My toys from the 1960s

Two Toy Telephones

2 toy telephones

The little telephone has a jingly bell inside it, which sounds when you shake the toy. This toy actually dates back to the late 1950s. The bigger telephone looks very like the real-life counterpart of its era, the early 1960s. The key winds up a realistic sounding ringtone. Once it’s wound up, then pressing the button below the dial, in rhythmical bursts, creates a convincing ringing sound, all ready for the child to ‘answer their call’. It has a spring-loaded dial, again, just like the real thing, but the toy also doubles up as a money box, with a stopper in the base that rotates for the retrieval of coins. It originally had a round sticker in the centre of the dial with, if I remember correctly, a number on it, which has become detached and lost since its much-played-with heyday.

Miniature Garden

When Britains Ltd (makers of scale models such as farm animals, knights in armour and the like) launched their 1960s plastic miniature garden sets (superceding those made in metal earlier in the 20th century), my pocket money was a shilling (1/-) a week. I never had a big set, but the smallest sets cost 1/11, a penny short of two shillings. This meant that, every other Saturday, I would hop on my bike, cycle through the centre of town, over two bridges, to the bikes and toy shop on the very edge of town. There I would spend a good while poring over the choices. I hardly dared look at the larger, more expensive and so unattainable sets, but concentrated on those within my budget. My first set was a flower bed with sunflowers and hollyhocks. The flowers slotted into holes in the bumpy plastic flowerbed.

My next set, if I remember correctly, was daffodils and tulips. This set came complete with a little ‘spade’ – a brightly coloured tool that resembled a spade handle at the top, but whose tip was rounded metal, strong enough to push the flowers’ centres to make it stand, leafy and proud, in another flower bed.

So my collection slowly grew: a young weeping willow tree, a rockery, rhododendrons, sets with flower-beds of different shapes, quarter circles and so on, that tesselated with the regular rectangular beds. Some bigger sets were Christmas and birthday presents: a lawn and crazy paving, a large fir tree, a greenhouse with seed trays and flowerpots. What fun!

Sometimes I played with it on its own, at other times in conjunction with my dolls’ house (not to scale) when my little dolls would play in the garden. I still have all the bits, but some of the lugs have broken off the fir tree so its branches are somewhat sparse. It was a lovely, gentle toy, and one that was for a time an addictive obsession. I wonder why they stopped making it? Such a shame!

This motorbike was a push-and-go-toy – best used on lino(leum) rather than carpets. (I still remember pulling and cutting the fluff out of the works when I did try it on even our threadbare pieces of carpet.) The method was push-push-push on the wheels, on the spot, then pull back and let go. It whizzed along, making a fairly realstic motor-bike noise. My brother had one, too: identical. Of course, we managed to find some minute difference in order to identify whose was which and then we raced them. My brother, three-and-a-half years my senior, nearly always won, as his pushes probably had extra oomph! I say it ‘was’ a push-and-go toy, as it stopped going many years ago now, being probably 1960-vintage. However, such toys – even if not working – are still collectors’ items. This little biker rode off into the sunset to the Land of Internet Auctions, so is still being treasured by someone somewhere.

Push-and-go motorbike and rider, made of tinplate

While on the subject of motorbikes, here’s a Matchbox toy Lambretta. It was a present from my mother to cheer me up when I was off school with the German Measles in about 1962-3. I have always loved miniatures and admired the detail of scale models, toys or ornaments. This was both for me – but I wasn’t one to play at road-crashes, so it was still in excellent condition, complete with its box, when it, too, drove off to new climes via an internet auction site.  Only one aspect of the toy annoyed me – it was not to scale with my matchbox cars, so looked like a giant bike by comparison. This in no way detracted from its beauty in isolation and its having no rider rather added to its attraction.

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30 Responses to “My toys from the 1960s”

  1. Carolyn

    I had that very same garden, with the little wall, and the bendy greenhouse, and the tulips that sometimes got stuck if you dug them in too hard – and the crazy paving too. Actually, I have to confess that the past tense isn’t quite accurate. I think I might have all of it still, hidden away under the stairs – even though I now have a life-size real grown-up garden to play with.

    • Celia Warren

      Thanks for your comment, Carolyn. As you see, I still have mine! My very first set was a flower bed that came with daffodils and tulips. They must have been quite an early set as, later, I acquired more tulips and, by then, the heads were separate, and you had to stick the stalks’ tiny green stems through the miniscule hole in the tulip flower head. Much easier with child-sized fingers than adults’. Happy days!

  2. Carole

    I also had this garden, wish I still did. I also had a kit where you made your own flowers but I cannot remember what it was called? You had a stem then added sepals, petals, stamens etc, can you remember it, have you any idea what it was called? These toys would sell like hot cakes today.

    • Celia Warren

      Thanks for your comment, Carole. I’m glad I still have mine, even though the plastic has become very brittle now, and some flowers and tree branches have snapped. I suppose the plastic is biodegrading?! I don’t remember the flower-making kit, I’m afraid. It sounds really delightful. I suppose children these days would create these things virtually on a tablet or i-phone app? Not quite the same hands-on tactile pleasure, though.

  3. Sue...

    I was so excited when I saw this,I had one when I was a child and I loved it I wish I still had mine I would love to purchase another one to share the fun I had,with my own granddaughters,I have often thought about the hours I spent designing my own garden….

    • Celia Warren

      Thanks, Sue. It was great fun, wasn’t it. I remember changing the flowers in my flower beds to match the seasons, as well as rearranging the garden layout.

