The first day of my holiday included banned toys and a glimpse at the origins of museums. I think we can say that’s going pretty well so far.
Resolving to do lots of stuff on this visit to the old homestead, my wife and I looked around for ways to do tourist stuff in the place we’re from. It turned out there were quite a few local attractions we’d never been to, but perhaps the most eye-catching thing was the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia.
First off: “museum” might be a strong word. It’s really a toy shop specialising in Pez and Lego, with a room in the back that covers several different themes in the history of toys. You go in, you browse around the selection of things, and then you pay your $3 (about £2) and get the tour, by which I mean you go into the back room and someone from the shop explains to you what everything is.
I know that sounds a bit blah, but it’s absolutely fascinating. You start with the basics — Pez was invented in Austria, the names comes from “Pfefferminz” even though you can’t actually get them in peppermint any more, the original dispensers didn’t have the cartoon heads on them, etc., etc. Then you get shown some of the various Pez dispensers throughout history, from beloved childhood characters to outright nightmare fuel.
Lots of rare ones, oddities (including guns that shoot Pez), custom jobs, little dioramas, etc., etc. I think my favourite was this psychedelic example:
You also get to see the Museum of Banned Toys, which is really just the Cabinet of Banned Toys, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in terribly, terribly bad ideas.
Consider, if you will, the Yard Dart:
The highlight of this section has to be the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab:
Released in 1951, this bad boy came with a Geiger counter, a build-it-yourself cloud chamber, and four samples of radioactive ore. All that and a comic book called, and I swear I am not making this up, Dagwood Splits the Atom!, in which Dagwood Bumstead, together with other King Features Syndicate characters like Mandrake the Magician, explain nuclear physics. With a foreword by Leslie Groves, which may make it the 1951-est thing ever to exist. Funnily enough, this thing only stayed on the market for about a year, although some sources suggest that it wasn’t the radioactive isotopes so much as the whopping $50 price tag (a lot of money in those days) and high complexity level that made it unpopular.
There are lot of other toys that can choke you to death, put your eye out or shatter into razor-edged plastic shards, but I think those were my favourites.
And then you’ve got the Classic Toy Museum, which is to say again, Cabinet Full of Lincoln Logs and Barbies and Stuff, which is clearly just what you have left over when you’re an avid toy collector but not everything you have fits within the other two main categories.
I was particularly taken with the ad copy for Lincoln Logs:
I had no idea they were created by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.
There’s more, including a copy of Famous Funnies #1, effectively the first newsstand comic book, which was pretty cool.
Now, some might say that this isn’t a museum per se. It’s a collection that you can pay to go in and have a look at. But, of course, this is how museums got started. This is basically a highly specific consumerist wunderkammer.
And I don’t know about you, but I like that idea a lot. More weird little museums would be great. I’d love to buy my video games from a shop with a games museum in it. I would drive quite a long way to go to a miniatures museum (I kind of intend to, in fact). More guerrilla museology would be badass. I realise it’s easier to do on the internet, but I don’t know. I quite liked the physicality of it.
Anyway, that was the first full day. I thought it was pretty good!