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


DOI: 10.1007/s10761-012-0169-y

Cite this article as:
Barton, C.P. & Somerville, K. Int J Histor Archaeol (2012) 16: 47. doi:10.1007/s10761-012-0169-y


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 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyState University of New York at BuffaloBuffaloUSA

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