  4. Maggie Hooper

    I too enjoyed this gardening toy I remember saving up for the pond! I wish they still made it I think I would still enjoy it now.

    • Celia Warren

      I suppose today’s children would enjoy a computer-game / virtual-garden more? I still have my set, but unfortunately the plastic is brittle with age, so not very useable.

  5. June Armstrong

    I have my garden set and looking at yours it reminds me of how fiddly the green house was and how difficult it was to get the willow tree leaves pointing in the right direction. I had many many hours of fun with this. It is stored in a golden wonder christmas treat drum!!

    • Celia Warren

      Yes, indeed. The greenhouse was extremely fiddly. And getting the shelves to stay in position AND seed-trays on them was very tricky. My fingers are rather larger and more fumbly nowadays, and I have less patience. I still love the toy, though.

  6. Christine bristow

    What a trip down memory lane. I searched on the internet for information on the miniature garden. I remember it just as you described with push in daffodils and other flowers. At the time i was so exited if i got an extra piece for it. Thank you for leading me down the memory path.

    • Celia Warren

      Glad you enjoyed the memories. It was quite an addiction for a time and every new set was an added joy. It helped that there were no weeds, too! ;-)

  7. Jennifer Lane

    My friend came round last night and in the course of conversation we started talking about this fantastic little garden toy. Mine disappeared somewhere down the line but she swears she still has hers at home somewhere. We both loved it. I imagine it’s been taken off the market due to some irritating Health and Safety issue – size of the component parts maybe.

    • Celia Warren

      Yes, those tiny flower heads could easily be swallowed (!) Or you might poke yourself in the eye with the point of the ‘spade’ … blooming health and safety! Mind you, children probably prefer electronic games now.

  8. Elaine Whitehead

    I still have my set, and my brothers, so I have two lots of some of the pieces! I also have people in mine – an entire family, from children up to grandparents. I remember how fiddley some pieces were, and how the flower heads would often fall off. Like you, I used to save my pocket money, then spend ages deciding what set to buy. My set hasn’t had an airing in some years now, I think I may have to check it over soon ( as in “have a play”)

    • Celia Warren

      Ha ha – we’re never too old to play. I used to put dogs in my garden from my box of Britains farm animals – oh, and sometimes a duck on the pond!

  9. Neville Cheeseman

    Hi I still have my miniature garden set, I used to save my pocket money too & hope birthday & Christmas were good, I have all the garden tools, hose sprinkler Mower wheel barrow, garden benches, dove cot Garden shed, greenhouse & cold frame & collie dog on the lawn plus lots more. I iluminated the pond with my Lego brick that lit up & made gravel paths with the sand from the bottom of my real life buggie cage, I still have it all & my children were allowed to play with it but then box it away again, They are now 28 & 26, so its being kept for Grandchildren now, what great memories. Neville 59

  10. Val Phillips

    I am so glad that this garden toy us real…I remembered having it but as my parents and older brother have now sadly passed away, had no-one to corroborate this memory. Now you have and I am so pleased! I had to give mine to my brother as I took his etch-a-sketch to school without asking him if I could, it got dropped and broke. So on fessing up, he had the choice of one of my toys, so chose the garden set! Grrr! :-)

    • Celia Warren

      Ha – what a fabulous story! Oh, the follies of one’s childhood, eh! So glad that you now know you didn’t dream up the toy and I hope seeing it here brings back many more happy memories. Thanks so much for writing.

  11. Sue Stone

    Thank you for proving my memory is not playing tricks on me. Sadly l was the second child of seven and we had little storage room and were taught to pass toys on to younger siblings as toys were sparse. I now have the real thing. The children today miss so many of the hands on toys now it is buttons and tabs.

    • Celia Warren

      I had the opposite problem. I was the youngest of three and discovered later that toys I thought were mine were not, and they eventually found their way back to my older siblings. Mind you, by then I was old enough for it not to matter … except it was dolls’ house furniture I missed … I still have my dolls’ house!

  12. Sandi

    I looked this up online as in my memory it was the most wonderful thing ever. I remembered the pond especially, and looking at the images I am surprised at how basic it all looks now. As a child, I thought it magical. Wish I still had it.

    • Celia Warren

      I spent hours playing with it. The plastic has gone very brittle with age now.

    • Linda Horn

      Can anyone remember what it was called and what the boxes looked like. I used to love it and often wonder why they stopped doing them. Surely no more dangerous than Lego.

      • Celia Warren

        It was called Miniature Garden – made by Britains. It was first made before the war in metal and relaunched in the 1960s, I think, in plastic. The packets were little sellophane bags, with a stapled card that they hung from. You could see the contents as you looked at them on a rotating stand in the toy shop I used to go to. Each basic set cost 1/11 (one shilling and elevenpence) and the bigger sets more, of course. A basic set was, typically, a flower bed, some flowers that you snapped off the plastic stick, and a planting tool that had a handle like a miniature gardening spade – in yellow, orange and pale blue that I know of.

        I guess children today are more into digital games?

  13. Christine

    I remember the toy garden I looked it up online and there it was Just as i remembered I even ordered some daffodils and tulips They arrived in good and now they are displayed in my cabinet

  14. caterrellJane

    I may be too late on the comments here..can’t see how old they are! My Dad brought an English country garden set home as a traveling gift to my family in the US probably the late 60’s. I was fascinated with it! Loved playing with it and imagining myself in England! Great memories!

    • Celia Warren

      Hello, and thanks – it’s never too late to comment – and lovely to hear from you. It was a delightful toy and it’s great to think it travelled across The Pond to spread joy further afield. :-)

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