Who doesn’t love toys? I got to thinking about this question today when Kristin, the Museum’s Assistant Curator, handed me a lovable sock monkey, handmade and dressed in his finest VPD garb. He clearly was a labour of love made for a child or as a keepsake for an adult, his little uniform painstakingly perfect down to the smallest detail. I unearthed him from his storage box and promptly brought him upstairs, where he is now perched on a spare chair in the Curator’s Office.
But Officer Sock Monkey here is not unique – in fact, he is part of a long lineage of Police themed toys aimed at children. Since the commercialization of children’s toys in the early 19th century, toys aimed at the different genders have been the norm. While little girls were presented with toys designed to transition them into mothers and wives (babydolls, kitchen playsets, dress-up clothes), boys have traditionally been given “macho” playthings, like army men, action figures – and a lot of police themed toys.
Seen as the perfect archetype (along with firefighters) for a young boy to ascribe to, the powerful, masculine and ethical Police Officer was an extremely popular image in the first half of the twentieth century. Depicted on motorbikes, in cars or on their own, tiny police constables paraded their way through countless afternoon imagination sessions. Going one step further, full police costumes for tiny tykes have been popular since the 1950′s, including uniforms, badges, holsters and of course, toy guns perfect for playing a game of Cops and Robbers…
Toy museums around the world now boast collections of tin Police cars, some valued at thousands of dollars, and they are a beloved addition to many personal collections. In fact, here at the Museum we have our own display case chock full of tiny toy cars and I often walk out of the back office to see boys, young and old, staring at them rapturously and ignoring the more traditional “history” all around them.
However, that is not to say that things haven’t changed – these days, both boys and girls are encouraged to play with all kinds of toys and it is just as common to see little girls fascinated with the toys we carry in the gift shop. Companies that traditionally geared their toys solely to boys have realized that there is a whole new market out there, and now make more gender-neutral version of their Police themed products. With a Police Force comprised of 30% women in Vancouver it is no wonder that these Playmobil sets sell out fast!
So, Officer Sock Monkey, thank you for opening a can of worms and urging me on to discover the history of Police themed toys. We might even promote you and let you stay upstairs!