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Lessons From the Nation's Biggest Architectural Toy Collection

A 20th century American childhood, all in one room.
relates to Lessons From the Nation's Biggest Architectural Toy Collection
Henry Grabar

Stashed away in a third-floor room of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., is the United States' largest public-trust collection of architectural toys. Some of these toys are still household names, sure to figure in the museum's big toy exhibit this November: Erector Sets, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs. Others are one-offs like Guidancetown U.S.A., classics like Anchor Blocks, or foreign imports like Le Roi des Constructeurs. But whether they were prized playtime possessions or dusty-stacked attic dwellers, all architectural toys are equal here. Their playing days are over.

These 2,300-odd toys were assembled by a Chicago English teacher named George Wetzel, who spent 25 years searching trade shows and thrift stores for toys of a quality he felt was no longer in production. The toys now inhabit the dizzying metal shelves of the Building Museum's archives, skyscrapers in their own right, where a rolling metal staircase like you might see at Home Depot helps curators and archivists access the New Pretty Village or Toy Town Peg Board when a curious visitor comes a-calling.