Doll parts, marbles, doll-house furniture, tea sets and other toys often turn up in archaeological deposits. Toys could be easily broken and so were often thrown away. However, not finding toys doesn’t mean that the children who were known to live in a household didn’t have any. Some types of toys such as rag dolls, wooden toys and books often don’t survive being buried in an archaeological deposit. Children and parents also kept much-loved toys or gave them away, rather than discarding them.
The toys archaeologists do find indicate the role of manufactured toys in children's lives and the growing acceptance in the nineteenth century of the concept of childhood. Whereas previously children were viewed as little adults, during the nineteenth century childhood became seen as a special time of life quite distinct from the world of adults, a time to be devoted to play and schooling rather than work. Manufacturing industries encouraged this by producing toys, books and games specifically for children. Shop catalogs from the second half of the nineteenth century had pages of toys for sale, including the doll head seen in this 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog.
toys were meant for play, nineteenth-century Victorian culture also
saw them as didactic or teaching tools, useful for instructing children
in the virtues of responsibility, industriousness and acceptable gender
roles. Dolls and tea sets helped instill domestic and nurturing roles
in little girls, while guns and metal soldiers were advertised for boys.
The information on this web page was based on a more extensive essay on pets in a section of Chapter 6: "Playing Hard in West Oakland", a chapter in Putting the “There” There: Historical Archaeological of West Oakland. The complete report is available for free download here.