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Clockwork toys - crocodile

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Catalogue record

Creator: EP Lehmann

Object Source: Lucy Collection

Place of Creation: Germany

Date of creation : 1890s

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Format : Toy, Beetle 120 x 60mm; Beetle’s box 130 x 130 x 60mm; crocodile 230 x 50mm; seal 200 x 60mm

Donated by Lucy family

Watch the clockwork crocodile in action


Clockwork toys revolutionised the 19th century toy market, as their small owners no longer had to push or pull their toys, but could wind them up and watch them move independently. Eventually mass production brought cheap clockwork toys within the reach of many children.

Ernst Paul Lehmann of Brandenburg, Germany began specialising in these toys from 1881. In particular he was noted for catering to the export market, tailoring his toys with characteristics that had appeal to those markets. In addition the special ingenuities of Lehmann toys, coupled with their good design and finish, as well as their cheapness, made them a popular choice. Lehmann continued to produce the toys until his death in 1934, when the company was continued by his successor. His range of toys included cars, buses, trains, a range of novelties, and animals, including the swimming seal, snapping crocodile and the beetle, and utilised a variety of mechanisms that induced movement.

Ivy Lucy (b. 1893) recalled:

'We lived far away from any shops and as it took several hours to get to Adelaide by horse and sulky we rarely went there, but sometimes Father brought home as a treat a mechanical toy or a special game. We could read only when the jobs were completed and we had washed our hands-but not on Sundays. The mechanical toys were brought out on very special occasions and used under the strictest supervision.'

As a result of the careful handling by the donor family the wind-up toys are still beautifully functional. The beetle crawls around jerkily, and open and closes his wings, and its original box also still exists. The seal has moveable flippers activated by a front wheel, and a tail wheel that propels it across the floor or table in sweeping arcs. The crocodile advances with snapping jaws.

These toys, along with books, games and other toys were donated to the Children's Literature Research Collection by the Lucy family, who lived at 'Alderley', Modbury from 1873 until 1938.


Further reading

Cadbury, Betty Playthings past. Newton Abbot [Eng.]: David & Charles, c1976

Spilhaus, Athelstan Mechanical toys: how old toys work. New York: Crown Publishers, c1989

Bartholomew, Charles Mechanical toys. London; New York: Hamlyn, 1979

Gardiner, Gordon The all-colour directory of metal toys: a pictorial guide to the art of collecting international playthings Sydney: Lansdowne, c1984


Lehmann Toys

891 ABC Afternoon Delights at the State Library Children's toys and games

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