Victorian Toys & Games


Shove ha'penny

People love toys & games and Victorian toys & games are no exception. Some of the games are no longer played or not commonly played anymore although some have survived in new forms such as Reversi (now called Othello). In this display adults and children alike are encouraged to learn about and play with our vast array of Victorian toys and games. From dolls to croquet there are items to occupy all ages and abilities.

This display is run for passing trade throughout the day.



A lot of Victorian board games are very simple luck based games so we have cherry picked what we think are some of the best board games such as the 2 player game  Reversi (the modern version has the more familiar name of Othello) and Halma, a lovely little game invented in 1883, sadly no longer played, where you use your or your opponents pieces to hop across to the opposite side of the board.  It’s for 2 -4 players.  There are also more active games such as skittles, deck quoits, croquet (for up to 4 players at a time), shove ha’penny and marbles.

Optical toys
Optical toys became extremely popular during the 19th C, we have various optical toys such as thaumotropes (the spinning disc on a piece of string, with a different image on each side, which when spun makes one image, such as the bird in the cage).  The thaumotrope was invented in 1826.

 A few years later, about 1832 the phenakistoscope was invented (seemingly by 2 separate people at the same time, an Austrian called Ritter Von Stampfer and a Belgian Dr Joseph Antonine Plateau ).  The phenakistoscope  is a circle of card with slightly changing images on one side (like a flick book).  The card has slots in and is usually on a stick.  When spun and the images viewed in a mirror the images appear to be moving.

The Zoetrope is perhaps more famous than the phenakistoscope but similar in practice. Invented first in 1834 by W. Horner of Bristol, originally called the Daedelum it didn’t become really popular until 1860.   The drawings are on a long strip of paper which sits inside the drum of the zoetrope. The zoetrope has slits round the sides and when the zoetrope is spun, the images appear to come to life.



The earliest stereoscopes were invented in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatsone.  Our stereoscopes are Holmes stereoscopes, invented in 1861 by Oliver Wendell Holmes.   A  stereograph is a card with 2 different but very similar images on.  When viewed through the stereoscope, each eye is looking through a separate lens and can not see the other image.  The eye & brain is thus tricked and the image appears to us as 3D. This type of stereoscope was popular well into the 20th C and similar devices can still be bought today, even cameras to take the stereoscopic images.

The magic lantern, was not originally invented as a toy and has an ancient history but we do own a childs version of the magic lantern that appears to date to the 19th c.  The lantern is a little like an early projector and can be used as thus, there are also mechanical slides which move or can be pulled through the projector to give the appearance of movement such as our Noahs ark slide (for our full size lantern).  Whilst a darkened room is needed to demonstrate the lantern it is an interesting object to talk about and show.

Peck Chick

Pecking chicken toy

Mechanical Toys
Many mechanical toys became popular during the 19th C and by this we mean toys that work on simple mechanics to produce some sort of action.   Jacobs ladder is one such toy.  There are suggestions that it is an ancient toy but it seems more likely that it was first invented in the 18th C and then became popularised in the 19th C.  There is a review in the ‘Scientific American’ magazine about it in 1889.  The toy gives the illusion of the blocks are tumbling down over each other and there are various tricks & shapes that can be made with it.  The acrobat toy was probably invented in the East centuries ago but became popular in Europe in the 19th C.  It consist of two sticks with the acrobat attached to 2 strings between the sticks.  When the sticks are squeezed the acrobat appears to tumble.  the pecking chicken may also be an old toy but became popular in Europe in the 19th C.  A string is attached to the head of the chicken/s and a ball is attached to the end.  When the paddle with the chicken/s on is swung the chickens appear to peck at their food.



Karen playing cup & ball

Toys that stood the test of time
There are also many toys that have endured through the ages, which were popular in medieval or even Roman toys and are still popular right through to today.  These include, dolls, spinning tops, hobby horses, stick and hoop, marbles, cup and ball (since the 17th C).


All of these toys and games are available for adults and children alike to learn about and play with.