For more than 100 years miniature ocean liners, paddle steamers and battleships captured the imagination of generations of children, creating a sense of adventure and excitement. At a time when Britain was the worlds great industrial and maritime power toy boats were as fascinating to children as computer games are today.
In May 2010 the National Maritime Museum
(NMM) launches Toy Boats. The exhibition features over 100 toys, games, catalogues and photographs to reveal how the craze for all things maritime drove toy companies to make toy boats of every size and description.
The exhibition explores the range of toy boats made by European manufacturers from 1850 to 1950, a period marked by rapid advances in maritime technology. As nations raced each other to build bigger and better ships, toy makers were swift to exploit the publicity and follow-up with toys that captured the spirit of these famous vessels. The methods used in toy-boat propulsion varied from twisted rubber bands and clockwork springs to fired-up burners producing steam, and early batteries. The show traces these developments through toy boats made by celebrated toy makers in Europe including Gerbrüder Bing, Marklin, Radiguet, Bassett-Lowke, Hornby and Sutcliffe.
Late 19th-century town planning introduced new parks with decorative ponds and fountains, which gave children a space to play with toy boats. This, along with the increase in family seaside holidays, created an appeal which inspired toy makers to compete in creating finer and more sophisticated ships, which also appealed to adults as collectors curios. Germany was the market leader and famous for quality tin toys which were exported around the world. Gerbrüder Bing, the worlds largest toy company, employed over 5000 people in its Nuremberg factory. France was Germanys biggest competitor with companies such as Radiguet renowned for making elegant beautifully finished vessels.
The exhibition looks at the way toy boats were marketed through advertising, packaging and catalogues. The advent of department stores, and their use of large plate-glass shop fronts, offered a new way to showcase merchandise and entice customers.
Archive film footage shows Ron McCrindell, a toy boat enthusiast who has amassed one of the finest collections in the UK, sharing his passion for these miniature vessels.
Kristian Martin, curator of the exhibition said: These miniature boats are a glimpse into a bygone era when every town had a boating lake and children learnt about Britain as a maritime nation through toy boats. They also tell of a rapidly changing world and the developments in technology in childrens toys.'