Kays’ Autumn/Winter 1952 catalogue has 11 pages of toys. Their catalogue for Autumn/Winter 1960 has more than three times that number, with toys from page 702 to 739, plus four extra pages on children’s books. Of course, it’s a much bigger catalogue, with 775 pages to 1952’s 228. On this evidence at least, the UK seems to have changed an awful lot in eight years.
One of the most noticeable changes with regard to toys is how many pictures there are of children playing and having fun in the 1960 catalogue — from a little cartoon of a boy with a boat…
…to a large, retouched photograph of three children with a toy engine, lorry and wagon, all dressed in bright colours and with big smiles on their faces.
There also seems to be more of everything. More dolls; more train sets (many of them now mains powered, and without anxious notes to parents about electricity and safety); and more toy guns, including the ‘Mettoy thunder burp gun’ — ‘just pull back the bolt and squeeze the trigger, and the vibrasonic sound chamber emits a realistic burst of fire.’ Judging from the picture, I think this means that it made a frightening sound, and not that it ‘harmlessly’ fired bullets.
I still get the impression that Kays thought children would like to spend a lot of time behaving like small adults. One double page spread which offers a ‘Practical range of TOYS… to give Endless JOY’ includes a work box with ‘everything kiddies need for knitting, sewing, mending or embroidery’, a ‘toy’ but apparently functional sewing machine, and a working typewriter in a soft shade of pink, perhaps reflecting the fact that a number young women who went out to work at this time would have become secretaries.
Elsewhere, there are educational toys — a microscope, ‘ideal for the junior scientist’, and ‘The Visible Man’, a six inch model that promises to reveal ‘the wonders of the human body’.
And there are a number of musical toys, including a recorder, a harmonica, a xylophone and a child’s ‘grand piano’ whose ‘plastic keys are the same width as an ordinary piano and do not spoil a child for the larger instrument’. Which makes me worry a little about pushy parents forcing their toddlers through endless piano lessons, but I do like the accompanying picture of a little girl having a go:
This piano costs £5/19/6 — five pounds, 19 shillings and six pence, or at least £112.90 in today’s money. It’s one of the more expensive toys, but there are others, including a swing costing the same amount, and a toy ‘bedroom suite’ costing £6/6/-, or at least £119 today.
One toy in the 1952 catalogue comes near to this price — a toy car costing £4/12/6; at least £109.20 today — but most are much cheaper, with few costing over sixty shillings (at least £70.83). By 1960, Kays customers had more options for toys they could buy for their children, and may have been willing to spend more money on them.
(Price comparisons calculated using http://www.measuringworth.com)