Toys through Time

Toys through TimeFrom wooden peg dolls to Barbie, tin soldiers to spacemen, discover a world of nostalgia and relive childhood memories at Toys through Time, a new exhibition currently on display at Museum of Sydney.

Toys through Time takes a fascinating look back at the beloved toys of generations of Sydneysiders and tells the city’s own story of toy manufacturers and famed toy sellers.

Featuring over 200 original toys and treasures, from one of the oldest provenanced dolls in an Australian collection to plastic marvels from the atomic 1950s, the exhibition captures the spirit of play, the breadth of innovation and the creativity of Sydney’s unique toy story.

“Toys are a wonderfully whimsical reflection of Sydney’s ever-changing culture,”  said Sydney Living Museums Director, Mark Goggin. “The most popular toys of each passing generation, whether they were made or bought, give us an insight into our changing society and the broader Sydney story.”

Visitors of all ages will delight in the colourful assortment of toys and treasures on display, with changes in society, technology and materials throughout the 19th and 20th centuries influencing the toys that were made and the way children played.

See some of the earliest colonial toys, such as the exotic pull-along wooden toy deer that belonged to the children of wool pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur, along with other cherished toys of the past, like the 19th century doll collection of Kathleen Rouse of Rouse Hill House and Farm.

Explore the extraordinary toy collections of today’s Sydneysiders, including treasured toys owned since childhood that have inspired lifelong passionate collecting in their owners, from Hornby and Ferris model trains to Barbie dolls. Plus wonderful construction toys bought in adulthood but longed for as a child such as LEGO, Meccano and Sydney’s own version Buz.

Discover a collection of Victorian parlour games that grew from a love of beautiful boxes and graphic design, and a quirky collection of Crater Critters, the plastic miniature toys found in cereal boxes in the 1970s. Visitors will follow the journey of one Sydneysider’s beloved doll, Patsy, as she undergoes surgery at Sydney’s famed Doll Hospital, which has been mending children’s toys for over 100 years.

Toys through Time also illustrates the early licensed toy phenomena, with an Australian-made Mickey Mouse, an imported Shirley Temple doll and Sydney’s own Felix the Cat on display, along with other characters immortalised in cartoons, comics, cinema and radio.

The exhibition explores the hey-day of Sydney toy manufacturing with Cyclops and F. Roebuck & Sons just two of the many home-grown manufacturers producing treasures such as tricycles, pedal cars, doll’s prams, rocking horses and trains.

Alongside were the famed Sydney toy shops of yesteryear. From the large department stores of Anthony Hordern & Sons and Farmer & Co., that captivated generations of families with their rich toy departments, enchanting window displays and splendid seasonal pantomimes, to specialty stores like Walther & Stevenson, widely known as Sydney’s ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of toy shops.

Children can let their imagination fly as they follow a Kid’s Trail through the exhibition and enjoy an interactive play space where they can experience traditional toys, play contemporary games and make their own toy to take home.

“Reflecting almost 200 years of play, Toys through Time will capture the imagination of both young and old,” said Mr Coggin. “The personal stories of childhood play will create an immersive, emotional and sentimental experience of growing up in Australia.”

“Adults will enjoy rediscovering the much-loved toys of their childhood, while children will delight in a world of colour, fun and hands-on activity.”

Toys through Time
Museum of Sydney, Corner Bridge and Phillip Streets, Sydney
Exhibition continues to 9 August 2015
Free entry after general museum admission

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Pedal pony made by F Roebuck & Sons and Cyclops c1940, and a size 3 rocking horse made by F Roebuck & Sons c1965-1972.  Roebuck Family Collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums