What inspired the idea of opening a toy museum?
It really all began as I got back into the toys I had as a kid. I started rebuying a couple of my favourite childhood toys then it became a hobby. I had a comic book room that I decorated with toys and it grew over time.
I enjoyed showing people my collection. I would see joy on their faces — no one has a bad memory of a toy. Most of the time, toys bring people joy.
I was a collector for about 15 years. About 10 years ago, I told my wife, Sara, how much I loved showing people the collection. I love reminiscing with people. I like it when they say, “Oh, I had that!” Sometimes I would just give them the toy because I can usually get another one. I thought it would be great to experience that every day for the rest of my life. Sara asked, “Why don’t you open a museum?”
At first, it was a fun thing to pretend would come to pass one day. Now it’s here — it still doesn’t feel real.
Tell us about the mandate of the museum.
When I imagined it, I resonated with the word “museum” — I felt that it needed to be informative.
As I was collecting, I realized that these toys are art. It took someone to mould them, design the packaging, and create the box art. A lot of times, that’s where imagination started, with the box art. It really took shape in my mind — I want to showcase the art that people may not have thought of as art. You can put the toys and packaging in your house as pieces of art. People don’t mind showing off the things they enjoyed as a kid.
Most people put their toys away at some point and never think of them again until maybe they have a kid of their own and remember the toys they had. The good thing about the museum is that it’s going to bridge that gap between all the generations and really show them that they can relate to each other through toys. We all had a beloved toy.
Take us behind the scenes: what’s involved in establishing a museum?
A ton of reading and research! I pull on the knowledge that I’ve gotten over the last 15 years of collecting as well as all the knowledge out there, which we realized we needed to dig to find. There are really cool and interesting stories about how toys changed history, but also how history changed toys. It’s something you don’t necessarily notice. We had to decide on which stories we wanted to tell.
The space for the museum happened by accident. It’s located in the old Retropolis building in Houston Heights, where Sara and I both used to shop as teenagers. At one time, I had a booth there and it became the fictional building that I would pretend my museum was in.
Just for fun, we decided to look for space for the museum, thinking “one day”. I happened upon the Retropolis without realizing it was now empty. We looked into it and everything just fell into place. We love the Houston Heights community. I always pictured the museum in that location. It’s kinda weird how it all ended up coming to fruition.
How will people experience the collections?
It will be very informative. Visitors will learn about toy companies and the stories behind the toys — why certain toys rise, fall, or have great longevity.
We probably don’t talk about toy inventors enough. We will showcase a couple of inventors who drastically changed toy history. There are some crazy stories — betrayal or people trying to capitalize on an idea. There’s drama everywhere in life.
We’ve created a timeline as people get started in the museum which then introduces you to individual toy lines and toys. We talk about gender stereotypes and how girls often got toys focused on one role and not much imagination. That later changed and girls were given toys that showed every possibility available to them.
I have kids so I know you can’t take kids to a toy museum and not let them touch things — that’s part of learning, too. We have an area where kids can play and let what they just saw in the museum inspire their imagination.
In what ways can people support the museum?
Spread the word about the museum.
The museum is privately funded so we have a “donate” button on the website.
Give us feedback — the best ideas come to us that way.
We are open to toy donations. For instance, we have toy donations from Kaye and Gaye, twins who donated their childhood toys from the 1950s to us. They gave us pictures of them opening their gifts at Christmas with a tree filled with tinsel. They trusted us enough to build an exhibit out of their collection. They took great care of their stuff, and seeing their love and excitement for their toys changed our view of the museum.
That’s been a really fun bonus for us — having these conversations with people while they’re reliving their happiness.
We do have a loaning option if people don’t want to part with their toys but would consider loaning them to us for an exhibit. If they are looking to sell toys, we can help find them a new home. Toys were meant to be played with.
Learn more about the Houston Toy Museum and its collections.