REMEMBERING the pre-Christmas tales of childhood, you still think of Santa’s henchmen as jolly little gnomes, hammering, stitching and painting. They had no economic problems, and it was a rosy picture of bliss and honest industry.
The cold presentation of fact is that the toy manufacturers and dealers are engaged in a business in which the profit or loss on a year’s work is determined by the sales volume of the two weeks preceding Christmas. Into this short period is crammed 80 per cent of the annual turnover.
Birthdays and the generosity of fathers on out-of-town trips take care of the other 20 per cent, but this is spread over fifty weeks. Many of the larger stores, as a matter of fact, pack away the greater part of their toy stock after Christmas and do not bring it out again until the following season. However, the toy industry of Canada is flourishing, and this year will again see the parade of all the old-time favorites as well as the new ones.
Manufacturers and importers will tell you that the entire toy industry is one of the greatest gambles in business life. Demand for toys is subject to unpredictable vagaries, and the toy producer has to guess in advance what toys and games are going to be popular. Something for which high hopes were held may clutter up the shelves and gather dust; something else may catch the public fancy and become so much the rage that production can’t keep pace with the demand.
And it's a sizable gamble at that. Toy production in Canada now runs in the neighborhood of $5,000,000 a year. Imports of toys and sporting goods in 1937 were valued at $3,565,000. Exports in the same year, worth $386,000, went to more than forty countries, Great Britain being the best customer.
Canadian Dolls Popular
The Dominion’s chief contribution to the world’s toy markets lies in the high workmanship standards embodied in made-in-Canada dolls. While Canadian buyers annually visit other countries to discover new novelties, representatives of these same lands are journeying to Canada; and they claim that the Canadian doll now rivals the German and Japanese product, which so long monopolized the doll field.
More than 50,000 dolls a week are manufactured in the Dominion. One factory official notes that in 1936 his company alone produced more than 1,500,000 dolls, hundreds of thousands of these being shipped to every part of the Empire as well as to several foreign countries. Canadian dolls number more than 300 types, and fall within the price range of every proud parent’s purse.
Canadian toy dealers and wholesalers admit that doll imports to this country are now practically negligible, and that the needs of Canadian youngsters are being met almost entirely by the domestic product.
On September 30 of this year, the London Times commented editorially that Canadian doll competition had effectively ousted the German product so long a favorite in Great Britain. “The Canadian doll has a better modelled head and a more attractive face,” retried the Times. “It is said to be 25 per cent cheaper and 50 per cent better than the German.”
And when Queen Elizabeth, during her visit to the Empire Fair at Glasgow, bought two made-in-Canada Shirley Temples for her princess daughters, the news item again brought Empire-wide recognition and valuable publicity for Canadian dolls. The value of this Royal favor has already been reflected in increased export figures this year.
Canada’s toy industry is of comparatively recent vintage. It is a product of the post-War years, but it has grown steadily to the point where its annual output is conservatively estimated at at least $5,000,000. There are ten or twelve major manufacturers in Canada who turn out nothing but toys, and some fifty or sixty smaller concerns turning out cheajx'r novelties for the chain-store trade. In addition, there are other concerns which operate toymanufacturing departments as a sideline.
The bicycle manufacturers, for instance, make streamlined models of velocipedes, perambulators and motor cars; the furniture industry makes doll furniture, sleighs and wagons; the rubber industry manufactures millions of balls; the printing industry turns out millions of cut-out dolls, planes and ships.
Even the Dominion Government is in the toy business. At the close of the Great War, toy making was included in that plan of civil re-establishment which would enable disabled veterans to find places for themselves in industry. Operated under the Federal Department of Pensions and National Health, these Vetcraft shops are located in the major cities across Canada. They specialize in wooden toys such as rockers, hobbyhorses, and what the trade calls "pull toys."
Other manufacturing ramifications bring additional industries into the picture. The doll makers of Canada are the largest users of Canadian cornstarch; the lumber industry benefits from the extensive use of “wood flour” in doll manufacture; the paint industry contributes varnish and enamel finishes; and the textile and leather industries provide the material for doll costumes, shoes and wigs.
Generally speaking, Canada has not yet commenced to turn out steel toys, and imports these mostly from the United States. German-made toys have been pretty well crowded out of the Dominion market, and the Japanese need only be called upon for the cheaper novelties. Stuffed animals, lead soldiers, games and a few dolls are still imported from the United Kingdom; but the Canadian toy-and-game industry is becoming each year more and more self-sustaining.
