In The New Yorker‘s book review last week, Alexandra Lange discussed Amy F. Ogata’s new book “Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America,” focusing on the diverse materials and malleability of toy design over the past several decades.
With increasingly commercialized handmade, all-natural toys on the market, Lange asks, “Do toys need to be as artisanal as our food?”
Nearly two years ago now, Meg wrote about Tegu, wooden magnetic building blocks that support conservation and Hondurans in poverty. Tegu blocks seem to be a perfect blend of the artisanal qualities that wood bring to a toy, while the magnets inside add the opportunity for creativity that simple wooden rectangles and squares might not (unless they have the Lego-like studs that Mokulock does).
What about stone toys?
You don’t hear much about those, it seems to me. Heavy to carry around, more dangerous as projectiles, and requiring more machinery to produce, playthings built from stone might seem even more cumbersome and antiquated than wooden toys to a child brought up on shiny plastics and polymers. But the stone Anker/Anchor blocks (a box cover of which is pictured at the top of this post, and one of my own creations from these blocks is here to the right) made from quartz sand, chalk, linseed oil, and color pigment, are still able to merit $200+ asking prices on eBay, although part of their appeal comes from their relative–or perceived–antiqueness.
My brother and I received two box sets of these blocks as a gift from our parents. Bought from a traditional toy store in Berlin about a decade ago, we found these a novel alternative to our massive Lego collection. And unlike wooden blocks, which might show warping from storage in a basement or the tropics, these partly varnished stone pieces still look just as good as the day we got them. Each box contains its own booklet of suggested blueprints, the way Legos do, but of course it is most fun to go your own way or adapt one of the pictured buildings into your own architectural creation. This past holiday season I made such a construction to decorate my grandmother’s kitchen, using the cotton as both snowy decoration and precautionary padding in the event some curious cats take too close a look at the towers modeled after the European blue slate roofs.
As certain consumers turn to wooden alternatives to the plastic and digital toys that have become more prevalent today, they should not forget that stone has just as much power to be a “material symbol of timelessness, authenticity and refinement in the modern educational toy” — Ogata’s words to describe wood.
These photos of my last building with these blocks are not the greatest. But they capture the memory of a childhood project I carried out on behalf of my grandmother. If she had aspirations for me to become an engineer, this was the closest I ever got to fulfilling that wish.