International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 47-85

First online:

Play Things: Children’s Racialized Mechanical Banks and Toys, 1880–1930

  • Christopher P. BartonAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Temple University Email author 
  • , Kyle SomervilleAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, State University of New York at Buffalo

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The reproduction of racism and class-based oppression are taught to children through various cultural media, including toys and games. Between 1880 and 1930, the popularity of racialized toys and banks were fear-based responses to the perceived encroachment by “foreign and exotic” migrations of African American, Chinese, Irish and Native Americans into the cultural landscape of white middle-class America. This article analyzes how artifacts associated with children, such as mechanical banks, clockwork figures, and other toys are part of a larger cultural structure that viewed race and class as inseparable, and that these objects were essential in the development of a learned habitus that exposed white middle class children in the Victorian era to a racially and class oriented world. We argue that these objects reflect both the times in which they were made, and illuminate the relationship between adults and a newfound emphasis on children and childhood, in which toys serves as symbolic mediators of culture.


Toys Racism Racialization Victorian America