Snow White Leads
As already indicated, the doll business is a major factor in domestic toy production. The doll most likely to bring gasps this Christmas from saucer-eyed little girls is Walt Disney’s Snow White, but winner of the chuckles will be Dopey, the favorite of the Seven Dwarfs; according to pre-Christmas sales indications, Dopey will to three lengths ahead of Snow White and may even crowd out Shirley Temple this year.
The last is still holding up, and every time the child star makes a new picture the sales of the Shirley doll (in replicas of the costumes worn in the latest film) take another zoom. Now in its fourth season and possessed of a wardrobe of over fifty costumes, the Shirley Temple doll is still the freak of the industry. Approximately $3.500,000 has been expended by doting parents on this particular item.
Curiously enough, the Dionne dolls, while popular in the United States, never went over to any degree in Canada. The contract having been awarded to an American firm of manufacturers, the 60 per cent duty made the price on the Quints too prohibitive in Canada, and in addition they came in sets of five. However, their sales volume south of the boundary remains high, and each year, to coincide with their birthday, a new set of Dionnes is issued which embodies the maturing characteristics and costuming of the famous youngsters.
A new favourite that has started a boom in amateur ventriloquism on this continent is the Charlie McCarthy doll. Even the grownups who have that strange urge to to the life of the party are buying models of this grotesque little dummy, and he is expected to be a heavy seller during the Christmas season, usually as a member of the little girl’s doll family or a dressing-table decoration of the elder sister.
It is evident that the doll manufacturers are keeping abreast of current events. The latest announcement from England is that a Chamberlain doll in the semblance of the Prime Minister is being rushed in night-and-day production for the coming Christmas trade.
How Dolls Are Made
The initial stages in the birth of a doll take place in surroundings that resemble nothing so much as a huge bakery. The first operation is the mixing of the composition, the formula for which is jealously guarded by the individual manufacturer. The prime ingredients, however, are “wood flour” and cornstarch, which are measured into giant containers and then agitated by propellers as water and rosin are added.
The mixture emerges as a mass of dough, which is packed by workmen into the batteries of doll molds and then pressed and baked under terrific temperatures. Stripped to the waist, the workmen carry out this operation with swift precision. All parts are molded in halves and then glued together, after which the edges are buffed and sandpapered. At this stage, heads and torsos, legs and arms, are separate.
Each component part of the doll is then dipped in a pink lacquerlike mixture whose formula is also a close trade secret. The parts are then racked and allowed to dry for as long as eight or twelve hours. The effect on the layman visitor is uncanny. The answer to a Borneo headhunter’s prayer, the racks of skulls peer out unseeingly. Long rows of disembodied torsos and rows of pink legs and arms are laid in serried ranks. Locked in such a place overnight, the average person might easily become a hypochondriac by morning.
Once dry, the doll parts are assembled, and then the little figures are sent on for their beauty treatment. The manufacturing process now becomes more colorful. In the bright quarters necessitated by the delicate nature of this operation, battalions of girls in multicolored smocks apply the pink cheeks by means of blowguns. Others paint in the lips and eyebrows, and insert the realistic glass eyes. From here, the gap between the lower priced doll and the expensive doll begins to widen. Hair will be painted on the skull of the cheaper product, and wigs will be applied to the higher priced dolls.
Once the complexion and features have been finished, the dolls in the higher price brackets go on to a corps of expert hairdressers. These girls sit at rows of sewing machines and affix the curls to the base of the wig, and even use miniature curling irons to set the permanent waves. Incidentally, mohair rather than human hair is used in making these wigs, mohair being stronger. When the wigs are glued on, the dolls are sent on to the wardrobe mistresses.
Meanwhile, in other departments, the tiny garments are being cut and assembled, the small stockings knitted, and the tiny shoes or slippers cut and stitched. The dolls are then dressed as any child would to, but the prescribed price of the doll will determine its costume. Some will wear cotton, and some will wear silks and satins. Some will have tacky undergarments and a cheap dress; others will have lace-edged underthings and tailored ensembles.
The modern doll’s wardrobe keeps pace with current fashion and, in the case of the more expensive doll, mayhave several seasonal changes of costume. Some of the doll manufacturers are even supplementing production byr selling doll wardrobes separately, so that the little lady of the house may later spend part of her time in dressing her charges.
