Christmas 2016: A whistle-stop tour
December 9, 2016 - Jon Ducker
For our 2016 Christmas displays, we are celebrating traditional toys and games from American history. Each of our Period Rooms has been transformed to tell a different Christmastime story, filled with festive toys, games, and fun.
Read on for a glimpse into the Period Rooms at the American Museum this Christmas…
Conkey’s Tavern – 1776
It is Christmas Eve 1776 and the inhabitants of this New England tavern are taking advantage of the festivities to have a well-earned rest. The landlord, Mr Conkey, and his wife Rebecca have laid out a light meal of Christmas delicacies for the labourers and servants who work in the tavern and on the surrounding land. For this one evening, Mr Conkey has allowed gaming in his tavern: a privilege usually reserved for gentlemen, not working men with many jobs to finish.
Winter is approaching and the Hawes family of Massachusetts has spent the last few weeks gathering in their corn harvest. This grain will have to see them through the long cold months ahead. The women of the family have come together to work in companionable chatter whilst the men gather in the last of the harvest. The children of the house are folding and tying the corn husks into the shape of dolls.
The Lee and Borning Rooms – 1740
It is Christmas Eve and a winter gale howls outside the Thompson-Thurston house. Mrs Thomspon-Thurston is unable to sleep and is working on a small quilt for her daughter’s doll cradle by stitching the edges of a square that she has cut from her old quilted petticoat.
Perley Parlor – 1760
George Perley is playing on his hobby horse, pretending that he is a soldier going off to battle. George has rearranged the furniture to create strategic obstacles over which to jump his horse as he races into the fray. When he grows up he wants to be just like his father – a captain in the army.
Deming Parlor – 1768
The eldest children of the Deming family have taken advantage of the maid’s absence to indulge in a little sport. They are supposed to be reading Bible verses from their hornbooks, but the wooden paddles are the perfect shape and size for a game of ‘shuttlecock and battledore’.
Deer Park Parlor – 1811
The New Year has arrived in Baltimore and brought with it a fierce gale. The Cromwell family has just returned from a bracing walk and are settling down for the afternoon’s entertainment.
Just before Christmas, Mr Cromwell’s brother returned from a trip to England. He brought a gift for the children with him – a toy theatre. As the afternoon light wanes, the candles light the stage and the Cromwell children prepare to begin their production.
It is late at night during the Christmas of 1867 in Windham County, Connecticut. Violet is wide awake while the rest of the family sleeps soundly. She has spent an enjoyable afternoon watching her father and brother entertain the family with a zoetrope.
Violet has forced herself to stay awake long after the rest of the household has retired to bed. She has brought the zoetrope to her room so that she can enjoy its delights alone, even if it is not considered a seemly interest for a girl.
Shaker Room – 1859
Christmas 1859 is fast approaching and the Shaker Sisters’ Workshop is a hive of activity. Crates of commercially made dolls from the outside world sit around the workshop. The Sisters are using the remnants from making clothes for the Shaker community to fashion stylish apparel for the dolls. These playthings are not intended for the Shaker children, who have other tasks to occupy their time. Instead they will be sold in the community’s store.
Pennsylvania-German Room – 1857
It is Christmas Sunday in the Distlefink household. On this day of rest and worship, the children have gathered their ‘Sunday toys’ to play with. These playthings are religious in nature and based on stories from the Bible.
Early Noah’s Arks were made by German cottage industries. The demand for these toys was so high that workers struggled to meet demand. Carving large numbers of these tiny figures became so laborious that workers referred to them as ‘misery beasts’.
It is Christmas in New York 1835 and the Van Cortlandt family home is the venue for an evening of merriment. Amidst the presents and delicacies a new entertainment has been suggested to delight the crowd – ‘bubble bowling’. The aim of the sport is to bowl the most bubbles through the goal. Each player is allowed three tries before a fellow competitor takes his or her place.
New Orleans Bedroom – 1861
Night is descending over New Orleans as Christmas day 1861 draws to a close. Miss Beth has been sent to her room while the adults in the Conway house continue the celebrations downstairs.
This Christmas her wishes have been granted, and she is the recipient of a glorious French ‘poupée’. Arabella Araminta Wilhelmina Conway, as her doll has just been christened, is an imported French fashion doll, who has arrived complete with the most stylish of wardrobes containing all the latest fashions from Paris.
Christmas 2016 – Treasured Toys: 24 November to 18 December 2016
Tuesday – Sunday, 12noon-4.30pm
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