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Historic Southampton mansion houses antique toys

Laurie Collins, program coordinator for Southampton Historical Museums,

Laurie Collins, program coordinator for Southampton Historical Museums, demonstrates a mechanical bank in the exhibit "The Joy of Toys" at Rogers Mansion. (Dec. 29, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

If there’s anything that’s sure to put sparkles in the eyes of children during the holiday season, it’s toys.

At Southampton’s historic Rogers Mansion, operated by Southampton Historical Museums, program directors have created a history lesson by way of antique toys in the exhibit “The Joy of Toys,” on display through Saturday.

And adults love it, too.

“The name really says it all,” said Lynn Egan, director of programs and special events for Southampton Historical Museums. “Toys are appreciated by children and they are appreciated by adults.”

For the last four years, the museum staff has asked Southampton residents to set up replicas of their own holiday traditions inside the mansion on Meeting House Lane, which serves as the museum. But this year, Egan said they wanted to bring out something different and the turn-of-the-century toys have been successful.

Colorful board games from the 1920s and earlier line the walls like artwork. Porcelain dolls with beady eyes stare down visitors. Mechanical cast-iron banks fascinate everyone with their clever coin-insertion mechanisms. In most, the weight of a coin causes some action to occur in the primitive-looking toy, like a gun firing at a target or a mother hen bowing to feed her chick.

Laurie Collins, program coordinator at the museum, said the children are both fascinated and skeptical of the toys - a combination of emotions that keeps them fully engaged throughout their visit.

“They almost don’t believe that they would be entertained by things like this,” she said.

Collins said that as groups of children from Southampton Elementary School have taken turns visiting the exhibit, she turns it into a history lesson by starting with the kinds of toys parents would have made for their children before toys were manufactured in the late 1800s.

She said even as she moves into toys created in the 1930s and 40s, the children find them antique.

“To me, I love the reaction of the kids who are so used to computers and video games,” Collins said. “They come in here and they are just shocked.”

For adults, there’s an equal fascination in the toys, not as a mystery but as nostalgia.

Lucia Gagliardo, who lives in Manhattan but spends weekends in Southampton with her husband Gregory, was staring into the small rooms of a three-story doll house on display at the museum.

“It brings you back to when you were a kid,” said Gagliardo, who is in her 40s. She said she stopped to look at the dollhouse on her way in, but couldn’t help taking another look on her way out.

Egan said the exhibit was so successful that they hope to bring it back again next year.

“We’ll switch it up,” she said. “We’ll find new old toys.”

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