Volume 16, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 9-16, 2003


The golden age of toys – the ’50s and ’60s

By Jane Flanagan

The other day there was a guy on National Public Radio talking about toys. It was one of the personal essay segments they run. He said his young children startled him by asking for Christmas toys with eerily familiar names. Turns out they were the playthings of his youth, now being remarketed on cable.

What startled me, however, was when this man was a youth – the 1980s.

Evidently, he thought of himself as typical, too.

“Presumably the kids of the 1980s are the young parents of today…” he continued.


This guy was from Chicago. Maybe that explains it. Because in New York, where “typical” rarely applies to anything we do, an awful lot of parents of small children were not kids in the 1980s. More like the 1960s, even the 1950s. At least my husband and I were.

I’m 45 and Bob is a decade older than me. Our son, Rusty, is 5.

I’ll bet my husband never heard of the toys this fellow’s kids are pleading for: Cabbage Patch dolls and Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles. I’ve heard of them but only because a friend on Long Island started having children when we were in our 20s.

Just as I was beginning to feel old, I suddenly cheered up because the Chicago guy was bemoaning the resurrection of what he referred to as the “cheesy” toys of the 1980s. While he may have youthful parental vigor, we hail from an era of cooler toys. At least my husband did. In fact, while Midwestern Dad is trying to avoid his youthful relics, my husband is busy tracking his down.

The other night, Bob walked in with a calendar page entitled, “Spokane Safe and Lock Co.” – December, 1972. He found it on E-Bay. While Bob was already practicing law in 1972 and spent his childhood in Flushing, it was the calendar’s picture he was after: a Norman Rockwell painting of a boy in an oversized Boy Scout uniform saluting himself in the mirror. Nearby, a crumpled Cub Scout outfit hung over the back of a chair. On the wall was a photo of the boy literally looking up to his Dad, both clad as scouts.

“Isn’t this great?” said Bob, taping it to the wall in Rusty’s room.

A week later he walked in the door with dog-eared copies of merit badge instruction manuals. Bob is big on the Boy Scouts – a club you don’t hear much about these days. I blame those ‘80s kids. Seems to me the movement started petering out about then.

Another night Bob came home with a weathered box labeled, “Visible V8 Engine.” On the cover was a Dad in a button-down collared shirt, smoking a pipe, standing behind his wide-eyed son. I’m still not sure what a Visible V8 engine is; it can’t be a real engine, can it? Regardless, my husband said that Rusty is going to love helping him build it.

These two also build model airplanes, a hobby I associate with the 1950s and ’60s. I know this activity is seriously on the wane because of how difficult it is to find kits for birthday presents. Forget Toys “R” Us. A hobby shop is the only place, and there are very few of them left.

But Bob and Rusty’s biggest hobby is Lionel trains. My husband has been collecting them since he was 3-years-old. They pour over train magazines – usually filled with pictures of boys in crew cuts and Dads in neckties.

Well, my husband may be a member of A.A.R.P. and I’m often perusing MORE Magazine, but at least this Christmas I won’t be shopping for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.






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