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Schools are opening again, and teachers and other experts are using technology and new methods, toys and games to educate children. Curiosity, creativity, individuality and fun aren't "new" ideas. But 19th-century ways were different.

There were almost no toy manufacturers before the 18th century. Most of the toys that were made were educational. The "Sunday toy" is an example. No play that day, just church, but a wooden Noah's Ark with animals was permitted as a way to learn Bible stories. Cards were made for educational games based on geography, spelling or history. Board games taught "Virtue rewarded and Vice punished." Mechanical banks were toys that taught thrift. Construction toys helped boys learn how to use tools and understand building. Girls learned to sew, cook, clean, and buy necessities with the help of toys that looked like grownups' things. And it wasn't necessarily all supposed to be fun.

Today's kids might have an iPad or a Chrome book! Here are five low-tech toys that 18th- and early-19th-century children might have had that can still teach.


Mansion of Happiness game

The Mansion of Happiness game, Ives, Boston, engraved by Taylor & Adams, Boston, 1864. The lithographed board game advertises “An Instructive Moral and Entertaining Amusement,” and is considered to be the first commercially published game board in the U.S. It provided lessons in moral conduct; good deeds and virtues resulted in players moving along the road to success and happiness. Sold for $1,200 in an online shop.

Picturre Gallery mechanical bank

Picture Gallery Bank, Shepard Hardware Co., Buffalo, N.Y., c.1888. A mechanical bank with two functions: saving money and teaching the alphabet. It has three windows and a green dial that rotates images of letters, numbers and pictograms in the windows. Sold for a whopping $24,000 at an RSL auction in New Jersey.

Alphies blocks

Alphies blocks, Schoenhut, 1916. The Alphies, first patented in 1916, are 5-inch-tall wooden blocks with lithographed paper characters on both sides. One side has “Alphie Dollies” and the other has “Alphie Zoo” figures. Each character has a letter of the alphabet on its front. Sold for $250 by Pook & Pook with Noel Barrett in Pennsylvania.

Snakes and ladders game

Snakes and Ladders game board, F.H. Ayers, London, 1890s. Printed paper on wooden board, sold for $325 in an online shop.

Anchor Blocks
Anchor Blocks, 3 sets, Richter & Co., Germany, c.1900. Stone building blocks in many shapes with manuals and individual pages picturing building plans and illustrations, in wooden cases. Sold for $84 at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Maine.

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