Alphabet Blocks and
12 artifacts in this set
Sturdy paper discs housed in cylindrical wooden boxes were a one form of alphabet toy in the mid-1800s. Most of these small cards feature a letter and, on the other side, a colorful image of something beginning with that letter. Children could dump out and mix up the letters, then rearrange them to spell words.
Toy manufacturers designed puzzles for older children and adults. One form -- cubes with pictures on each face -- challenged users with the possibility of multiple solutions. This set of 24 wooden blocks could be combined to create one of six illustrated scenes, a map of the United States, or the alphabet.
There have always been toys intended to have an "instructive" purpose. Educational toys for young children taught concepts like learning letters and numbers as well as telling time. S. L. Hill was the first manufacturer in the United States to produce blocks in great quantity. The blocks in this set contain numbers, letters, and pictures.
Mid-nineteenth-century companies drew on new technologies to produce and distribute inexpensive toys. In 1858, New York firm S. L. Hill patented "a new and Improved Spelling-Block" with imagery applied directly to the wood. Hill became the first American manufacturer to mass produce toy alphabet blocks. These popular toys helped children learn letters and numbers and practice spelling. They also served as stackable building blocks.
Using pioneering color printing technology, McLoughlin Brothers became a leading publisher of children's books by about 1870. The company also produced blocks, alphabet cards, games, and puzzles. Children playing "Criss Cross Spelling Strips" used slips to assemble picture puzzles. When complete, letters on the end spelled out phrases related to the scene. As well as spelling puzzle pieces, the strips doubled as stackable building toys.
Educational toys in the late nineteenth century often served multiple purposes. This set of building and alphabet blocks included different shapes and colors for creative stacking. It also offered a variety of learning opportunities. With upper and lowercase letters in print and cursive, images of animals with printed names, and Roman and Arabic numerals, children could practice spelling and counting while they played.
By 1900, many American toy companies mass-produced wooden alphabet blocks with raised ornamentation and colorful printing. These blocks belonged to Henry and Clara Ford's son, Edsel. Along with letters, they feature images of animals with their names printed below. Words on the blocks encouraged children to think about letter sounds and spelling while they played.
A creative take on classic alphabet blocks, A. Schoenhut Company's Alphie blocks appealed to children and adults. Interesting characters and colorful images attracted young eyes, and each box of Alphies came with rubber balls for a fun game of ten pins. Advertisements assured parents that while playing with these lettered blocks, children would be "unconsciously learning the alphabet."
The Junior Spelling and Number Board challenged users to locate letters, numerals, or symbols along a track, then slide them along to complete phrases in the center. On the other side, users could add, subtract, multiply, and divide with single- and multi-digit numerals. Playful images and words around the outside reinforced learning.
This puzzle built for small hands helped develop motor skills while teaching the alphabet. Children could rely on visual cues to complete the puzzle. Cutouts match the shape of the pieces, which depict animals that correspond with words printed on the board, from "antelope" to "zebra."
Here, the classic alphabet block appears on a set of illustrated flashcards. Lettered cards show something beginning with that letter; numbered cards show that number of birds. Colorful packaging appeals to youngsters, and a seal of approval from Parents' magazine assures grown-ups of the cards' educational value.
Spill and Spell is competitive. Players take turns spilling fifteen lettered cubes and spelling out words from the upturned letters. Complex scoring requires addition and multiplication skills. The longer the word, the more points, and words that intersect like a crossword puzzle double the score. The first player to earn 300 points wins!