Oink was (and perhaps still is) a small plastic piglet, manufactured by Britains Toys in the mid ‘80s. My father gave Oink his rather fitting name during one of our daily excursions to school, and for many months he preceded to live in my pocket. Oink was an adventurous toy who enjoyed day trips, and it was this adventurous nature that eventually led to his downfall.
In the early ‘90s, large coaches still had ashtrays attached to the back of seats. To see one now would probably be unpleasant, but these vessels once provided a world of entertainment: opportunities to create tiny plumes of dust; a chance to make an irritating ‘snap’ that would wake your sleeping neighbour; a great place to store Top Trumps cards, and, of course, an adventure playground for small plastic piglets (you can see where this story is going). It was after one of these adventures that Oink mysteriously disappeared. Had he fallen on the floor? Had someone stolen him? Did the ashtray consume him!? These scenarios quickly crossed my mind, while my brain simultaneously came to one sad conclusion – no more Oink.
Why am I starting this week’s post in this way? What is significant about a tiny plastic toy? The truth is, I had completely forgotten about Oink, until I recently visited Pollock’s Toy Museum. This rambling building is crammed with an exquisite collection of every toy imaginable. Seeing so many tiny treasures in one space prompted me to wonder where they had all come from.
Did they once provide precious companionship, like Oink did for me? Had they been on similar adventures? And this is the incredible thing about toys: through the eyes of their owners, they become imbued with personality and secret meaning. Walking through a space filled with so many personal objects consequently resulted in a series of imaginings on my part; imaginings about the children who owned these toys, the exploits they enjoyed together, and how these precious objects ended up in this space.
Benjamin Pollock was a man who invested a lot of time in ensuring that children could have these magical experiences. In the nineteenth century, his wife, Eliza Redington, inherited her father’s Theatrical Print Warehouse. It is important to realise that the fashion for such theatres was dying out, and that Pollock was determined to continue producing these tiny worlds for the children who remained captivated by them. As a result, young aspiring actors frequented his Hoxton shop for many years. The business continued to prosper after his death in 1937, and in the 1960s a woman called Marguerite Fawdry bought the whole stock of slides and printing plates; an investment that led to the birth of Pollock’s Toy Museum in Camden, London.
In this museum, each room is filled with a wealth of toys and a sense of nostalgia lies heavy in the air, as visitors recall their own childhood possessions. The mixture of responses is incredible: the joy of finding a lost ‘object of desire’ (much like Rosebud in Citizen Cane); the long forgotten sense of envy upon discovering a once coveted toy; the fear in seeing a grandparent’s terrifying doll, and the wonder of seeing toys from around the world – the collection really is fascinating.
What can be seen could be described at length, but I think that I will leave it up to you to discover – after all, that really is the charm of this warren-like space.