Even toys have their own destinies
The toy collector Milada Kollárová says that even toys have their destinies. We will introduce some of them to you.
The first story is about the teddy bear
„About a month ago I got a phone call from an elderly lady from Brno. She’d found out about my collection and decided to give a toy to me. She brought it along, her most beloved toy that had accompanied her throughout her life. It was a teddy bear with tiny glass eyes of a blue-purple colour. The teddy has a numb look and his age is apparent at first sight. And he is pretty worn out which proves the great love of a little girl to her bear charge. The bear is 63 years old, exactly the same age as his lifelong carer.
She was born towards the end of WWII, in 1944, and got the bear almost at the same time. Her parents were living in a mixed marriage. Her mother was Czech, her father German. This fact almost determined his faith, even though he had never collaborated with the Nazis. When the Germans lost the war the family had dark times before them. The sorrowful displacement to Germany. All the hatred in Brno turned against the Germans back then. They were persecuted regardless of their past. On 30 May 1945, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, all of the remaining ones were driven out of their home town. These were predominantly German women, children and the elderly because the majority of German men had been at the front line. The crowd was pushed, without food and water, through Pohořelice in southern Moravia towards the Austrian border. Not even two years old, a little girl had to undego this terrifying journey together with her parents and a teddy bear which shared the faith of the family. Thanks to a prompt intervention of her aunt from Brno who somehow managed to take the girl back, she probably cheated death. At the end, her Czech mother also found hope as she could stay at a farm in Moravia. Even the father survived all the hardship, and two years later, he was able to come back to Brno and his family. His situation was not easy even then, though. In spite of being an educated man, he had to perform menial work in a factory and the family suffered shortage. Imagine all the things the little teddy bear must have witnessed!“
The second story is about the doggie on wheels
One winter day, a few years ago, my husband went to Žabovřesky. He used to play tennis there regularly. It was in the evening and as he was getting out of the car he saw a toy in front of the tennis hall – a doggie standing on metal wheels, just sitting there between cars. „A child must have lost it,“ he thought. „They will definitely come back and look for it,“ my husband thought and left it there. After his game of tennis he was walking back to the car. He could not help but look around for the forgotten doggie, wondering if someone had already taken it. He couldn’t see it anywhere. But after a while of searching he found the doggie, dirty and stuck under a car, and he regreted he hadn’t taken it before. He was feeling sorry for the dog and so he took him to the car and brought him home. Here the doggie was treated with great care, we washed him and made him look nice. And maybe as a reward for all our care, the dear dog surprised us all. It turned out he was no ordinary toy. Thanks to the signature, we learnt that he was made about sixty years ago, in 1946 (!!) by Steiff. And we were even more amazed when the doggie showed us he could actually even bark. Today, the toy is one of the most valuable pieces of my collection.
The third story – the shop
One of the pieces of my collection that I am really proud of, is a little shop. This bulky toy dates back to 1905. I got it from a lady who lives about 10 kilometres from Brno, in Křenovice. When she was a little girl, she loved playing with the toy. She would take the large thing to the sandpit and suddenly she turned into a shopkeeper offering various kinds of goods. She pulled out tens of containers filled with everything at hand. As you know, in the past these shops were famous for the wide choice of overseas goods they offered. You could buy coffee, tea, rice, cocoa, spices from faraway lands, expensive materials and scented oils here. Sand, pebbles and grass were fine, too.
When the hundred-year-old shop came to my custody, it was empty. It had probably been made in Germany, which I judge from the remaining bits of tags with names of goods in German that I found inside. After reconstruction of the shop it was necessary to fill the drawers with „deli“ goods or something similar that would resemble such goods in their tiny form. The most of life has been brought to the shop by small figures of people, though – shopkeepers and ladies doing their shopping, all dressed according to the fashion of the early 20th century. No need to add that the age of the figures is the same as the age of the shop, a little over 100 years.
When we look at the shop today, straight away we can feel the atmosphere of those old days, when shopping used to be calm and relaxing and the shopkeepers would be overly polite and make the customers feel like kings.
The fourth story about the headless rider
Five years ago I got a toy of a motorcyclist sitting on a bike with a sidecar in an antique shop in Náchod. This beautiful toy from the 1950s only had one flaw. The motorcyclist’s head was missing. I don’t know how he lost it, I guess it fell off and nobody knew where it was. I wanted to get a new head for my headless rider but it was four long years before he became a „complete man” again. My detective work was not successful. First, I started searching for the manufacturer. Luckily, a tag survived, with the stamp of LIRA manufacturing company, the follower of a company called BLANK based in Ústí nad Orlicí. I visited the company and asked the manufacturer if it was possible to find out what the head used to look like. They promised to help me but only after several urgings they sent me a copy of a catalogue picture but the toy in it had not much in common with my motorcyclist. I was looking at my headless knight sadly and I consoled him with a promise to get him a head without any further delay. To make him feel better, I would put a head of a little princess on his neck, which fit him nicely. The princess motorcyclist was quite a strange sight but I thought to myself a funny head is better than none. And then – what a coincidence – half a year ago I came across the very same toy in Olomouc. I immediately took a picture of it and started looking for a restorer who would be able to create and paint it according to the picture. At the occasion of the exhibition of my toys at the Špilberk Castle, help came from a restorer working for Brno City Museum, Mr Radim Dufek. He made a beautiful little head and turned my headless rider back into a motorcyclist with his head exactly where it should be.
