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What makes toys timeless?

wooden man December 1996

From Correspondent Michael Okwu

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Museum of the City of New York is exhibiting toys that are timeless.

The most memorable toys, says the museum's Sheila Clark, are "the ones that are based on simple shared experiences," including humor.

The century's earliest toys mostly were wooden representations of home, like doll houses and Lionel trains. United States president Theodore Roosevelt popularized the now-timeless teddy bear.


Image gallery of Eric Rubin's tin toy collection


A few decades later wind-up tin toys were popular. Eric Rubin has spent more than $20,000 collecting the playthings from the '20s '30s and '40s.

guy with cigar

"This is the golden age of American toy-making," said Rubin. "I love the color of them. I love the graphics of them. They're just unique. They're fun. I can wind them up and just let 'em run."

Most of his toys were made by Louis Marx, one of the era's toy kingpins. Rubin can spend hours reflecting on bygone days when toys were pure and simple, like his climbing fireman or Lil' Abner and the Dog Patch Band.

Later, the Slinky was all the rage -- that coiled strip of metal (now plastic) that seemingly could crawl down stairs unaided.

slinky comercial

"It was invented by a guy who fought in World War II," explained toy collector Ira Gallen. He got the idea while "he was standing by a battle turret and a spring jumped out of the gun."

"He sold millions of them," Gallen said.

It's only natural, perhaps, that the popularity of toys would evolve to the point where they would come to life. The popularity of the movie "Toy Story" bears that out.

But, as with most things, classics endure.

mr potato head

The reigning queen of toys is Barbie, a doll that has been a hit for 37 years.

Items based on the "Star Wars" movies, now 20 years old, are hotter than ever.

"I think that's an indication that, when things are classic, they're classic for a reason," said Amanda Gronich, of the toy seller FAO Schwarz.


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