Most people associate toys with children and childhood. Once we get older, we’re expected to leave our toys behind – or at least to shift to more valuable collectibles deemed suitable for grown ups. But Singapore’s MINT Museum Of Toys is changing our perception of toys, one toy at a time!
The MINT Museum houses a world-class collection of toys , collectibles, and memorabilia from over 40 countries and dating back as early as the 1840s. Each vintage toy holds endless stories about historical events and the day-to-day lives of people from generations ago. While the museum is still undergoing renovations, visitors will soon be able to walk through the walls and admire the uniqueness and variety of the toys displayed. Sign up for a membership or follow our social media pages to receive the latest updates on the museum’s reopening!
In the meantime, here are the top 6 collections at the MINT Museum of Toys to look forward to:
1. Outerspace – Beginnings Of Robots (Level 5)
Look around you today and you will easily spot an example of a robot, whether as a pop culture reference in movies and songs, to the technological advances in the field of medicine, manufacturing, and more. The idea of a mechanical assistant dates all the way back to ancient times, but the idea of the modern robot really only came into being in the 1920. From the 1958 ‘Shakey’ robot designed for industrial purposes to today’s cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence-powered home assistants, valuable and ubiquitous robots have now wormed their way into our everyday lives. One old school example of a robot toy in this collection is this Smoking Spaceman from Linemar.
Year of Make: 1950s
Material: Lithographed Tin and Plastic
Country of Origin: Japan
Linemar was a Japanese company from the 1950s and 1960s that specialised in mechanical and battery-operated toys. This vintage lithographed tin toy is in the classic shape of a humanoid robot complete with a square body, grille mouth, and a transparent headpiece.
When activated, the robot walks forward and swings its arms. The headpiece and eyes also light up, and smoke emanates from its mouth. The smoke is produced by heating oil, taking this toy a step further than other standard mechanical toys of its time. Tiny details like the dials and switches dotted across its body make this robot reminiscent of the robots you might spot in a sci-fi b-movie from that era – its toy box even features a cartoon of a similar robot walking on an alien planet.
2. Characters – The World of Comic Books (Level 4)
‘The World of Comic Books’ collection features iconic comic book superheroes from around the world including 8 Man Robot and an iconic Batman made by Japan’s Bandai in the 1960s – signalling his international popularity even back then! Many of these vintage versions of popular heroes are now highly valuable collectibles, worth thousands of dollars today.
Year of Make: 1960s
Material: Tin and Vinyl
Country of Origin: Japan
What do the Japanese toy brand Bandai and the American comic book hero Batman have in common? While these two names might be familiar to you today, there was a period of time when Bandai actually manufactured toy robot versions of this DC superhero! The robot is made from lithographed tin, with a painted vinyl head and dyed fabric cape. When activated by flipping the switch on its back, Batman walks forwards with his arms swinging.
The outfit worn by this toy is a classic old school Batman outfit – a light blue costume, yellow utility belt, and dark blue accessories. Batman had first appeared in DC Comics’ “Detective Comics” series in 1939, and was so popular he was given his own comic book series soon after. By the time Bandai started producing these vintage toys in the 1960s, Batman was already a beloved character even here in Singapore and had begun to branch out into other media including a live action television series. Today, there have been almost 20 Batman movies made including the popular Dark Knight trilogy, as well as video games, cartoon series, and endless comic spin-offs all set within the Batman universe.
3. Childhood Favourites – Teddy Bears from around the World (Level 3)
For many kids, a teddy bear is the first soft toy or stuffed animal they’ll enjoy. Some people even hold onto their own special teddy bear into their adult years, or pass them onto their own children. Teddy bears have been a popular children’s toy for over a century, and new models are constantly popping up every day. This adorable collection dives into vintage teddy bears from renowned teddy bear makers Steiff, Merrythought, and the Shanghai Doll Factory. You might even recognise these toy company names today, giving you a chance to see how they’ve evolved over the years!
Maker: Margarete Steiff GmbH
Year of Make: 1903
Material: Fabric and Metal
Country of Origin: Germany
Estimated Value: GBP 20,000
German company Steiff has been known for its stuffed toys ever since it was founded in the 1880s. Though this vintage Steiff Teddy Bear from 1903 may look different from the popular Steiff toys available in stores today, what they have in common is their high quality materials to give kids a playtime companion they will cherish for years to come. The bear is made from dyed mohair, with a dyed fabric ribbon and metal teddy bear-shaped medallion around its neck. Interestingly, this toy lacks the signature metal tag in its ear that genuine Steiff toys have today. This is because the tags were not introduced until 1904, a year after this teddy bear was introduced.
