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Toy boats show gives 'glimpse into bygone era' in Britain

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • The exhibition features over 100 toys, games, catalogues and photographs
  • A range of boats from 1850 to 1950 by European manufactures are on display
  • Boats by celebrated toy makers include Gerbrüder Bing, Marklin, Radiguet and Sutcliffe

London, England (CNN) -- Before the advent of video games and remote control cars, the "It" toy of the 19th century was the toy boat.

Now some of the finest miniature boats, built during the height of their popularity, are on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England giving the public "a glimpse into a bygone era."

The exhibition, entitled "Toy Boats," showcases replicas of some of the greatest ocean liners, paddle steamers and battleships ever to have sailed the high seas.

Ships on display date from 1850 to 1950 and include the infamous battleship HMS Terrible, the RMS Queen Mary and Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht the Hohenzollern.

But instead of sailing the high seas, these intricate boats were captained by children in ponds across England.

So popular was the craze, that when a pond at Kensington Gardens, London -- one of Britain's great royal parks -- was drained in 1923 the groundskeeper discovered 150 sunken vessels at the bottom.

These miniature boats are a glimpse into a bygone era
--Kristian Martin, curator

The boom in toy boats was spurred by the great advances in maritime power during the mid-19th century.

As Britain and Germany raced to build bigger and better ships, toy factories competed to create ever more complex and sophisticated models.

Germany was the market leader, famous for quality tin toys, which were exported around the world. Gerbruder Bing, the world's largest toy company, employed over 5,000 people in its Nuremberg factory.

Kristian Martin, curator of the exhibition, said: "These miniature boats are a glimpse into a bygone era, when every town had a boating lake and children learnt about Britain as a maritime nation through toy boats.

"The also tell of a rapidly changing world and the developments in technology in children's toys."

More on the toy yachts here: