularity and Lilli dolls were manufactured in 1955–1964. The dolls were first sold in bars and tobacco shops for the amusement of grown men, not small girls.

Ruth Handler (1916–2002), the wife of one of the founders of Mattel, is known as the mother of Barbie dolls. Ruth observed the way her daughter Barbara played with paper dolls – what if the paper doll was a three-dimensional one?

In 1958 Mattel bought the patent for the Bild Lilli body from the German company Weissbrodt/Hausser. The Mattel doll was named Barbie after Barbara, the Handler’s daughter.

After extensive market research it was presented to the wider audience at the American Toy Fair in New York on 9 March, 1959. The first Barbie was identical to Lilli. For example she wore a similar striped swimming costume and white-framed sunglasses.

Adults were sceptical of the curvaceous doll but little girls fell in love with her. An amazing 350 000 Barbies were sold in the first year. The sales were boosted by the numerous television campaigns, which were still novel at that time. In Europe Barbie was first shown in 1961 at a toy fair in Italy.

Barbie was consciously designed to act as a role model for girls and has always lived in step with the times and fashion. Barbie has been clad in the most enchanting dresses and broken glass seilings in her career choices. For example, in 1965 Barbie became an astronaut, almost 20 years before the first American female astronaut Sally Ride in 1983. Barbie has run for presidency for the first time in the United states in 1992.


Tin motorcycles manufactured before the Second World War are very rare. Most of the production happened around the 1950s and 1960s. The finest examples were wind-up toy bikes made in Germany. Motorcycles and other tin toys, can be judged not only on the quality of their workmanship, but also the printed lithographs.

In addition to the wind-up variety, some motorcycles were friction powered. Batteries enabled new functions in the models of the 1960s, like sirens and flashing lights on police motorcycles. In the finest models the player could control the direction of movement. In some toys the rider could ride the bike, tilt it to turn or mount the motorcycle by swinging their leg over. One of the finest toy is the MAC 700, made by Arnold, US-zone Germany in 1948. The rider swings his leg over to mount and dismount.


The wartime coffee rationing ended in March 1954. The Finnish coffee companies started enclosing pictures of cars in their packets of coffee, sparking a collecting craze among children.

The children’s knowledge of cars was limited and the cards turned car trivia into a real measure of education. In addition to cars the cards depicted traffic signs, the different country codes and car club logos. Coffee company collecting cards were 60 by 74 mm – determined by the coffee packaging technology. A book for collecting could be obtained from the coffee shop in exchange for five collecting cards.

The car cards were like hard currency and their exchange rate could be almost compared to actual cars. In the 1950s cars made in socialist countries were common in Finland and thus a picture of an American Cadillac could be worth a stack of Soviet cars.

Children have been reported to throw coffee away, there for the pack would empty sooner: New coffee, and consequently more cards, would be collected. In the 1950s the price of 250g of coffee was equal to a worker’s hourly wage. The roasters were smart enough to give up child-oriented marketing by the end of 1955.


The lovely Shirley Temple (1928–2014) started dancing classes when she was only three years old. She made her first appearance in 1932 in a short film called Baby Burlesk.

While the Great Depression made life difficult Shirley’s optimistic and lively character was cheering. Even President Franklin Roosevelt has allegedly said, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right”.

Soon the film company Fox took the star under its wing. The girl, who had already become everybody’s favourite, sang and tap danced in full-length feature films alongside the greatest names of her time. Fox saved itself from bankruptcy by making several long films starring their new school-aged employee.

The child star’s last successful film was The Little Princess in 1939. By that time it had become difficult to find screen partners tall enough to make the 11-year old girl look half her age. They even tested oversize furniture. The audience noticed that Shirley Temple was starting to grow up and abandoned her. At the age of thirteen she found out that her mother had lied about her age, having claimed that she was a year younger. The little actress managed to appear in 55 films before she walked away from the film industry as a 21-year old millionaire.

Later, Shirley Temple made a career in foreign affairs and politics. She has said that her childhood did not disadvantage her, on the contrary, “Everybody loves Shirley Temple and has good memories. Many people consider me an old friend.”


Disney’s first full length Technicolor animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered in 1937. It was awarded one full-size Oscar along with seven dwarf statuettes.

Snow White made its first appearance in Finland in the same autumn that the Winter War began in 1939. So, it has left a significant mark on the collective memory of wartime children. Amidst all the fear, evil and shortages the magnificent, colourful Snow White and her friends brought joy to children’s lives. The film inspired a large number of products in Finland – cards, paper dolls, toys and tableware.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as rubber figures are made in 1940’s by Nokia Suomen Gummitehdas (Nokia Finnish Rubber Works), Finland. Later the same Nokia became internationally popular by manufacturing mobile phones and networks.


The quantity of old timey children’s tableware is amazing. There are doll’s house, playhouse and doll-size cups and pots. And there is of course the china that the children used themselves. Labels like Russian Kuznetsov or Swedish Rörstand or Finnish Arabia have made a significant amount of items for children over the years. It is a pity they no longer do.


The Swedish porcelain factory Rörstrand wanted to build a factory in Helsinki. The factory was built in 1874 on the plot of the name Arabia located on the northern edge of Helsinki. The factory was then named Arabia.

