1890–1900. Gemla Leksaksfabrik AB, Diö. Wood, straw. Box: 6 1⁄8 × 23 5⁄8 × 13 in. (15.5 × 60 × 33 cm). Roma Capitale—Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali—Collezione di giocattoli antichi, CGA LS 6203.

From the Exhibition:

Swedish Wooden Toys

This large wooden box holds a group of planks, sticks, stairs, and a hipped thatched roof. The printed label shows an ideal version of the assembled form. These elements were intended not only to construct an amusing building toy, but also to teach an important lesson in Swedish history. Assembling the rural cottage-type structure, with a large loft overhanging a lower story, was a means of internalizing the origin of one of the most important Swedish rulers. The cottage at Ornäs in Dalarna in central Sweden was where Gustav Wasa was said to have hidden from the Danish king in the 1520s, surviving to establish modern Sweden as an independent country shortly after his escape. The Wasa became a long-lived dynasty of rulers in Sweden and other areas of Northern and Central Europe.

The wooden building with its characteristic shingles dates from the early sixteenth century and became one of the first museums in Sweden in the nineteenth century. As the building acquired iconic status, a model was exhibited in the park of the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. This toy version was produced by Gemla in the early twentieth century as a new wave of Swedish nationalism spawned a particularly heroic recounting of Gustav Wasa’s adventures. Building toys, such as boxed sets that demanded the child assemble a variety of separate parts, were a popular diversion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They taught skills in reading diagrams and in basic construction, as well as discipline and patience, but they also asked the child to participate in, and therefore assimilate, history.