Object of the Week: Highlighting the LCHA Collections

Noah’s Ark, the Sunday Toy

The most popular toy in all of Europe and America was by far the Noah’s Ark. Inspired by sacred history it was commonly known as the Sunday Toy. In Colonial America and even late into the nineteenth century, the Sabbath was observed with the greatest dignity and reverence, and toys were put away on that day. However, one toy, or rather one collection of toys, which was allowed was Noah’s ark. It was a favorite of boys and girls alike. Under the observant eyes of parents, children played Bible games with the animals. Arranging them in pairs, they were paraded with Noah and his family in a long procession around the dining room table or on the parlor floor. Then before supper all the animals had to be gathered up and put back in the ark. Those with slender legs and tails sometimes got broken in the hurried process of putting-away.

Noah’s Ark toy, C. 1840s, on display at the Pownalborough Court House

When Noah’s arks were first made is not known, but wooden arks and animals can be traced back to Germany in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The town of Oberammergau, long famous for the production of religious figures carved from wood, is believed to be the birthplace of this toy. Often, the arks were made more like canal boats then a skillfully designed vessel. It was the animals that held the highest appeal for the children. Crude in appearance, they were usually painted in bright colors. The birds, cats, dogs, pigs, goats, sheep, cows, and other familiar animals were easy to recognize. Arks with as many as three and even four hundred figures are still to be found among those made a century or more ago.

The Lincoln County Historical Association is fortunate to have a Noah’s ark in its collection. The ark dating from the 1840’s is proudly on display, with Noah, Mrs. Noah and a number of animals in the children’s room on the third floor of Pownalborough Courthouse.

Faye Snyder, LCHA Collections Committee