Digitizing Toys

We’ve all revisited fond childhood memories of favorite toys: the life-size Barbie with hair you could style, the GI Joe that came with a real functioning parachute (!), or that one RC Car that could do flips. These memories are certainly accompanied by that nostalgic longing, that sense of long-gone fun that could never be appreciated in today’s modern world. Could you even explain the fun you had to someone so removed from your childhood memories? Now, try explaining your favorite childhood toys to someone 250 years later…

Oh, the memories of staying up late to play with my… bee hive smoker?
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection; http://www.dickbalzer.com/Toy_Lanterns.254.0.html)

The Richard Balzer Collection — a self-declared Wunderkammern of visual entertainments — does just that. The collection hosts a plethora of toys, shadows, peep shows, phenakistascopes, zoetropes, and more, providing a rather interesting insight to the various modes of entertainment from a by-gone era.

But more than that, the collection website offers Flash animations of many of the moving entertainments, allowing modern day viewers to see just what audience members would have seen nearly 200 years ago.

Apparently, lions eating children was entertainment back then.
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection blog; http://dickbalzer.blogspot.com/)

The animation element of the Balzer Collection site illustrates an interesting element of these antiquated novelties: accessibility and interoperability. Usually, these terms are used with regard to more modern media such as cassettes, film, and computer files and the ability to understand or use them once they have fallen from popular use or become obsolete. However, an important element of properly understanding these visual entertainments is not only comprehending the remaining physical artifacts. To really understand what was experienced, these objects have to be seen in the context in which they were intended to be seen, which is to say: in motion. And while we may be able to conceive of these objects as moving entertainments, if we cannot experience them as they were intended, a key part of the experiential knowledge of the objects is lost. And even though we may not have the complex spinning apparatuses or the rear-lighted peep show cases that are required, the Balzer Collection has employed GIF technology to ensure a proper migration into a format that is useable in our current tech environment.

Be sure to check out the Richard Balzer Collection. They also post a blog for updates to their collection and their ever-increasing collection of animations. A tip-of-the-hat to Huffington Post for bringing it to my attention.



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