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Toy Boats You Can’t Play With In The Bathtub

Every now and then an absolutely fantastic artifact literally walks through the front door. Usually the owner is looking for more information on it. Occasionally they want an appraisal, although we can’t do that because of our accreditation. And sometimes it turns out to be a donation. In this case, the Museum’s Bronze Door Society made the magic happen.

The Bronze Door Society is a museum membership group whose participants join at a higher level in order to aid us in acquiring artifacts and caring for the ones we already have. They raise funds through special events, and once a year they hold a formal dinner during which they vote on proposals submitted by museum staff members. In the past, these proposals have included conservation projects, scholarships, equipment purchases and artifact acquisitions. In 2011, one of the proposals was the purchase of a particular toy boat.

This toy, a Monitor warship, was manufactured by the W.S. Reed Toy Company between 1883 and 1900. It has two revolving turrets complete with cannons that shoot marbles. What makes it so intriguing is that the boat is made of lithographed paper overtop cardboard and a wood frame and that it survived playtime with a child. So far, I have only found three others mentioned online or in auction listings. Since many museums and collectors do not have their collections online, there may be others still hiding somewhere.

Many of the lithographed toys that still exist are in poor condition. And another bit of magic happened not long after our Monitor toy arrived. While doing research on it, I made contact with someone who collects and restores lithographed toys. His knowledge was invaluable in helping catalog our piece. And then we got a great surprise—the generous donation of toys that the collector said were his duplicates. We now have nine of these marvelous artifacts. Some manufactured by W.S. Reed like our Monitor toy, and others by another well-known lithographed toy manufacturer, R. Bliss.

The Monitor toy boat was a great hit in our “Up Pops the Monitor” exhibit and I hope we can get the others on display at some point. Until then, enjoy these photos and marvel at the toys of yesteryear. Thanks for reading.

Double-Turreted Monitor, ca. 1883-1900, W.S. Reed Toy Company
Schooner America. 1886-1896, by W.S. Reed Toy Company
U.S. Cruiser Boston, ca. 1896, R. Bliss Manufacturing Company
Sailors for Schooner America toy boat
The Sprite, ca. 1889, R. Bliss Manufacturing Company
Kalamazoo, ca. 1889, R. Bliss Manufacturing Company
Ocean Wave of Leominster, ca 1895, W.S. Reed Toy Company
Destroyer, by R. Bliss Manufacturing Company
Columbia, ca. 1892, R. Bliss Manufacturing Company
Providence, ca. 1897, W.S. Reed Toy Company
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