Looking at these pictures of an 1840s doll-sized butcher shop complete with all the prime cuts of meat that you’d find in an actual shop but in a miniature formation, it is easy to see how much children’s toys have changed over the years.
Obviously kids still love miniatures and of course, the classic doll’s house will always be popular, but can you imagine your kids playing with a toy butcher’s shop with blood and sawdust on the floor, with meat cleavers and animal carcasses adorning the place? No, probably not…
But according to Sarah Louise Wood, a curator from the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, they were pretty popular back in Victorian times, but not just for the little ones. Wood believes that many of these tiny replicas were used as a form of advertising. Placed in the windows of actual butcher’s shops, they let passersby know exactly what was on offer inside.
Robert Culff looks into the reasons why this rather odd little playset existed in his 1969 novel, “The World of Toys”. According to Culff, toys like this were popular all those years ago, because back then, children were encouraged to know and understand about how meat was purchased and about the different cuts etc. In Victorian times, methods of refrigeration were limited, so children would be quite accustomed to the site of preserved cuts of meat hanging around the kitchen and therefore it is unlikely that the meat replicas would seem in any way shocking or unsightly to them.
The Victorian’s loved replicating their world in miniature formation, so butcher’s shops were not the only ones to be mirrored in this way. Every store in town would have its own tiny version, sometimes for the children to play with but more often than not for an adult collector.
Owning elaborate miniature replicas like these ones pictured, was often a sign of great wealth, they were the playthings of high society adults. Master craftsmen would spend months working on these elaborate, luxurious and intricate replicas and no expense was spared. They used real silk, silver, gold, china and other expensive materials to make up these tiny worlds.
Prior to the Enlightenment period, children were mostly regarded as imperfect miniature adults themselves and they were expected to grow up quickly and assume important responsibilities from a very early age. There really wasn’t the belief that letting ‘children be children’ was important and play was often looked down upon.
When the first ideas about “childhood” emerged in the 1800s, parents were wary about letting their children play too much, lest it make them lazy and idle adults. Therefore children’s books, toys and games were often designed with moral or religious teachings in mind (BORING). Hence why you can understand why getting your kid a toy butchers shop to help them learn about food and how to purchase it, would be a very Victorian thing.
While these butcher’s shops are from a completely different era when childhood was an entirely different thing, they haven’t exactly died out completely. In the 1980s both Barbie and Fisher Price had miniature McDonald’s play houses.
Lisa Hix of the Collectors Weekly said: “It’s the same cow, ground up and served in little boxes… In the 19th century, kids were taught how to purchase select cuts from fresh cow carcasses. A hundred years later, they were encouraged to consume overly processed ground beef and trans-fatty French fries from a fast-food behemoth. Which is worse, really?”
I loved miniature stuff when I was growing up, the smaller the better and if the parts moved and did stuff, well then that was just perfect. But I can sincerely say that I’m not all that gutted that I didn’t have a miniature butchers shop to play with and I am incredibly glad that I didn’t grow up in Victorian times!
(Via Collector Weekly)