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Once Upon A Town: Toy and Miniature Villages

[Exhibition from Holiday 2004]

The museum's special exhibit for the holiday season was again designed to interest children of all ages. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of numerous local area collectors and lenders, a wonderful variety of toy and miniature villages were loaned to the museum.

Toy villages were some of the earliest and most common toys that were commercially produced. As early as the 1800s, small block villages were produced in Germany. These could be made quite cheaply and were manufactured for over a hundred years. Many of these small villages were intended as Christmas sets, to be displayed under trees, often on a mat of cotton "snow". Other small-scale Christmas villages were produced through the 1950s in Germany, Japan and the United States, usually out of flocked cardboard. Small buildings are often found with holes in the back to accommodate electric Christmas lights. Visitors enjoyed several examples of these early toy villages at the Gunn Museum.

As advances were made in color printing in the late 19th century, elaborate architectural details could be depicted on flat surfaces. This offered an ideal medium for toy villages. Individual buildings were printed on heavy paper or cardboard that could then be compactly folded for shipping, then assembled by a child. One of the most well known of these early villages is the "Pretty Village" series made by McLoughlin Brothers in New York. Several delightful examples of these were displayed.

Christmas Village created by modeler Ned Swigart.

The company that made Built-Rite Toys began as the Warren Paper Products Company in the early 1920s as a paper box manufacturer. Built-Rite made toys for both boys and girls. Those marketed for boys included forts, railroads stations, farms and airports and for girls the company made a number of dollhouses and two different sets of cardboard dollhouse furniture. Numerous playful examples of Built-Rite toys were included in this exhibit.

Bachmann Brothers originated as early as the 1830s when the company made ivory cane handles and combs. By 1907, they were using an injection molding process to manufacture frames for eyeglasses. After World War II, the company began producing their line of "Plasticville" buildings and accessories for model train layouts. The Plasticville architecture reflected the styles of the 1950s and 1960s. More than 100 Plasticville buildings and accessories were included.

Two outstanding model village scenes were also showcased in the exhibit. Created and hand-crafted by local modeler Ned Swigart, these engaging scenes welcomed visitors to look carefully at the details Mr. Swigart included, first in a small town scene, and the other of New York City in 1910.

The museum's Christmas tree was artfully and lovingly decorated with reproduction Dresden ornaments, hand-made by Betsy Dempsey of Bridgewater, Connecticut.

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