But the doll, of course, is not the only object on the Canadian toy horizon. Toys for both boys and girls, as a matter of fact, were never so varied as they are now. The wise men of the trade will tell yrou, however, that when it comes to variety the toys have been favored over the girls—as theyalways have been. Approximately 60 per cent of sales consist of boys’ toys, and 40 per cent, of girls’.
It seems that by the time the little girls have been supplied with such staples as dolls, perambulators, miniature house furnishings, games and cut-out dolls, their gift field has been pretty well exhausted. And there is the additional fact, the dealers ruefully point out, that little girls stop playing with toys at an earlier stage than boys.
The interest of the modern youngster in science makes for greater diversity in toy and game design. The progress of transportation, for instance, has become a leading theme and so, this Christmas, fortunate youngsters will find under the tree authentic models of Captain Eyston’s Thunderbolt, the Mercury pickaback plane, and the scientific advances in locomotives and ships.
The current interest in aviation is a new phase of the toy industry which is causing the manufacturers to rub their hands with glee as plant extensions are planned to keep up with the demand. And it is another item in the toy parade in which the grownups as well as the youngsters are showing enthusiasm.
Model plane building is a new hobby. The ordinary 25-cent set of plane parts will take the average youngster four nights to assemble, the manufacturers claim. Larger and more complicated models will take appreciably longer to build, particularly if these are models of the giant transport planes and bombers.
Curiously enough, the popularity of things military seems to be confined to planes, so far as Canadian youngsters are concerned. There are camouflaged tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks, and even miniature machine guns that simulate a pretty realistic chatter, but sales of these are relatively light; there is no juvenile armament race in evidence.
Even the demand for lead soldiers seems to be falling off. although some of the sets (made in Japan) are grim in their depicting of Red Cross nurses tending gory-bandaged stretcher cases.
Time was when “pre-school” toys were something to rattle and look at. Now the playthings have become functional, and the youngsters are early being taught the fundamentals of form, design, color and movement.
The tots are still playing with blocks and these remain a mainstay, but the peg-and-hole devices are gaining the increasing favor of young parents who are not averse to including instructional training during the play period. Materials and finishes have improved. No slivers must get into tiny hands, there must be no small parts to be popped into the mouth, and enamels must not only withstand the inquisitive tongues of the very young but be nonpoisonous.
But as the age bracket increases, toys are becoming more complex than they were a decade or two ago. Where, in his youth, the present-day adult had to be content with a train that was springwound, the modern youngster has a locomotive that is electrically operated. Where we were content with magic lanterns, the youngsters now demand movie projectors.
Structural toys, chemical sets and miniature microscopes are only a few of the scientific advancements embodied in the modern playtime pursuits. It is safe to say that the average present-day child knows more alxmt chemical reagents and the laws of physics than his father did at the same age.
Even the girls are learning at an early age the intricacies of electricity, and have their miniature sewing machines, midget toasters and vacuum cleaners, and complete electric ranges on which their dolls’ meals may be cooked in tiny pots and pans.
Current sales also reveal a surprising percentage of adult games. A new trend sees Canadians staying at home to a degree that is reminiscent of the Victorian era. We are apparently not spending as much as we used to on theatre and night-spot entertainment, and are again discovering the deep contentment which normally arises from family life.
Adult dice and spinner games are selling by the thousands, and there is a revival of jigsaw puzzle sales which, if continued, will make this domestic diversion once again a national fad.
The demand has revived for crokinole boards, table tennis sets and miniature billiard tables. Such old-time favorites as checkers, snakes and ladders, parcheesi and ludo, are again best sellers.
There has also been a demand for leather-burning equipment which, if kept up, will result in another trans-Canada plague of living-room cushions bearing the profiles of Indian maids and warbonneted chiefs.
Even the stereopticon is now being asked for in the larger department stores. That was the parlor device through which double-view postcards were viewed in pre-War days. You held a handle which supported a frame of double magnifying lenses, and these gave an uncanny effect of perspective.
And so the toy parade of 1938 is ready to lead off. Once again, the grownups will usurp their youngsters’ possessions on Christmas Day and there may be some weeping and wailing. Idols will be toppled from their thrones and replaced by the gifts of 1938; but perhaps the love for 25-cent Raggedy Ann will be just as intense as for a ten-dollar best seller. Meanwhile, among the happiest of those who sit down to dinner that day, will be the toy manufacturers and toy dealers of Canada.