Victorian Toys: Facts and Information

Although Victorian children from rich families had more toys than those from poor families, even they didn’t have access to the range of different toys available to today’s children.

Many Victorians lived in cramped conditions, and there simply wasn’t the space for the children to play indoors. As a result, many popular Victorian toys were designed to be played with outside.

Victorian toys were often much simpler than the toys of today, and they often required the children playing with them to use their imagination to get the most out of them.

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The 19th century opened up a new realm of play for children all over Europe and the United States. It was the first time that children began to have time to play and to have lives that resemble those of modern day children.

Alysha M Paige (Boston Children’s Museum)

Different Types of Victorian Toys

Skipping Ropes

With wooden handles and cotton cord ropes, skipping ropes were a very common toy in the Victorian era. Predominately played with by girls, a Victorian skipping rope’s handles were sometimes decorated with paint, and the more expensive versions sometimes had metal fittings at the end to stop the handle from getting worn. The rope usually passed through the centre of the handle and was tied off with a knot at the end.

Many of the skipping ropes manufactured in Britain in Victorian times were exported to other countries.

Victorian Toy Soldiers

For most of the Victorian period, toy soldiers were made from solid lead or tin and most were imported from Germany or France. As a result, they were expensive and they were mostly the play-things of the wealthiest children.

In 1893, William Britain perfected a method to create hollow metal toy soldiers. This dramatically reduced the price of the figures and resulted in an increase in sales throughout all social classes.

Victorian toy soldiers were considered to be a boy’s toys, and they were usually purchased already painted.

Victorian Marbles

Marbles in the Victorian era were either made from glass or clay?? Marble scissors were developed in the 1840s in Germany as a manufacturing tool for shaping blown glass marbles, and ceramic (china clay) marbles were also produced. China marbles didn’t chip as frequently as glass marbles did, and they were often glazed or painted in bright colors and with intricate patterns. Glass marbles were also highly decorative.

Victorian Glass Marbles
Victorian Glass Marbles

The cheapest marbles were made from clay. They were unglazed and were sometimes painted, usually in a single colour.

Some marbles were also ground down from small cubes of limestone. These marbles were heavier than the common clay marbles, and they were often not completely spherical.

Ring Taw was the most commonly-played game using marbles in Victorian times, It involved treating a ring on the ground with chalk, and placing marbles inside the circle. Players then took turns flicking other marbles at the marbles in the ring, trying to knock as many of them as possible outside of the circle.

Clay marbles were the most common, whereas the more expensive china and glass marbles would only have been played with by the children of rich families.

Victorian Building Blocks

Just like today, young Victorian children enjoyed playing with building blocks. Made from wood, and sometimes decorated with painted letters of the alphabet, Victorian building blocks were often homemade, but they could also be purchased in sets contained in wooden storage boxes.

Victorian Building Blocks
Victorian Building Blocks

Some of the building block sets were more elaborate than the standard wooden cubes. They were shaped into columns and windows, allowing the child to create more realistic-looking buildings.

Victorian Children’s Tea Sets

Made from either porcelain or faience (glazed ceramic ware), tea sets became increasingly popular around the middle of the 19th century. Children’s tea sets resembled regular tableware and all of the items (the cups, saucers, and teapots, for example), were fully functional. The only difference was that they had been resized to fit the hands of a child.

Mostly played with by girls, in the early years of the Victorian period, the rich could afford childrens’ tea sets. But, as demand increased, tea sets became more affordable, and companies that had once only focused on making adult-sized tableware began to mass-produce tea sets for the toy industry.

Victorian Rolling Hoops

Either made of iron or wood (usually ash), Victorian rolling hoops were incredibly popular, and they were played with by both boys and girls.

They were used to carry out an activity called hoop rolling, hoop bowling, or hoop trundling. The aim was to propel the hoop by rolling it, using careful touches of a stick to maintain its course.

