With LOOK>>, we venture into our wide-ranging collections and bring out a single object to explore in a short video. In this installment, we look at a late 19th-century parlor game.
What follows is a Q&A with David Mihaly, The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History, about Criss Cross Spelling Slips, a Victorian-era entertainment.
Q: What are these Spelling Slips?
A: A puzzle, a spelling game, and a construction set all in one box.
Q: Who made them? When? And why?
A: McLoughlin Brothers of New York, one of America’s leading children’s book publishers and toy manufacturers of the late 19th century. The company used the catchy slogan “Childhood Looks for McLoughlin Books” to build brand awareness for its diverse line of products. Criss Cross Spelling Slips Set Two sold in the company’s 1885 toy catalogue for 50 cents. They were made to entertain and educate children, and to build basic skills essential to childhood development—including hand-eye coordination, motor skills, shape recognition (letters of the alphabet), and problem-solving.
Q: Who would have used Spelling Slips or had access to them?
A: Children from families of means. Spelling Slips were available from toy stores in urban areas and from general stores or peddlers in rural communities.
Q: Why does The Huntington have them? Are they part of a particular collecting area?
A: They are part of The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, which includes 19th- and early 20th-century American toys and games.
Q: How might these be used by researchers?
A: They could be used in myriad ways—by people studying 19th-century childhood development, printing and publishing history, visual culture, popular culture, and everyday life of the 19th century.
Q: Anything else that particularly interests you about this toy?
A: I’m fascinated by the idea of a toy manufacturer crediting its illustrator on the box top: Justin H. Howard (active 1856–1876). That suggests healthy relationships between McLoughlin Bros. and its stable of artists and illustrators.
You can read more about McLoughlin Bros.’ Criss Cross Spelling Slips—and cut out your own set of the wolf slips—in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Huntington Frontiers.
Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.