In 1952 the Kenwood Blankets Company of Peterborough developed a display for an Easter trade show in New York City. The company decided to prepare a toy-land themed booth, complementing its line of bedding by using scraps of blankets to produce small stuffed sheep for the display. The toy props stole the show. The sheep were priced at $50 to deter sales, but they sold anyway. As a result, the company soon formed KenToys Company to make and sell stuffed toys to a national market.The KenToys Company was only one of many toy manufacturing companies that were established in the Central Connecticut River Valley over the last 170 years. The Historical Society’s new feature exhibit Toys: The Story of Toy Manufacturing in the Central Connecticut River Valley examines the development of the toy industry to reveal the technological innovations of its residents, the history of childhood play theory in America, popular culture’s impact on industry, and how both national and international forces impacted the toy industry.

The exhibit opens at the Society, 246 Main Street in Keene, with a reception on Wednesday, November 6 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. The exhibit is free and open to the public. A special hands-on play area will be provided for children. The exhibit will continue through April 18, 2020, and then move to Brattleboro, Vermont, and Peterborough, New Hampshire. The Toys exhibit features examples of many of the classic playthings that have been manufactured in the region. For example, metal toys were made in the late 1800s by the Wilkins Toy Company which became the Kingsbury Toy Company and continued in the business until 1942. It is said that children all over America would eagerly await the arrival of the new catalogue of Kingsbury Toys.

Two other companies featured in the exhibit include Whitney Brothers and Douglas Toy Company. The Whitney Brothers – Charles, Fred, and Mark – started a wooden toy manufacturing company in Marlborough, New Hampshire in 1904 in a building which was originally a water-powered grist mill. Today, the educational furniture at a facility on Railroad Street in Keene. Douglas Toy Company has been a family-owned and operated company since 1953, and has become one of the oldest and most respected plush-toy companies in the world. Dozens of other toy companies from the tristate area will be included in the exhibit, which will trace the history of toy use, manufacture and the place of toys in popular culture.

The Toys exhibit is a collaboration between the Historical Society of Cheshire County, the Brattleboro Historical Society, Marlborough Historical Society and many individuals with personal links to toy manufacturing history. Sponsors of the exhibit include Douglas Toy Company, Whitney Brothers, and Toadstool Bookshops.
The Historical Society will host several toy related events and presentations  in conjunction with the exhibit. Please visit the exhibit and take a trip back into your childhood.

Toys Exhibit Programs
Wilkins and Kingsbury Toy Identification Day & Show-n-Tell: Saturday, November 9, 1:00 to 2:30 pm, Exhibit Hall, Historical Society.
Kingsbury Toys experts Greg Bixby and David Frechette will be on hand to identify toys that were manufactured by Keene’s Kingsbury Manufacturing Company, Wilkins Toy Company, or Triumph Wringer Company. Participants are encouraged to bring up to 3 of their favorite Triumph-Wilkins-Kingsbury toys. If you are willing, please share a story with the other participants. We will display all the toys during the event so all can see them. Advanced registration required. Call 603-352-1895 to receive your time slot to meet the experts.

Toys I Have Loved Pop Up Exhibit: Wednesday, December 11, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, Exhibit Hall. Bring a favorite toy from your childhood to this temporary exhibit.
Participants will write their own exhibit label and share why their toy is important to them. At the end of the event, each participant brings his/her toy home again.

Coming in 2020:
History of the Whitney Brothers; February, Time and Date TBA
History of Kingsbury Toys, Film and Discussion; March, Time and Date TBA

Toys Exhibit Programs

Wilkins and Kingsbury Toy Identification Day & Show-n-Tell: Saturday, November 9, 1:00 to 2:30 pm, Exhibit Hall, Historical Society.

Kingsbury Toys experts Greg Bixby and David Frechette will be on hand to identify toys that were manufactured by Keene’s Kingsbury Manufacturing Company, Wilkins Toy Company, or Triumph Wringer Company. Participants are encouraged to bring up to 3 of their favorite Triumph-Wilkins-Kingsbury toys. If you are willing, please share a story with the other participants. We will display all the toys during the event so all can see them. Advanced registration required. Call 603-352-1895 to receive your time slot to meet the experts.

Toys I Have Loved Pop Up Exhibit: Wednesday, December 11, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, Exhibit Hall.

Bring a favorite toy from your childhood to this temporary exhibit.
Participants will write their own exhibit label and share why their toy is important to them. At the end of the event, each participant brings his/her toy home again.

Coming in 2020:
History of the Whitney Brothers; February, Time and Date TBA
History of Kingsbury Toys, Film and Discussion; March, Time and Date TBA