Folk toys are those whose designs have passed down through the generations, made by hand and not in factories. Unlike manufactured toys they are not protected by copyrights or patents, nor have they been standardized by machine production. Early folk toys were made of natural materials including wood, corncobs, and elder stalks, or of scraps of cloth, metal, and other found materials. Poplar wood was often used because it was available, easily worked, and required no painting. Toys were considered unimportant, so little was written about them. A parent made toys for a child, or children themselves made toys. The toys often were ingenious, humorous, and used action movements. Traditionally, fathers and boys have been most interested in mechanical action toys, while mothers and girls have favored dolls and needlework.
Folk toys include action toys, models, games, puzzles, and dolls. This basic list can be enlarged to include tops, skill toys, balance toys, religious or ‘‘Sunday’’ toys, flying toys, shooting toys, those incorporating music or noise, and animated toys. The originator’s name is lost in history, and the descriptive names given to the toys vary. Typical names include Whimmydiddle, Flipperdinger, Bullroarer, Jacob’s Ladder, and Limber Jack.
Early settlers of the Appalachian region mostly came from Germany, England, Scotland, and Ireland, bringing knowledge of folk toys from their home countries. The designs often were modified in the process of handing them down, so now there are many variations. Folk toys were made throughout America but lingered longest in isolated areas such as Appalachia, which includes West Virginia. Our toys and their names vary from those elsewhere in America, because of our particular cultural influences.
The making of homemade toys waned in times of prosperity, when people could buy manufactured toys. Recently there is a new appreciation for the mountain folk toy heritage, however, and handcrafted toys are sometimes bought in preference to manufactured toys.
This Article was written by Dick Schnacke
Last Revised on November 05, 2010
Comstock, Jim, ed. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia vol. 1. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1976.
Schnacke, Dick. American Folk Toys. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973.
Wigginton, Eliot. Foxfire 6. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980.