Half term and yet another bank holiday is almost upon us, and how many of us will have some energetic little people to keep entertained?
You might guess I’m not one to sit children in front of a screen, but even I appreciate most toddlers have yet to be convinced of the true joy of spending all day antiques hunting.
I love it when parents (and grandparents) come to the centre hunting for classic toys such as this fantastic chap who popped up recently: a jolly Fisher Price Jack in the Box.
Jack in the Box has been mock frightening infants since at least the 17th century, begging parents to “do it again!” 'Jack' is usually a clown figure, which pops up on a coiled spring when the lid is released with a catch or spring mechanism.
Boxes were first produced in wood, then printed cardboard, and most familiarly to us in lithographed (brightly painted) tin in the 20th century.
The springing ‘Jack’ was initially made from papier mache, then bisque (‘biscuit’ porcelain), followed by celluloid and plastic in the 20th century. His face could lean towards humorous or scary, and needn’t even be human; instead cats, dogs, ducklings, giraffes and, fittingly, frogs. Later specific characters featured such as Punch (minus sidekick Judy), Santa Claus, the
Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf (very fitting); later the Cat in the Hat, Winnie the Pooh and more.
The centuries older expression ‘Jack in the Box’ was adopted as the toy’s name around the 18th century. It usually referred to cheats or swindlers, and sometimes even the devil being caught and confined.
Jack in the Boxes, those lovely reminders of childhood, still do sterling work entertaining youngsters. As popular toys to keep children calm during the Second World War, their manufacturing heyday was 1935-1955. Be aware that this was well before ‘health and safety’, many early examples have quite ferocious mechanisms or sharp catches, and not recommended as toys, these days.
Due to enthusiastic play, you are unlikely to find a mint vintage Jack in the Box, but toy experts advise this is not a problem.
Their joy and value is actually inherent in their history as toys, not as collectors' items.