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Spotlights from the History of Playtime

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 1st, 2015

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.
To start us off right on the first day of the month, I bring you a selection of toys from the past, all found in the WVRHC’s collections.


Unidentified toy, ca. 1850-1860?, probably belonging to Aretas Brooks Fleming (1839-1923; 8th Governor of West Virginia)


Label "A. Brooks Fleming" on exterior of Fleming's wooden box

Fleming kindly labeled the lid of this wooden box; I wonder if he planned on it ending up in an archive?


Note pasted to inside lid of Fleming's wooden box

The label pasted to the inside of the lid reads, “Resolved that the undersigned abstain from falsehood, stealing biscuits, sausage + wood. From the 1st April 1860″ and is signed by I.C. Summers [possibly—I can’t quite read that name], A.B. Fleming, and C.L. Davis, Esq.  Fleming would have been 20 years old when he signed this.


Interior of Fleming's wooden box, showing paddles and marbles

The wooden box, which is about 9 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 2.25 inches deep, contains two wooden paddles (probably carved by hand), four marbles (which feel like they’re made of stone or clay), and a compartment with a removable lid that contains a key (which does not fit the keyhole on the box), a little metal bauble, and a thin metal rod which may or may not have been part of the game.


Interior of Fleming's wooden box

Even with so many clues (names, a date, the contents of the box), staff members at the WVRHC have been stumped by what sort of game or toy this actually is.  The three notches on two parallel edges of the main compartment, which you can see at the edges of the paddles in the larger photo above, suggest that other pieces might have once subdivided the main chamber, but even with that clue, I’m not sure how the game would be played.  It is also possible that this is just a box of treasures, and no game was meant to be played within.  If any readers have a theory about the game or its origins, let us know by clicking the Comment link at the end of the post!


Little Country Doctor kit, 1937, from the papers of Professor Betty Lou Ramsey (1929-2014) (her papers will be A&M 5201, and are not yet processed)


Little Country Doctor play kit

This Little Country Doctor kit was copyrighted in 1937 by Transogram Company, Inc. New York, NY.  A quick search on the web shows that these toys were manufactured on into the 1950s.


Inside of Ms. Ramsey's Little Country Doctor play kit

Ms. Ramsey’s kit includes:

  • Gauze bandage (empty box)
  • Sterilized absorbent cotton
  • Roll of Red Cross waterproof adhesive plaster (this may not have come with the toy)
  • Sure Cure Candy Pills for Special Patients (empty)
  • Sure Cure Candy Pills for Everyday Patients (also empty–no indication of what makes everyday patients not “special”)
  • Small spoon
  • Tongue depressor (possibly popsicle stick)
  • Diploma from Little Country Doctors College, Playtown, USA (dated Tuesday, December 25, 1935 [that date actually occurred on a Wednesday] by Miss Betty Lou Ramsey)
  • Painless Hospital Sick Charts
  • Play prescription slip
  • “How to Play Little Country Doctor” pamphlet (1937)


Items not actually part of the toy:

  • Resident State-Wide Hunting and Fishing License of Willie R. Ramsey (1942)
  • Unmarked wristwatch


The “How to Play” pamphlet of instructions gives us some insight into how children played (or, at least into how adults thought children ought to play).  It begins with the text “Boys are not the only ones who can become famous doctors.  Girls can become good doctors.  Today there are many world-famous women doctors.  This Doctor’s Kit can be played with by girls as well as boys.”  It walks children through possible play scenarios, and describes how to use the sick charts and how much to charge (“Good Play Doctors usually charge at least a penny per visit” which would be 17 cents when adjusted for today’s inflation).  It explains that if a friend brings a dog or cat for examination, the candy pills should be given to the friend, not the pet.  Also, “If the tongue shows that the patient has just been eating cookies or candy or ice-cream you can dismiss this patient at once as that is a sure sign of perfect health.”


Art Lewis Football Game, ca. 1955, from A&M 1584, West Virginia Games and Puzzles collection


Box top of Art Lewis Football Game

The Art Lewis Football Game, a split-T offense football board game, was produced by the Morgantown Game Company and named in honor of WVU’s head football coach from 1950-1959.  Lewis took the Mountaineers to the 1954 Sugar Bowl; the game instructions were copyrighted in 1955.  According to the instructions, the game was “designed to be as nearly like an actual football game as possible and is played and scored according to regular college football rules.”  Two players each act as the quarterback of his or her team.


Board and instructions of Art Lewis Football Game

Game pieces include dice and pins.  I like to think of this as a precursor to the football video games of today.  No console necessary!

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