In the eyes of children we find the joy of Christmas. In their hearts we find its meaning.

                            -Leland Thomas


Celebrating Christmas through the eyes of children is an irresistible way to capture the magic of the season.  Since our FrenchGardenHouse is once again filled with children, our beloved little people, it seems that Christmas brings a whole new excitement!

Today I’m sharing a part of the article I wrote about collecting antique children’s toys for the Holiday issue of Victorian Homes Magazine.



Did you know that a Christmas tree adorned with a cherished collection of decorations, gaily wrapped toys and gifts underneath {hopefully including that much-dreamed-of toy} is a fairly new custom?

Many of the holiday traditions we cherish from our childhood, the ones that reassure and comfort us, are a result of our 19th century heritage.

The Victorians imbued Christmas with a sense of joy and anticipation, they are the ones that re-invented the celebration of Christmas.

In the early 1800’s, Christmas as we celebrate it today, with our beloved customs and sentimental daydreams of families gathered around the fire opening gifts, was virtually non-existent.

Historically, Christmas wasn’t even considered a holiday. Businesses were open like any other working day. No one sent out holiday greetings or cards, and giving gifts was traditionally done on New Year’s day.


19th Century Hand Carved Horses


As most of you know, Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree as the centerpiece of the royal family’s holiday celebration.

Theirs was a love story, they had a great love for each other and they captured the imagination of a generation. An engraving showing the royal family gathered around their “tree of love”, as it was called, gifts and  toys beneath, was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848. Eager to emulate the Royals, society and the middle class introduced decorated trees and gifts to their own Christmas celebrations, and a loving tradition was born.


{ps. I love this little boy. Boys wore “skirts” until they graduated to pants at a certain age. Isn’t he dapper?}


Charles Dickens called the tree “the pretty German toy”, in his “A Christmas Tree” in 1850, and soon the Christmas tree became a fashionable addition to every household who could afford one.

Celebrating Christmas became a family affair only in the 19th century, as Christmas was celebrated at home.

It’s no wonder that the customs sparked in the Victorian age are lovingly passed down from generation to generation. Only in the month of December, leading up to Christmas, did families spend so much time together decorating the house, making special foods and preparing gifts for each other.

The wealth generated by the Industrial Age, with its new factories and industries, allowed middle class families to take time off work and celebrate the Christmas Holidays too.  The new railway meant workers who worked in the cities could go home to their country towns for the holidays and spend their time off with precious loved ones.

And an increase in income meant that some could afford to purchase a toy or other special gift for their families.



By the end of the Victorian era, Christmas had become the big annual celebration we cherish today.



Just like children do today, Victorian children hung their stockings on Christmas Eve hoping to discover a precious gift in the morning. In the early 1800’s, these children’s toys were hand crafted and very expensive, only children of  the upper echelons of society could expect to receive a real toy.




For all other children, handmade gifts were popular, made carefully stitch by stitch, they included scarves, bookmarks, pincushions and cloth dolls.


In poorer households, children could expect to find a few nuts, or a piece of fruit, which was an expensive luxury, to be savored. In the late 1800’s, factories produced “penny toys” made of tin which could also delight the children of the working class.

Toys created for rich and upper middle class children were made from expensive materials, porcelain, silk, hand carved wood. Elaborate train sets, blocks, wood ten pins, dolls, dollhouses and horses with real horsehair were amongst the favorites.



Books, especially those with a holiday theme, were another childhood gift high on the wish list for most children.

Charles Dickens wrote the most famous Victorian holiday story, The Christmas Carol in 1843. It was the first holiday book, and the beginning of the custom of publishing books with a Christmas theme.

Before this, new books were launched in spring, but once publishers realized that customers had money to spend on holiday gifts, it was shifted to October.



Most Victorian era toys were meant to be educational and impart values, as well as providing hours of enjoyment and just to play with. Girl’s toys were meant to teach them about motherhood and domesticity, while boy’s toys were supposed to teach about leadership and work.


Rare French Noel Doll


No matter what each child received on Christmas morning, it was the spirit of Christmas that made each toy magical.



Antique toys were created by skilled artisans, they are finely crafted objects that are avidly collected today.

Holding an antique toy in your hands is like reliving all the magic of childhood again.

At least that is what my clients who are collectors of toys and children’s books tell me!



Durable, meticulously hand painted, and creative in their design, antique toys from the Victorian era are miniature works of art.

Antique toys reconnect us with the pleasures of childhood, it’s why toys of all kinds are usually at the top of the list for most antique collectors.



Here are a few helpful tips on collecting antique toys:

1.  Aesthetics.  Collect toys that are meaningful to you, and beautiful in design.  No matter how rare and/or expensive a toy is, if you don’t think it’s beautiful, you won’t enjoy it, nor want to put it on display in your home.  It’s a rule of thumb I’ve followed from the minute I became an antique dealer, if I don’t love an object, and I’m not excited about its beauty, I won’t buy it.

2. Condition. A finely preserved antique toy is always going to demand the highest price. In auctions, a well preserved cast iron toy can command as much as $60,000.-There are plenty of beautiful toys, however, perhaps not 100% perfect, in the $500.- to $3000.- price range. Remember that these were meant to be played with by children, a little wear and tear makes antique toys endearing.

3. Priceless.  Some collectors collect certain types of toys because they are certain they will increase in value. That may be so, but the value of antique toys is difficult to anticipate.

The whole purpose of collecting toys is to light up your heart and allow you to experience the simple pleasures of childhood. That’s priceless!



For it is good to be children sometimes,

and never better than at Christmas,

when its mighty founder was a child himself.

-Charles Dickens