4. Childhood Favourites – Door of Hope Dolls (Level 3)
The Door of Hope dolls were made in 1900s Shanghai, China by young destitute women in the Door of Hope Mission. The Mission provided a safe haven for these women, and gave them lessons in essential skills such as literacy and handicraft that enabled them to earn a living. The old school wooden dolls in this collection were handcrafted by expert craftsmen, and their delicate outfits hand sewn by the women in the mission. There were about 25 standard designs produced, each representing a different traditional Chinese costume or role. As each and every doll’s clothing were handmade, each piece was unique even if they were of the same design.
Maker: Door of Hope Mission
Year of Make: 1920s-1930s
Material: Wood and Fabric
Country of Origin: China
These Door of Hope Wedding Couple dolls are dressed as a traditional Chinese bride and groom, and are wearing the traditional outfits of that time. The groom doll is dressed in a full-length purple robe with a floral ‘p’u-fang’ – an embroidered panel indicating his rank – on his chest and back, as well as a purple hat with a red tassel, and black boots. The bride doll wears a bright red tunic and skirt embroidered with flowers and decorated with four long tassels. On the bride’s head sits a traditional red headdress decorated with beads, tassels, and a pom-pom. A small red handkerchief in the bride’s hand completes her look. Today, these dolls are a window into the past as they let us see what life in China was like in the early 20th century.
5. Collectables – Globalisation of Climbing Monkey (Level 2)
Climbing Monkey lithographs were a worldwide sensation in the early 20th century, and climbing monkey toys soon followed. With no known creator or patents in place, toymakers from around the world produced their own climbing monkey toys from the 1880s up to as recently as the 1980s. Each toy in this collection reflects the adaptations and modifications made to the simple concept by individual toymakers. Showcasing figures from Germany, China, and more, each piece is a unique and valuable take on a common idea reflecting the imagination and creativity of toymakers worldwide.
Maker: E.P. Lehmann
Year of Make: 1885-1945
Material: Lithographed Tin
Country of Origin: Germany
This German climbing monkey toy by E.P. Lehmann is made from lithographed tin that has been shaped and painted with bright colours, and decorated with a dyed fabric tassel on its head. The monkey has brown fur and a long tail, and wears human clothing including a green jacket, yellow waistcoat, red shorts, and a red ‘fez’ hat with a brown tassel.
A simple pull-string mechanism is attached to the toy’s back, with a metal tab on either end. To operate the toy, the bottom end of the string is placed on the floor, with your foot holding a metal tab in place. The other tab is held up in the air so that the string is vertical. When the string is taut and the top tab is pulled, the monkey begins to ‘climb’ up the string.
6. Collectables – Early Toys and Traditional Folk Games (Level 2)
Kids today are used to entertaining themselves on their ipad, phones, and tablets. But back in our grandparents’ day (or even our own childhoods for those of us born in the 20th century!) any household item lying around could be used as a toy. As industrial-made toys could be expensive, simpler options were a common mainstay of kids’ toys for a long time in Singapore. You can find modern versions of these old school toys in stores in Singapore or Malaysia, or our very own MINT Shop.
Year of Make: c. 1950s
Material: Wood and Metal
Country of Origin: Singapore
This Gold Gasing Spinning Top is a version of the popular ‘kampong’ toy the gasing (or spinning top). Gasing tops were a common childhood toy for many kids in Singapore and Malaysia in the middle of the century, and could be made from a variety of materials. This top is made from wood painted gold, along with a metal hook and tip. A name and string of numbers are engraved on the side – presumably the original owner’s name and ID number.
To make a gasing top spin, a string is tightly wound around the top. The player throws the top onto the ground, holding on to the end of the string, then pulls the string back. With enough practice, you could improve your spinning technique to enable your top to ‘fight’ your opponent’s top. The traditional Malay game ‘gasing pangkah’ is played in this way, with the aim being to knock your opponents’ tops out of the circular playing field or to disable the tops by knocking them over. Gasing is still played in some communities today, although younger generations might be more familiar with newer top franchises such as Beyblade.
Rediscover the wonder of Toys at the MINT Museum
Each and every vintage toy housed at the MINT Museum Of Toys reflects a valuable slice of culture and history, allowing us to revisit the past. From everyday companions to priceless collectibles, the MINT Museum is Singapore’s own treasure trove of terrific toys. Sign up for a museum membership today to get the latest updates for the museum’s grand reopening!