Village Questers hand over old toy collection

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published August 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 28, 2013 at 2:05 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Quester members Mary Ellen Gardner, from the left, and Beth Goeden present a collection of vintage toys to Sarah McClure, librarian and manager of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK — For decades, 85 toys were packed away, almost forgotten in boxes, languishing in the bottom of old toy chests in the attic or lying in the dark, unused, in the back of a packed drawer in a dusty piece of furniture.

Now with the help of a group of determined women whose passion is finding and preserving items from our history, this collection of old toys, most of them no longer made, will be part of a permanent exhibition in the state’s newest, and already perhaps the most famous, children’s library.

On Aug. 22, the toy collection was presented by the Vapor Valley Questers chapter in Hot Springs Village and was accepted by Sarah McClure, librarian and manager of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center in Little Rock.

“We are honored to accept this wonderful gift,” the librarian said during the presentation ceremony. “I am amazed by it. It will be a lasting part of this library for children to see and learn about for generations.”

The Questers organization, which began in Philadelphia in 1944, is dedicated to studying and supporting history to help educate the group’s members and others about important objects and artifacts. The chapter in Hot Springs Village was started in 1997 and has 27 members. There are 16 chapters in Arkansas.

Some of the chapters look after an old building or keep an old cemetery cleaned up and in good repair, but Beth Goeden, a member of the Questers in the Village, said she had the idea of collecting antique toys.

“I mentioned it because I was a hands-on person,” she said. “I wanted to do something we could hold.”

The group of 27 women in Hot Springs Village started collecting the toys just more than a year ago. The members not only gathered the old toys but also documented them in detail.

In an effort headed by Quester Mary Ellen Garner, the organization researched the history of each toy, how it was made and, if possible, who the inventor was.

“We also asked the donor to tell us something about the toy and to share any special memory they might have had about the toy,” Garner said. “I enjoyed finding out how this toy came to be. It was a project of love.”

The collection includes a leather doll from the 1890s, and a soft monkey doll, much like a teddy bear, dating from 1917. Some toys have surprising stories about their

invention or origin. After receiving a set of jack-stones from Tony Phillips of Hot Springs Village, Garner said, she discovered that throwing jacks as a game was based on the ancient practice of divining the future from casting animal bones.

“The shapes of the jack were based on the way the bones would look after they were thrown for many years,” she said. “Who knew that?”

Another item with an unusual creation was Lincoln Logs. The big round cardboard box of wooden parts was invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, and based on architectural building pieces created for use in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, by the inventor’s father, architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Using a grant given to the club by the national Questers organization, Goeden said the club purchased pieces for a railroad set, including a depot, signals and other items. But the club had no trains or track.

“So we waited for a miracle,” Goeden said. “Then we got a collection that included two engines and cars from both the 1930s and the 1970s. Both trains worked the same way on the same track, which shows you how Lionel kept their trains consistent for all those years.”

Other items in the collection include chemistry sets, a working microscope and a box of materials for making items powered by electricity.

“We also have Chinese checkers, and a 1913 bank that worked by a cash register,” Garner said. “You cannot open it until you have saved $10 in it.”

Goeden said the club wanted to “look outside the box” with the toy collection.

“We wanted to have it displayed in Little Rock, in a place where it would be seen by so many people,” she said.

The library, which opened March 16, is ordering displays to house the toys in the main room of the library.

“It is an amazing addition to the library,” McClure said. “We can teach some history in a fun way. Maybe it will spark something in a child, and they will say, ‘Can we go back to where I saw those Lincoln Logs or that monkey?’ That’s why, when the Questers called and asked if they could give us a collection of antique toys, I said, ‘Well, yeah.’”

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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