Child playing with a Rolling Hoop
Child playing with a Rolling Hoop

Getting a wooden hoop to trundle with a stick was quite easy, but it was hard to make it turn sharp corners. Metal hoops were often controlled by hooked sticks. It took longer to learn how to control a hoop with a hook, but once mastered, it allowed for more dramatic maneuvers. Some children became so good at hoop trundling they could make their hoops turn ninety degrees, or complete tight circles without them toppling over.

Girls mostly used wooden hoops, whereas boys tended to favour metal ones.

From the 1840s, some Londoners complained about the ‘Hoop Nuisanse’, and for a while, due to the number of shin injuries given to pedestrians by out-of-control hoops, London’s police started to confiscate iron hoops being trundled in the city’s streets and parks. The mathematician Charles Babbage was particularly against children playing with hoops because he was worried that the toy would get tangled in the legs of horses, potentially causing injuries to both horse and rider.

Victorian Kaleidoscopes

Kaleidoscopes were telescope-shaped optical devices used to generate beautiful symmetrical patterns (by means of mirrors and pieces of cloured glass) seen when you look through the lens. The pattern could be altered by rotating the tube, causing the pieces of glass to shift their positions.

Invented in the early part of the 19th century by David Brewster, kaleidoscopes quickly became a popular craze the ‘kaleidoscope mania’ continued into the first few years of the Victorian period. Kaleidoscopes started out as objects made for everyone, and they only really became a toy exclusively for children later on in the 19th century and the early-20th century.

In the early-Victorian era, kaleidoscopes would have been a common sight on the streets of the UK’s towns and cities. People used to use kaleidoscopes when they were walking, and there are lots of historical reports of people bumping into things as a result of not looking where they were going.

By the middle of the 19th century, the demand for kaleidoscopes had dropped, and rather than being made-to-be handheld, mobile items, kaleidoscopes were produced with stands and were sold as curiosity pieces for Victorian parlours.

Victorian Rocking Horses

Wooden rocking horses were popular in Victorian Britain, but although they were being mass-produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century, rocking horses were an expensive toy and would only have been found in the homes of wealthy families.

The horse’s body was made from wood and it could be rocked backward and forwards on a pair of wide bow rockers by a child astride the horse’s back. The saddle was usually made from leather, and the horse’s mane and tail were often made from real horsehair.

In 1880, a safety stand was introduced, and rocking horses were made hollow to reduce their weight, further increasing their stability.

Victorian Rocking Horse
Victorian Rocking Horse

Some rocking horses were even fitted with a secret compartment accessible from the horse’s underbelly.

Most rocking horses manufactured during the Victorian era were painted a dappled grey colour.

Victorian Dolls

Dolls were made from a range of different materials in the Victorian era, such as wood, cloth, wax, composition (a mixture of sawdust and glue), papier-mache, and porcelain.

The most expensive dolls were the ones made from porcelain, and they were crafted by companies such as Germany’s Dressel and Schilling.

Most dolls from this era were smaller than the dolls of today and were made to resemble girls, young women, or babies. They often had highly-detailed and lavishly-decorated clothes, representing the fashion of the time.

Augusta Montana, an English doll-maker, brought out a range of dolls inspired by Queen Victoria’s children.

Other dolls represented professions. Ballet dancer dolls and nurse dolls, for example, were very popular.

Pull dolls, were dolls with mechanical functions. Children could open and close the pull doll’s eyes by tugging on a wire running down the back of the doll from its head.

Victorian Dolls’ Houses

Victorian dolls’ houses were incredibly realistic and straddled the line between display piece and toy. For most of the Victorian period, although the dolls’ houses were manufactured in the UK, much of the miniature furniture was made in France and Germany and had to be imported.

Dolls’ houses were very expensive toys, and only the children from wealthy households would have had been lucky enough to have had one to play with.

By the end of the 19th century, factory-made dolls’ houses were available, but even though they were often poorly constructed compared to the handcrafted alternatives, their prices were still beyond the budget of many ordinary families.

Spinning Tops

A spinning top is a toy with a sharp point at the bottom and a squat body. It can be spun on its point, and due to the gyroscopic effect, it will remain in motion until it loses energy and topples.

