Children’s toys on Polish territories until the end of the 19th century

  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
  • Project title: Children’s toys until the end of the 19th century on Polish lands
  • Funding scheme: OPUS 4, announced 15th September 2012
Head of the doll with black hair, located in The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce. Photo by Dorota Zoładz-Strzelczyk

Head of the doll, Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Like childhood itself, toys have only relatively recently become a subject of interest for Polish historiographers: hence the results of their research are unsatisfactory. The project’s aim is to comprehensively present the history of toys from their emergence to their expansion, function, use, to their significance for a child’s life and development. The place of children’s toys in history has changed over the course of time: initially absent and neglected, they would gradually be paid more notice, eventually having their role emphasised as particularly important in children’s development and education. This process of recognition was a long one, just as the attempts to understand the idea of childhood were. The research in the project offers a complex and multifaceted approach to the subject. The use of information from various sources – written, material and iconographic – will provide a new outlook on many problems related to the condition of being a child and the role of toys in their life.

In particular historical periods, Polish children played with toys similar to those played by children in other parts of Europe. Toys were produced by local manufacturers or imported by merchants to be sold at market stalls or in shops. Children’s toys manifested, on the one hand, a certain traditionalism (certain types of toys seem to have “always” been around), while on the other, they have changed: both technologically and socially. At some point, artistic and aesthetic aspects were internalised in the manufacturing process. The kinds of toys children played with depended on their families’ economic and class status as well as tradition.

The porcelain doll in a white lace dress and a straw hat with a black-and-white ribbon. The doll comes from Marek Sosenko collection locaded in Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno. Photo by Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk.

The doll from Marek Sosenko collection, lotated in The Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno.
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Play and its attributes – toys – used to be and still are important for a child’s living, regardless of the time and place it happens to inhabit. Irrespective of social, religious and family conditions, children have always played, using various objects to serve their purposes. The basic repertoire of toys used to be practically settled and uniform. Huge changes came in the 19th century, when industrial manufacturing of toys became popular, triggering changes in distribution, mass popularisation and far-reaching diversification.

Thanks to this research project it will be possible to rebuild the catalogue of toys played by children on Polish territories from the Middle Ages until the outbreak of WWI, and to show the role (assumed and actual) toys have played in children’s development over different periods of history. The reconstruction effort will draw upon specimens stored in museums and collections, iconographic representations and descriptions in various records.

The results of the research will contribute an important step towards learning and restoring the history of childhood. A book will be published on the history of toys on Polish territories in the period up until the First World War. It will present a repertoire of old toys and offer discussions on specific related problems: means and places of manufacturing, commerce, quantitative and qualitative changes in manufacturing, the position of toys in children’s education in theory and in reality, toys as seen through a child’s eyes and their place in children’s games, and finally – the didactic and social functions of toys.

The research team investigating the history of old toys comprises Izabela Gomułka (archaeologist), Katarzyna Kabacińska-Łuczak (education historian), Monika Nawrot-Borowska (education historian).

Four dolls in bright dresses, seated on the bed. The dolls come from Marek Sosenko collection. Photo by Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk.

The dolls from Marek Sosenko collection, Subcarpathian Museum in Krosno
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Over a dozen little soldiers on horseback. The soldiers comes from Marek Sosenko collection. Photo by Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk.

The soldiers from Marek Sosenko collection.
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Four teddy bears in different colors. The teddy bears come from The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce. Photo by Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk.

The toys from The Museum of Toys and Play in Kielce
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Yellow-red car toy with a figurine of the driver behind the wheel. The car comes from Marek Sosenko collection. Photo by Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk.

The car from Marek Sosenko collection.
(Photo by Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk)

Prof. Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk

Portrait  photo of the Principal Investigator, professor Dorota Zoladz-Strzelczyk with two dolls.

Prof. dr hab. Dorota Żołądź-Strzelczyk, Principal Investigator
(Photo by Monika Nawrot-Borowska)

Historian, author, co-author and editor of books and papers on the history of education in the Old Polish period, incl. Ideały edukacyjne doby staropolskiej, Warszawa-Poznań 1990, Peregrinatio academica. Studia młodzieży polskiej z Korony i Litwy na akademiach i uniwersytetach niemieckich w XVI i pierwszej połowie XVII wieku, Poznań 1996, Dziecko w dawnej Polsce, Poznań 2002, 2006, Szkoły w Wielkopolsce. Od średniowiecznych początków do reform Komisji Edukacji Narodowej, Poznań 2010, Codzienność dziecięca opisana słowem i obrazem (with K. Kabacińska,) Warszawa 2012. Publishes in numerous Polish historical journals. Her research interests include: the history of education in the Old Polish period, the history of childhood and childcare, women in old Poland, the history of formal education in the Wielkopolska region in the Old Polish period, the history of the Commission of National Education, educational travels from 16th to the 18th centuries, Old Polish educational precepts, the history of children’s games and toys.







Date of publication: 6th Feb, 2017