Smurfs, Transformers, and Trolls–Oh My!

These are the toys we played with and bonded with friends over. These are the toys that allow us to have collective memories with our peers.

During the past few holiday seasons my husband and I have begun giving each other toys from our past.  As we’ve gotten older and had kids of our own, our nostalgia for our childhood playthings has increased.  Not coming from families of “keepers” our personal collections of toys were limited to one or two things that, while special, don’t appeal to us as much as they did our parents.  I know, as a parent, I was quick to swoop in and grab my children’s precious “lovies” (stuffed animals worn to Velveteen Rabbit shabbiness) once they lost their appeal—but I’m not so sure my children will care much about these  when they’re older, since my own lovey has no particular pull on me.

Smurfs and Trolls

Troll and Smurf dolls from the personal collection of the author.


What I and my husband remember are the toys of our older childhood years.  The trolls, transformers, action figures and smurfs of our youth.  These are the toys we played with and bonded with friends over.  These are the toys that allow us to have collective memories with our peers.  Yet these are also the toys not commonly kept by parents and, with the rare exception, discarded by children once they’ve grown out of them. This realization got me to thinking about the toys in the collection of History Nebraska and whether they are an apt representation of Nebraska childhood.  Do toys collected and donated by parents resonate with their grown children?

Teddy Bear

Well-loved teddy bear from 1904 donated to History Nebraska by Pearl Nelson of Pilger. 


I hope no child tried to go to sleep at night with this tucked under their arm. Does our collection only include that which survived childhood—the off-limits precious items or the items the kids rejected and overlooked?  Honestly, I don’t think so as we’ve got a good cross-section of examples.  However, as we continue to collect the history that’s occurring around us every day, what should we be gathering that will elicit the oh-so-satisfying “Hey, I remember that” from generations of future museum goers?

Evil Bunny

Scary bunny donated to History Nebraska by Bette Rathburn Davis. 


Part of the John P. Falter collection at History Nebraska. Does this evoke a positive or negative memory? So, what do you think Nebraskans–what toys of your youth should we have in our collection?  I’d love to hear. Got to run, there’s a Shirley Temple doll for sale on eBay with my Mom’s name written all over it. -Deb Arenz, Former Senior Museum Curator

Jack in the Box

The ubiquitous Jack-in-the-Box

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About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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