Follow Us on Twitter

Toy Boats - National Maritime Museum

Clockwork royal yacht, Hohenzollern, by Gebruder Bing, 1889-1909. Photo: Arnaud Fux.

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled Toy Boats will be on display at the National Maritime Museum from May 1 to October 31, 2010.

It features miniature ocean liners, toy paddle steamers, tin battleships and clockwork submarines alongside, games, catalogues and photographs all produced in Europe between 1850 and 1950.

For more than 100 years the craze for things maritime drove toy companies to make toy boats of every size and description, capturing the imagination of generations of children, creating a sense of adventure and excitement.

At a time when Britain was the world’s greatest industrial and maritime power, toy boats were as fascinating to children as computer games are today.

From the mid 19th century, as nations raced each other to build bigger and better ships, toy makers were swift to exploit the publicity and follow-up with toys that captured the spirit of these famous vessels. The methods used in toy-boat propulsion varied from twisted rubber bands and clockwork springs to early batteries and real fired-up burners producing steam.

The show traces these developments through toy boats made by celebrated toy makers in Europe including Gerbrüder Bing, Marklin, Radiguet, Bassett-Lowke, Hornby and Sutcliffe.

Late 19th-century town planning across Europe introduced new parks with decorative ponds and fountains, which gave children a space to play with toy boats. This, along with the increase in family seaside holidays, created an appeal which inspired toy makers to compete in creating finer and more sophisticated ships, which also appealed to adults as collectors’ curios.

Germany was the market leader and famous for quality tin toys which were exported around the world. Gerbrüder Bing, the world’s largest toy company, employed over 5000 people in its Nuremberg factory, whilst France was Germany’s biggest competitor with companies such as Radiguet renowned for making elegant beautifully finished vessels.

The exhibition looks at the way toy boats were marketed through advertising, packaging and catalogues. The advent of department stores, and their use of large plate-glass shop fronts, offered a new way to showcase merchandise and entice customers and the exhibition recreates an Edwardian shop window.

Archive film footage shows Ron McCrindle, a toy boat enthusiast who has amassed one of the finest collections in the UK, sharing his passion for these miniature vessels.

Kristian Martin, curator of the exhibition said: “These miniature boats are a glimpse into a bygone era when every town had a boating lake and children learnt about Britain as a maritime nation through toy boats. They also tell of a rapidly changing world and the developments in technology in childrens’ toys.”

Admission: Free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 5pm (last admission 4.30pm).

The National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NF

Tel: 020 8858 4422

Toy Boats Gallery