The fifth story – Boženka’s bedroom
The bedroom for dolls made of light wood with foldaway walls was created in 1935. It is a miniature copy of a real big bedroom made at this period. The tiny bedroom used to be owned by a little girl called Boženka who lived with her parents in Hradec Králové. Her parents got the toy as a gift from a well-known craftsman when their daughter was born.The bedroom has everything that was, back then, seventy years ago, considered basic equipment of a room devoted to rest and sleep. Two beds with two pieces of bedlinen, two pillow cases, and bedsheets and the necessary bedside tables. There is a sofa by the foot of the bed and also a big dressing table with a mirror. The dolls were able to sit on a pouffe – low upholstered seat without a backrest. The two wardrobes contain coathangers for dolls and they both have locks. The interior of the bedroom is supplemented by a couple of windows with curtains and an original carpet with a Turkish pattern.
The bedroom also used to have electricity. It was equipped with lamps but the original owner lost these. Like they say, though, life is the exact sum of coincidences. And it truly was a coincidence that some time later Boženka found the lamps and sent them to me so the bedroom would be complete. To be perfect, the bedroom misses only the original wallpaper as they were too worn out by frequent use and had to be replaced.
In the picture taken in 1940 the five-year-old Boženka is peeking out of the window of her parents’ house.
The sixth story – Childhood treasures
Even collectors sometimes come across „big fish“ in the form of incredibly beautiful old toys. In this case, toys from the 1950s. I got these toys in great shape from middle-aged siblings from Brno. Both, the sister and the brother, are great lovers of history and their hobby plays an important part in their lives. Their passion for history influenced the way they were taking care of their childhood toys that were once given to them by their generous parents. Even today the toys are in perfect shape. How many of us can show off their childhood treasures? Neat mums usually pass their children’s toys onto other children in the family or throw them away. Especially these days, when people are living in small flats, and every centimeter in the confined space needs to be used. It seems better not to think about what this purely pragmatic attitude putting tidiness above the relationship of a child to their beloved toy will do to their soul. Memories of what children used to play with are kept only in photographs, if anywhere. I myself do not have a single toy from my childhood. The more happy it makes me when my collection can be enriched by pieces that have been waiting for over fifty years to be rediscovered.
The seventh story – The Carriage
In memory of
Prof. MUDr. Karel Dvořák, DrSc., 1935 – 2007
In 2007, towards the end of November, an old friend of our family Prof. MUDr. Karel Dvořák, DrSc. crossed the river of life forever. The public knew him as a great expert in the field of pathology. My next memory is devoted to him.
Our friend had known about my passion for collecting toys for many years and one beautiful day he surprised me by a present. He gave me an ancient toy that he himself had got as a gift. The interesting thing was that the toy had not been acompanying him since his childhood years, as one would guess, but he got it when he already was an adult man. Even then it was an antique because the toy dated back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a couple of wooden horses hitched up to a wooden carriage which seems to be a combination of a hansom and a stage. When you look at the ancient means of transport, you will immediately imagine old western movies and long drives through the prairies. Apart from the fact that the robust bodies of the horses are closer to geldings then fast-legged stallions. The toy was made by skilled hands of an anonymous artist from Vysočina. Today, the carriage is empty; however, we can suppose that it used to carry figures of passengers and their heavy luggage. The coachman sitting at the front driver’s seat took his passengers to their destination a very long time ago and has gone off to refresh himself before the next journey.
The eight story – Love at first sight
In the afternoon of 23 December 2000, just before Christmas Day, I set off to the antique shop to deal with some urgent matters. Before entering the shop, I noticed a figure of a fairytale man smiling at me from the window with his roguish, sly smile. St Nicholas!!! And just like that, he grabbed my heart, it was, like they say, love at first sight. He was standing in the middle of the Christmas decorations in the window and looked like a part of it. I thought to myself, sadly: „He must belong to the shop owners and therefore is unavailable to me.“
I dealt with everything I needed in the antique shop and just as I was about to leave, I could not help myself but to try my luck. You know how they say: „The lame tongue gets nothing.“ Half as a joke I asked if, by any chance, St Nicholas in the window was for sale and got a surprisingly positive answer: „Go ahead and take it, the Christmas decoration is now over anyway.“ And so the next evening I could put it under the Christmas tree for myself.
He is a seventy-year-old grandpa from the 1930s. I tried to find out in the available catalogues, who the author was. Most probably it was Steiff, a company I mentioned earlier in connection to the doggie on wheels. This St Nicholas is very dear to my heart and every Christmas he keeps us company.