Clockwork operated twirling toy mobile, decorated with aircraft and airships, plastic, maker unknown, used by Janet Denne (nee Windeyer), Deepwater, New South Wales, Australia, from 1934
This baby's clockwork mobile is an example of the use of inexpensive moulded plastic to make toys at a time when most were made of tin. Because of its delicacy it is unusual to have survived over 80 years in the possession of its original owner, who received it as an infant in 1934. The fact that it was repaired and never allowed to be overwound and broken illustrates the ethos of the time during the Depression when everything was carefully looked after, handed down and repaired rather than thrown away.
It is made of a thin plastic, probably celluloid. In keeping with the period it features tiny aircraft and airships at the ends of six rotating arms. The toy would be secured to the ceiling or a ceiling light of a child's room and after winding with a key would twirl around in a circle.
The fact that the toy features tiny aircraft signifies the fascination with aviation at the time when Australia was in awe of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's record-breaking flights and regular air transport services had just been established around the country. However, it is the use of the airships in the toy which places it in the early 1930s. In Europe and America enormous gas-filled airships with rigid streamlined hulls, associated with Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, were beginning to make long distance commercial flights around the world. But the rapid development of the aeroplane and the spectacular explosions of the highly-flammable hydrogen, especially the "Hindenburg" in 1937, caused much public apprehension which really finished the concept of airships for commercial transport.
Curator, Transport & Toys
Information provided by Janet Denne (Windeyer), 2011.
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004, pp.136-40
Williams, Trevor I., "A Short History of Twentieth-Century Technology", Oxford University Press, 1982, pp.258-60.
It is not known who made this twirling toy. It was manufactured before 1934.
This twirling toy mobile was given to the donor, Janet Denne (nee Windeyer), as a baby early in 1934 by her grandfather, William Walker, of 17 Burns Road, Wahroonga, an upper North Shore suburb of Sydney. Poignantly, it was the last present to Janet before her grandfather died later that year and shortly before her first birthday. The photograph provided by Janet depicts her as an infant being shown the toy by her father, John Windeyer, on the front verandah of her grandparent's Wahroonga home. It was suspended from the ceiling in her room on Deepwater Station, Deepwater, in northern New South Wales, where her father was the overseer.
The toy was put away when Janet was in her teens and brought out again following the birth of her sister, Susan, in 1949. By this time it was showing signs of wear and tear so Janet repaired it in the early 1950s. The attachment point for the lower section of the shank was worn. She replaced it with a loop of fine copper wire. Vibration of the mechanism had caused the key to wear a groove down the side which threw it out of alignment so Janet glued (probably with Tarzans Grip) some firm material over the grove to correct it. The toy was brought out again in the 1970s for Janet's daughter, Elizabeth.
This toy is one of a small group of toys used in her childhood and donated to the Museum by Janet Denne (nee Windeyer) in 2012.