Brightly coloured snipping tops were popular toys in Victorian England. Constructed from wood or tin, Victorian spinning tops were mostly designed to be set in motion with a twirl of the fingers, but some were made to spin by pulling a cord coiled around the body of the spinning top. These were known as whip tops (or whip and tops).

Victorian Toy Theatres

Made from paperboard, toy theatres could be purchased both plain (to be coloured at home) or already decorated. They were sold at theatres and toy shops. The size of toy theatres varied, but most were between 20 cm and 40 cm wide.

Paper sheets, usually consisting of four actors (or one actor in four different poses) and some scenery, based on the most popular Victorian theatre productions of the day, could be purchased along with an abbreviated script booklet, so that the play could be reenacted in a toy theatre. The actors and scenery were either black and white (to be coloured by the person who bought the sheet) or pre-coloured, and they were usually cut out and pasted to card and then attached to wire slides so that they could be used with a toy theatre.

Oil lamps were often used to provide dramatic toy theatre lighting.

Toy theatres were bought by both children and adults. Many of them were built, but never played with, and were viewed as items of theatre memorabilia than true toys.

Famous toy theatre shops included W.G. Webb (Finsbury, London), and Benjamin Pollock (a business that still exists today in the form of Pollock’s Toy Museum in Scala Street, London).

The popularity of toy theatres started to diminish in the 1870s.


Thaumatropes were optical toys. A card disk was attached to two pieces of string at its edges. When the string was pulled taut and twirled in the fingers, the disk would pin and the images on either side of the disk would appear to merge.

The designs varies, but popular ones included bare tree / tree in bloom, bird / cage, empty vase / flowers.

In addition to combining images, thaumatropes could also be used (like a simple flipbook) to suggest motion.

Cup and Ball

As the name suggests, this toy consisted of a wooden (or in some cases, ivory) cup on a stick with a ball on a string attached to the stick. The idea was to flip the ball up and catch it in the cup.

These toys varied in size. Some were less than 10 cm tall and had a ball made from a large bead. Others were more than 30 cm tall and included a golf ball-sized ball.

Cup and ball toys could be simply made, but many were decorated with carving and painted in bright colours.

Victorian Footballs

Victorian footballs were made from leather and had laces to keep the ball together. They used to absorb water, becoming really dense and painful to head in wet conditions.

Those who couldn’t afford a real football made their own out of bundled sheets or rags.

Victorian Board Games

In addition to the classic games of chess, draughts, dominoes, and backgammon, dozens of other board games and tabletop games were invented during the Victorian period. These included Ludo (based on an Indian game and patented by Alfred Collier in 1981), Maricout (1882), Chinese Chequers (also known as Halma), Asalto, an early version of the Game of Life, Hoppity, Reversi, Agon, and Bizingo.

Other tabletop games included magnetic fishing, tiddlywinks, spillikins (pick up sticks), snakes and ladders, and lots of cards games (whist was particularly popular).

Victorian Board Game
Victorian Board Game

What toys did poor Victorian children play with?

Children from poor families in Victorian Britain would’ve had cheaper (usually homemade) versions of some of the toys owned by the children of the rich. For example, dolls made from cloth rather than porcelain, clay marbles rather than ones made from glass, footballs made from balled rags, simply carved cup and ball games, and spinning tops. And obviously, there would be some toys that the Victorian poor could only dream of. Elaborately decorated and furnished dolls’ houses, for example, and optical toys, and painted sets of toy soldiers.

What outdoor games did the Victorians play?

Much of the Victorian child’s play took place outside. Skipping ropes, rolling hoops, and skipping ropes would all have been used outside of the house, but they also played a lot of ‘playground games’ too. Hopscotch (with a numbered grid chalked onto the street) was popular, as were games like Blind Man’s Buff, and lots of different versions of chases games and tag.

What was the most popular Victorian toy?

The kaleidoscope craze in Britain had started to wane during the reign of Queen Victoria, so the most popular toy during this period would have been one that could be played by rich and poor alike. Because the game required several of them in order to play it, there were probably more marbles produced during the Victorian era than any other toy. Rolling hops, quoits (an early form of ring toss), and skittles were also very popular.