Little kid stuff is found in digs
A child’s mug excavated from the 500 King Street Courthouse Site in 1977 with the maxims: "Many a little makes a mickle beware of little expenses" and "A small leak will sink a great ship." Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology.
Let’s see now...what shall I choose at that perfect gift for my child at Christmas? Superhero action figures? Barbie So Much To Do Mall Food Court (dolls sold separately)? Triple Arcade (only $229.99!)? SEGA Genesis Core System with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 with the world’s largest library of 16-bit hits? My massage sender Diary that stores 75 names and sends messages with invisible beam?
It is a difficult choice to make, often avoided by buying many things on the child’s Christmas list and accruing larger debt. Holiday shopping is certainly another aspect of our lives that fall under the category "How Things Have Changed."
My mother growing up in Iowa 80 years ago marveled at the fresh orange she received in her stocking--a real delicacy. My father in California was thrilled with a wood sailboat, because he made most of his toys with recyclables he could find around the neighborhood.
Let’s look back in Alexandria history to see what Christmas gifts were offered in the Alexandria Gazette. Thanks to T. Michael Miller’s research in old newspaper editions, the Lloyd House published holiday advertisements in he Fireside Sentinel. Food items were frequently advertised. David Appich in 1840 "Returns his thanks to the public of Alexandria and its vicinity for the patronage he has received and offers them at the APPROACHING HOLIDAYS, a very large and well selected assortment of CONFECTIONARY of all kinds; a variety of French candies...raisins, Currents, Citron, Prunes, Dates, Oranges..."
Specifically for children, William Morrison in 1835 "has just received an excellent assortment of books, among which are many of the annuals and books for youths and children." Ten years later George White advertised, his Christmas wares "...kind and wood jointed dolls, doll heads, dogs, trumpets, soldiers, birds, shell cushions, assorted toys..."
When we excavate the privies and backyards of Alexandria, we find only a few children’s toys---An occasional marble, tin soldier, doll head, wood animal figure. Apparently the world of Alexandria’s children 200 years was not unlike the early 20th century. The children and their parents must have made most toys out of materials that decayed, or they were passed on. Recent oral history provided by Mrs. Douglas centered upon children’s play that would not have left material remains. She and her friends near Chinquapin braided long grasses, played games with Chinquapin nuts, and swam in the streams.
One of the other children’s artifacts we do find is the child-sized ceramic mug. Some were personalized with a name "A Present for Jenny" or decorated with proverbs. They were popular after the American Revolution though the 19th century. Adults began to view children differently, no longer just little adults which were evil. Influenced by John Locke’s tabula rosa doctrine, children became seen as blank slates "to be filled in by observation and reasoning." In the next few articles I will discuss more about the role of moral education, and how these American maxims developed. How do we view children today given the toys we purchase?
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.