Rörstrand was particularly interested in the Russian market, which was easier to access from Finland. Skilled workers were brought to the factory from Sweden, and additional workers were also recruited from Finnish ceramics factories. In 1895, Arabia employed 300 workers, half of whom were women.

At the end of the 19th century, a third of the production went to Russia. Domestic sales were hindered by fierce competition, especially with imported German ceramics. Marketing was developed by hiring a traveling salesman who toured the country with product samples. Arabia also made a significant collaboration with the store Stockmann at a sales exhibition in 1896. Arabia’s collection was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900.

In 1916, the Swedish Rörstrand sold the factory’s entire stock to Finns.


Soft toys based on Disney characters have been popular collectables throughout the years.

Dean’s Rag Book Co. obtained the license for making Disney merchandise in 1929. The contract was made directly with Walt Disney and was initiated by Richard Ellet, who worked at Dean’s as secretary and leading designer.

During Walt Disney’s visit to London to advertise his newest creation, Steamboat Willie, he met with Ellet who suggested turning Mickey and Minnie into dolls. Unlike Dean’s, which already had experience with Bonzos (no.30), Disney did not believe in the idea or that Mickey merchandise had any potential. However, Disney’s “licence agreement number 1” was finally signed in 1929 between Disney and Dean’s Rag Book Company.

Dean’s Mickey Mouse line came to an end with World War II and the difficult years that followed. The company had to give up the license in the 1950s.

In the United States the first soft Mickey toys were made in the 1930s by Charlotte Clark and from 1934 onwards also by the Knickerbocker Toy Co.


The American illustrator Rosie O’Neill created Kewpie at the beginning of the 20th century. It made its first appearance in Ladies Home Journal on Christmas 1903. Rose O’Neill has described how the small plump characters appeared to her during her daily naps. They danced around her and introduced themselves as Kewpies. So, there is not one Kewpie, but many.

The name Kewpie originates from the name Cupid and functions as its childish diminutive. O’Neill stressed that she did not create Kewpie, but only introduced her to the public. In her own words, “Kewpie is a sort of little round fairy whose one idea is to teach people to be merry and kind at the same time”. Kewpie can be recognized from its characteristic hair, belly and smile. Above all Kewpie loves kind smiling children.

Kewpie enjoyed such popularity that it was turned to a doll. The first copyright dates back to 17 December, 1912 and the patent to 4 March, 1913. The German company Kestner & Co. already had good business relationships with the US and they started to produce them. During the height of its popularity about 30 porcelain factories were involved in the production in Germany. When export stopped during World War I, the production of Kewpies began in their homeland, USA.

Demand was high and several doll factories around America were licensed to produce Kewpies. In addition to composite wood (a mixture of sawdust and glue), some dolls were created from rubber.

Because the original character could fly the original Kewpie had tiny blue wings on its neck. There have been other Kewpie-type porcelain characters and dolls, but they lack the wings.

Nowadays Kewpie is popular in Asia and has become the logo of a food manufacturer. The plastic Kewpie has been a popular bath toy, and also part of many Finnish children’s games in the 1980s.


Bonzo was born in England from the imagination of illustrator George Studdy (1878–1948). In 1918 a journal called The Sketch became interested in Studdy’s dog drawings. The character, popular with readers, needed a name and the editors called it Bonzo.

The first animation film, A Sausage Snatching Sensation, premiered in London as the opening film at the cinema on 14 October, 1924. Felix the Cat was already a film star in America and Bonzo started the boom in European animation.

Bonzo also worked hard as an advertiser. George Studdy was a keen smoker, and so was Bonzo. In 1925 he was shown smoking a cigarette on a gigantic billboard on Piccadilly Circus. In magazines he advertised shaving lotion, as well as black enamel paint. Because of his advertising of cigarettes and drinking alcohol the cute little puppy has not entirely innocent, but as a stuffed toy his cheerful nature still comforted and delighted everyone.

The Bonzo merchandise was extensive; anything from chocolate to table clocks could be Bonzo-shaped. Valentine’s Postcards of Dundee had a goldmine with their postcards featuring Bonzo. The first soft, plush Bonzo-toys were made by Chad Valley and Dean’s Rag Book Company in England. Celluloid figures were made in Germany, as well Japan.

In Finland Bonzo is familiar from children’s songs and rhymes, and from homemade plump toy dogs.

George Studdy himself had a cocker spaniel named Ben. His wife Blanche had a Chinese palace dog named Chee Kee. There was a weird custom in the family to always get new similar dogs and give them same names.


We are proud to present to you a private collection of old toys, dating from the 1830’s until the collapse of the Soviet Union. This Toy Museum is founded in 1985 by an artist and antique dealer Piippa Tandefelt (1939).

In 1991, a small café was set up at the Museum. The café brings in extra income and supports keeping the collection for display.

The year 2003 Piippa’s daughter, Petra Tandefelt (1966), took over the Toy Museum. By now, the toy collection has grown for more than fifty years already. The Museum operates under its official business name and does not receive financial aid from the state or any other level.

Both the Toy Museum and the Café Samovarbar have devoted loyal customers all over the world. We are very grateful for any support, including psychological: happy customers are our best sales agents. We hope that you enjoy your tour in our cute little Museum!

Toy Museum
Suomenlinna C 66,
00190 Helsinki, Finland