toys or collectors items?

I've had a couple of really good conversations lately with friends, customers (friends/customers) about whether or not the toys I make are suitable for their children to play with. It's a totally appropriate question and one I think I should address. I'm going to talk a bit about my feelings on the subject...but this post is just that: My own personal feelings on the topic. If you are a parent trying to figure out what toys are safe or appropriate for your kid to play with you have your job cut out for you. Many things children have enjoyed playing with for ages are now considered unsafe. Many new toys and baby products are sold to us with the assurance that they will not harm our children only to be recalled later. It's frustrating and confusing to me both as a parent and a toymaker.

There are a couple quite legitimate reasons why a person might not want their kids to play with expensive handmade toys. The first is the price. These toys are more expensive than most mas-produced toys. They cost a lot because they are made with good materials in a very time consuming and conscientious fashion. They can't be mas produced and so they are special. It's tempting to want to put them on a shelf to preserve them and keep them from harm. My feeling about the toys I make is that it's okay to buy them and put them on display, but it's better to let them get played with. If a handmade toy is well made (as I believe mine are) they will be sturdy and stand up to a lot of wear and tear. Sometimes a repair might be needed, but that is a battle scar any well loved toy would be proud to bear. I've seen pictures of toys whose owners (well, owner's mothers no doubt) have gone to pretty extreme lengths to give a toy a little extra life. These toys only get sweeter and more charming with age. The purchase price is no longer really an issue...they have become priceless to the child.

The second reason is over concern about toy safety. I wish we lived in a time where we could all just use common sense. Know your child, choose well made toys, supervise play, inspect toys for damage or lose parts, repair or replace if needed. My boys are not especially rough with toys and so as soon as they were over the stage where they put everything in their mouths they received jointed bears with button eyes. The toys are still in great shape and have never been in for repair. They are getting rumpled and worn from love. Perfect.

Some of my toys are bought by adult collectors. I too have a great love of toys and have a hand full of my own that sit on a shelf. They bring me joy just to look at them, so I totally get it. But what I love to make is toys and if I didn't know that many of them are now treasured by children I wouldn't be motivated to make these dolls and animals. I strive to make un-fussy, sturdy and charming toys that are reminiscent of a time when toys were made with care and skill. If you have bought a toy from me, thank you. I hope that you or your child are truly enjoying it.

I just started a Flickr account (another thing we all must have apparently?!) I started a small set of photos called toys at home where I have pictures of some of my own kids handmade toys in their natural setting. If anyone out there has pictures of toys I've made that are receiving love from children I'd love it if you sent them to me for inclusion in the Flickr set! You can email me at foxandowltoys[at]gmail.com.

This is one of Jude's favorite bears, one of the first I made. He has been slept with a million times, scrubbed clean, and dragged around by the arm for the past two years. While nothing lasts forever, I think he will be around for a long time.


Kelly said...

When I was a child I had some stuffed toys that were jointed, made of mohair and had glass eyes, and I never once hurt myself. I still have some of thos toys all these decades later and while they do show the signs of being played with and loved, they are still in great shape.

The love that I never lost for those toys is what led me to collecting and making artist bears later in life as a career choice. Mine rarely sell with the intent to played with by children, and I make sure everyone knows that they are not child safe due to the glass eyes I use.

But...take heart, even when they are purchased by adults as collectibles, that doesn't mean that in the wee dark hours of night, when no one is watching, we don't take them off of their shelves and play with them a bit anyway! *winks*

Hugs, Kelly

bybido said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this and agree with you on all accounts. I've often been asked whether I let my girls play with the dolls and toys I make. Of course they do! These dolls are squashed, slept upon and carried around by the hair/arm/leg! I've put aside two of their dolls that are meant as "models" for the doll clothes they are making/will make. But those dolls, too, still get played with. Just not used as pillows :).

teddybearswednesday said...

Oh Erika, I COULDN'T agree MORE!!! I'm sooo much on the same page as you,about everything!!! I have a couple of really old bear who have boot button eyes which these days are called unsafe. All these guys are very worn and loved, but have all kept their original eyes.
Llike you, I feel there is nothing more rewarding than knowing that a bear I've made is going to a child to be loved and played with, and have never had any problems with safety issues. I think bears are made to be loved, worn, played with hugged etc, it only adds to their beauty and it's their job, it's what they want to do.
thank you so much for writing this wonderful post!!! Hurray for you!xo

mimi k said...

I'm with you on this! No common sense. Buttons for dolls eyes are unsafe but fine on clothing? Okay then!

urban craft said...

I think that if toys were originally created by someone, they were meant to be enjoyed and played with and not to collect dust on a shelf. If by some chance after years of being played with it lasts, then save and collect it.

And maybe they can be played with again unless they are worth thousands of dollars, then sell them!

People accumulate so much stuff and life is short. We can't take it with us.

Ampersand Commodities said...

a fantastic post, thankyou.
we are having similar thoughts as yourself...we recently had a trade enquiry for one of our products...which is great but they are going over board on sooo many child safe precautions (good in some ways but bad when it completely changes the look of the thing we made in the first place!)
anyway, thanks again
p.s. i spent a whole evening reading through your blog, i think your bears are wonderful.

Kara Foster said...


Just read your blog post regarding the similar email conversation we had about this, and I'm really glad you expounded on this so much . . . not only because you voice my sentiments exactly, but because I think you just wrote the book on "Toy Philosophy." I'm planning to print this for my children and any further posterity, perhaps to help justify why some of their really nice toys show signs of wear and tear that some might frown upon, but mainly just because you were able to wax so eloquently the philosophy I would like to pass down to my children regarding the purchase and use of toys. I was thinking about the old (and still loved) Christmas special "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" . . . and, if you are familiar with it, which I'm assuming you are, then you'll understand what I mean when I tell you that I think your next title should be "The First Toymaker to the King."

Would you like to use any of my pictures on your flickr account? I have several of the valentine's bears which I can't wait to download and process. Plus, you have seen some of those I have of the play bears and play rabbit. By the way, my kids have either asked to sleep with or have taken to bed without asking the valentine's bears every night. They are crazy about them, and Finley and I are having so much fun introducing Lovey (his red valentine bear) to his new family with Teddy and Bear (the play bears).

pussman and co said...

Hi! I am so glad I stumbled upon this post, because this is just the thing that has worried me a thousent times.
I also make bears, and I am also an illustrator of childrens books and magazines.
I began making bears and I just love it, but it always worries me that I have to tell (not suitable for young children)
Because when I make them, it is the children I make them for(just like my illustrations), and my bears are also strong and can take some serious hugging to, this is so sad.
Isn't a well hugged bear the most beautiful?
Now we have to damage them to look (well hugged)
A little bit strange he??
I also have the (pretty damaged) doll Woody from toy story, Well my oldest son does, and he has been played with , a lot, and it suits him well.


pussman and co said...

Sorry, one more thing.
I find it also important, when a child receaves such a lovely present as a well made jointed bear,it is part of learning how to play with it, and respect it and honour it.Just as you teach them to play respectfully with a pet, but now all the children have to play with those dirty ugly toy's wich they trow around and rip to shreds, because it's worth nothing and they have 10 more under the bed.
Is one lovely bear to care for not much better in the end??

Danica said...

What a great post! I can't wait to hopefully someday have children and the first thing I'm doing is buying one of your toys/dolls (I ADORE the little blonde lady) to be loved up and dragged all around by little hands :)

Erika Olson Gross said...

Hi- I'm just reading through all your comments again (thanks Danica!) and thinking about how amazingly thoughtful you all are. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feelings about this topic.