The Neville Public Museum

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What’s the 411 on these ‘90s toys?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In the last three weeks interning here at the Neville, I have been working on cataloging a collection donated by the Colburn family. ThNPM #2016.6.4e donor’s grandfather, Enos Colburn, served as President of the City Board of Park Commissioners in Green Bay from 1938 until his death in 1945. Colburn Park was renamed after Enos Colburn in 1956 in remembrance of his dedication and services to the environment.

Within the donated collection were two Beanie Babies, which were of particular interest to me. One can only imagine how silly I felt wearing gloves to hold a Beanie Baby that was ‘born’ just a year after I was! But using gloves to hold any object within the museum’s collection is best practice used by all museums no matter how old the object is. Although I felt odd using gloves to hold the Beanie Babies, I understood it was necessary for the object to stay in a condition that can last another 100 years.  It’s hard to think of our everyday objects as historical because we don’t consciously think that we are currently creating history.

Everyday objects such as Beanie Babies made history with their release in the early 1990s. The first Beanie Baby™ was released in 1993 and ultimately began the trend that had people collecting as many as they could get their hands on. The craze escalated when Ty Warner, owner of the company that distributNPM #1995.24.8bed the Beanie Babies, began to retire certain Beanie Babies. By 1995, this strategy pushed Beanie Babies as the most wanted toys in the country.

Along a similar vein would be the collecting of Mattel’s Barbie ™  Dolls. The Neville has a wide-ranging collection of dolls including many Barbies. One particular Barbie, the Masquerade Ball Barbie is 1 of 8 donated to the museum for an exhibit in 1995. The donor, Georgia Rankin collected around 2,000 Barbie Dolls between 1959 and 2000. Rankin said her reason for collecting the dolls stems from her belief that the dolls replicate how real world fashions change and teaches young girls they can grow up to be anyone they want to be.

Museums collect objects that tell a story about our history. Both Beanie Babies and Barbies reflect social movements before 2000. These kid’s toys were a large part of people’s lives and by keeping a couple of Beanie Babies and Barbies in the collection here in the Neville we have a part of that moment in history. If the object has made a large impact on the world, that is something that should be preserved for future generations to observe.
Visit the Neville Public Museum to see Beanie Babies “Speedy” and “Erin” from the Colburn collection and more from the 1990s.

Kylie LaCombe
Intern, University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point
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