Our Victorian ancestors made many of the toys their children played with. Inexpensive printed fabrics were designed to be cut out and sewn into dolls, games or toys. The fabric usually pictured all the parts of a colorful toy. There also were printed instructions explaining how to assemble the pieces and, if necessary, how to stuff it.
We have seen stuffed Christmas stockings made from prints that featured Santa, evergreens and other Christmas decorations. There were many versions of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”
A similar game made in about 1900, called “The Monkey Donation Party Game,” was made from a white fabric with a black printed monkey holding a stitched-on circular piece with the words “Please put a penny in the cap.” During the first quarter of the 20th century, many manufactured fabrics could be made into advertising dolls. Printed fabric was inexpensive to make and to mail.
An unusual printed toy of that period is a ball made of six colored oval pieces. Each piece pictures a baby holding a finished ball. It was made in 1900 by Art Fabric Mills, and the fabric included printed instructions and the words and music of a lullaby. A collector recently paid $165 for a homemade ball in unfaded condition, but the uncut pattern sells for more - about $200 to $300. A flat piece of fabric can be framed and displayed on a wall. The assembled ball is less decorative.
Q: I have a letter opener that reads “Pan-American Exposition, 1901” on the blade and a picture of the fair’s Electric Tower on the handle. The back has fruit and flower designs. It’s silver-colored, but I’m not sure if it’s sterling silver. Does it have any value?
A: The Pan-American Exposition was held in Buffalo from May to November 1901. Many souvenir items were made picturing the buildings and other features of the fair.
The Electric Tower pictured on your letter opener was the tallest structure at the fair and was often pictured.
Most souvenir items are silver plate, not sterling silver. Your letter opener is probably worth about $25. Here’s a little history: President William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz while the president was shaking hands with visitors in the Temple of Music on the fairgrounds on Sept. 6, 1901. He died eight days later.