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Meal Toys, Merchandising and Beyond!

by Jennifer Toelle, Registrar, Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, Kansas on

A couple of times of year, I help my children sift through toys. Generally, we separate these objects into three piles: keep, donate and trash. Every year I find myself shaking my head in amazement at the amount of fast food meal toys and food merchandising toys they acquire. When my son was a toddler, he picked up a toy car at a garage sale. This car was a promotional item for a national fast food chain produced in the 1990s. Each year, this toy car remains in the ‘keep pile.’ The point is only a select few make the ‘keep pile’ cut depending upon sentimental value and other miscellaneous factors. Often times, these types of items find themselves at the bottom of a trash can, because many are tossed away as pieces of junk.

25¢ and a Boxtop, Warren Chaney, Wikimedia Commons

25¢ and a Boxtop, Warren Chaney, Wikimedia Commons

Depending upon collection scope, some of these objects do indeed make their way through collections committee reviews and permanently into museum collections. The classification and cataloging of meal toys can present quite a challenge. The objects may vary from stuffed animals to necklaces, from rings to lanterns and even notepads!

In general, toys often present a challenge, because these objects are often a representation of larger functional objects in everyday life. Objects that were originally designed for play should be considered toys. While Nomenclature 3.0 does provide a substantial list of object terms for specific types of toys, some are not listed. Why? The functionality of an object may differ from its classification. For instance, a toy lantern does not have the same function as a lantern, and therefore does not belong in the classification under lighting equipment. When a term is not available for meal toys, the most logical answer may be to assign the term “Toy.”

For more information on cataloging toys, see blog, How to Use Nomenclature 3.0 – Toys and Models: http://blogs.aaslh.org/how-to-use-nomenclature-3-0-toys-and-models/

Many meal toys contain an advertising inscription for a company which may also prompt the term “Premium.” For instance, the toy may be associated and/or contain inscriptions with a restaurant brand, a recent movie or hit cartoon. National food brands often offer toys through mail-in offers or a special prize included in a cereal box. Objects may be a pair of spy binoculars, captain’s hat, or the latest super hero wristwatch! Listing these objects as premiums may align with the company’s advertising goals, yet it may not be the primary function of the object.

In some instances, toys may serve as the original function. For example, the super hero wristwatch may actually be worn by a child to tell time. While the wrist watch was distributed as a meal toy, it may not necessarily be exclusively for play. Rather this object may be used by a child as piece of time keeping equipment. In this case, multiple terms may be considered such as “Toy” and “Watch.”

Helpful Tips:
1. Ask a series of questions to determine the object function. What is the primary function of the object? Is it for play? Is it for another use?

2. Use a subject field and/or other field to list the other terms.

3. Be as descriptive as possible! Use the catalog record description field as well as other fields to list the all pertinent descriptors. A catalog record query will only be successful if the information can be retrieved.

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