Victorian Photos Capture Children and Their Toys

The bond between child and toy is special, and this holiday season The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is celebrating that bond with a charming exhibit. “Forever Young: Victorian Photographs of Children and Their Toys” features more than 100 early photographs of children and toys from the collection of Lawrence, Kan., resident Nick Vaccaro.

They include daguerreotypes, which were printed on silver plates, ambrotypes, printed on glass, and tintypes, printed on thin, tin plates.

“It wasn’t as simple as just taking a picture with your phone,” Cassie Pikarsky, the museum’s community development coordinator, explained. “And people were normally only photographed a couple of times in their life.”

This made Victorian photographs precious to those who had them taken. The pride in photos can be seen in the ornately constructed cases often used to protect and display the images.

The Victorian era marked a distinct shift in the way children were raised, which explains why toys like dolls, drums and horses showed up in photos.

“Childhood became more of a precious thing in the Victorian era,” Pikarsky said. “Kids were beginning to be allowed to be kids. They weren’t necessarily farm hands or working; they were able to have a childhood. So they started to think a little about what toys kids were playing with and what they were learning from those toys.”

While a few of the photos on display might show the children holding studio props, most of them feature the child with his or her favorite toy. But, you’ll notice that doesn’t bring a smile to the child’s face.

“Portraiture was so rare that they took it very seriously,” Pikarsky noted, pointing out the stern looks. “In the Victorian era, if you were smiling it could mean that you were lustful or had desire or deceit. The proper way you were supposed to handle yourselves was demure, solemn.”

Rounding out the exhibit are a few period-appropriate dolls and toys.

Patrons can even catch a glimpse of Miss Mary, the museum’s most popular doll, which only goes on display a few times a year in order to preserve her. Miss Mary is an Izannah Walker doll. In the late 1800s, Walker and her sisters patented their doll construction process and produced about 3,000 dolls over 40 years, with each doll’s face painted to look like her owner.

“They were the early American Girl dolls,” Pikarsky said.

“Forever Young: Victorian Photographs of Children and Their Toys” continues at The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, 5235 Oak St., through March 26. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for ages 5 and up. For more information, 816.235.8000 or

Holiday Fun at the T/M

Darling Daguerreotypes
Nov. 25, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
During the museum’s day-after-Thanksgiving workshop, bring your favorite toy or borrow one from the museum’s education collection to get your snapshot taken and turned into a faux daguerreotype. Then, decorate a case for your new portrait just like those in “Forever Young.” Included in the price of admission.

Coleman House Opening
Dec. 3, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The museum’s 9-foot-tall dollhouse will be decked for the holidays again this year. Get up close as museum educators open the doors for a peek inside. Talks are at 10:30 to11:30 a.m., 1 to 2 p.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Included in the price of admission.

Music In The Museum
Dec. 10, 1 – 3 p.m.
Take a break from the hectic holiday season to enjoy traditional holiday music from Simple Strings in the museum’s historic Tureman Education Center. Included in the price of admission.

Father Christmas Comes to T/M
Dec. 18, 1 – 3 p.m.
Father Christmas, aka professional storyteller Jim “Two Crows” Wallen, will engage the whole family with interactive tales of Old Saint Nick. Bring your camera to snap keepsake photos with Father Christmas. Included in the price of admission.

About The Author: Alexia Lang

Alexia Lang

Alexia Lang is a multimedia journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines, radio and blogs. She holds a journalism degree from UMKC and her Master’s work is in Leadership.


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