The Central Connecticut River Valley has an important story to tell — a toy story.
Toy manufacturing began in the region in the 1850s and continues into the present. The exhibit, “Toys: The Story of Toy Manufacturing in the Central Connecticut River Valley,” examines the development of the toy industry to reveal the technological innovations of its residents, the history of childhood play theory in America, popular culture’s impact on industry and how both national and international forces impacted the toy industry.
The “Toys” exhibit is on display through April 18, 2020 at the Historical Society of Cheshire County, 246 Main St., Keene. Then the exhibit will move to Brattleboro and Peterborough. The exhibit is free and open to the public and a special hands-on play area is provided for children.
The exhibit features examples of many of the classic toys that have been manufactured in the region. For example, metal toys were made in the 1800s by Triumph Wringer, which was a manufacturer of clothes wringers and other things; then by Wilkins Toy in the 1890s; and Kingsbury Manufacturing from 1920-1942. It is said that children all over America would eagerly await the arrival of the new catalog of Kingsbury Toys.
Two other companies featured in the exhibit are Whitney Brothers and Douglas Toy Company. The Whitney brothers — Charles, Fred and Mark — started a wooden toy manufacturing company in Marlborough in 1904 in a building which was originally a water-powered grist mill. Today, Whitney Brothers manufactures toys and educational furniture at a facility on Railroad Street in Keene.
Douglas Toy Company has been a family-owned-and-operated company since 1956, and has become one of the oldest and most respected plush-toy companies in the world.
The Historical Society will host several toy-related events and presentations in conjunction with the exhibit (see sidebar for more information on these). In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, many new arrivals at the Historical Society’s Museum Store are toys from the region. The Museum Store is “brand new” this holiday season, thanks to a renovation project that took place in 2019 at the Historical Society’s headquarters.
The “Toys” exhibit is a collaboration between the Historical Society of Cheshire County, the Brattleboro Historical Society, Marlborough Historical Society and many individuals with personal links to toy manufacturing history. Several New Hampshire businesses are sponsors — the Douglas Toy Company, Whitney Brothers and Toadstool Bookshop.
The Historical Society of Cheshire County is located at 246 Main St. in Keene. The organization has been collecting, preserving and communicating the history of Cheshire County for 92 years. The Society puts on about 150 programs each year to help people of all ages “find their place in history.” It is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and the first and third Saturday of every month, from 9 a.m. to noon. Please note: The Historical Society will be closed for two weeks from Jan. 6-17 for staff development. Through Dec. 24, HSCC members receive a 20 percent discount on most Museum Store items, and not-yet-members receive a 10 percent discount. For more information, visit hsccnh.org or call 352-1895.