Wishbone Folk Art Toys - Curious Practices Of The Victorians


Hello and welcome to this week's 'Blog Post Monday', my first in two weeks, it's good to be back!

While out and about this week I stumbled across a rather fascinating item.  It was a little grotesque, but at the same time very endearing.  It was odd enough to get my tingles going so I had to have it.  Upon getting it home and doing some research, I uncovered a wonderful tale which highlighted the creativity of impoverished Victorians to provide toys and playtime for their children.  It was so wonderful in fact that I've decided to dedicate this week's blog post to it.

So, as always, get that kettle on and let's take a look at Victorian wishbone toys, the post meal creations...


Image:  my antique Victorian wishbone find


The Victorians were recycling and reusing a century before any of us!  Everyday objects like wishbones, spools and nut shells were all given a new life as fanciful, yet functional art objects.  All the rage in the 19th century, this crafty trend of turning trash into tiny treasures resulted in Victorian fancies.


Image:  my antique Victorian wishbone find

Wishbones were one popular way for those who couldn’t afford luxuries to make playthings. The bones would be kept to one side after a meaty meal and these would be turned into dolls and furniture. Fabulous! 


Image:  my antique Victorian wishbone find


My wishbone chair find is a fine example of what the Victorians created, however, it wasn't just doll's house furniture that they made.  Dolls, themselves, were also created by the same means. 


Image: wishbone doll from The National Museum of Toys & Miniatures 


These creations brought no end of pleasure and amusement.  The wishbones from turkeys, chickens, ducks and birds offered various sizes, so you could create a whole family of different sized dolls.  There were various ways of creating the heads too, with some made from moulded sealing wax or simply penciled on the flat surface of the bone.


Image:  my antique Victorian wishbone find


I found a fascinating story from the V & A museum during my research about a gentleman called Edward Lovett.  It read:

"Edward Lovett on one of his many regular strolls around the streets of Bethnal Green in the 1890s come across a girl with a doll.  Lovett promptly brought the doll from her. The sum he paid we do not know but we can assume the girl needed the money, perhaps for her family.  The doll (pictured below) that she sold to Lovett was handmade and a much loved companion."


Image:  mutton bone doll, ca. 1900. V & A Misc. 12 – 1924


It explained that "The doll has an inked face and rags of cloth have been used to form a cotton print dress and a little silk blue-green bonnet. Her body is made from a piece of humble mutton bone. This object speaks volumes of the poverty that was rife in Bethnal Green at the time. This is a doll that is made, not brought."


Image:  toy owl made from Pine cone and wire, ca. 1920s. V & A Misc. 200- 1923


But it wasn't just bones that items were created from.  Basically, any material that people could lay their hands on at no extra cost could be used, as long as they had a good imagination.  Another example from the V & A museum was an owl made from a pine cone and wire (pictured above).


Image:  Edward Lovett


And Mr Lovett, himself, sounded like an extraordinary man.  Apparently, he had a fascination with folklore and would walk the streets of London buying items of curiosity.  He is recognised as a national authority on folklore and superstition, and is noted as being one of the most interesting collectors of the 20th century.  He was also a great supporter of the idea of a Museum of Childhood and he donated 18 toys made from found objects.  Seven of these were made from shell, three from bone and eight from pine cones.


Image: wishbone furniture from The National Museum of Toys & Miniatures 


I mean, I fell in love with my wishbone chair find as soon as I saw it, but now, after finding out exactly what it is, I love it even more.  There's just something about a piece of folk art.  You can almost feel that historic connection with the person who made it.  They are essentially important pieces of social history that should be treasured and their stories allowed to live on.


Image:  my antique Victorian wishbone find


You'll be pleased to hear that my antique Victorian wishbone chair is currently available to buy HERE

Well, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into the curious world of Victorian wishbone toys.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below.


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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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  • Shelley Younket on

    I have a living and dining room set in pristine condition. What can I do with it? Is there a resale value?

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