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Wooden Toy - Hooghly, West Bengal - 1960s


    Locally manufactured wooden toys were quite popular as playthings for children in the last century; modern iterations of such toys have become largely confined to branded products manufactured by leading toy brands. In Bengal, the manufacturing hubs of such toys were often the suburban areas and the mofussils (rural and semi-rural zones).

    Contributor: Chandrima Mukhopadhyay (Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chandrimoon)

    Chandrima’s contribution is a wooden toy from the 1960s which was purchased near Bandel in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, India. The toy comprises small blocks of wood (in triangular slab-like, cuboidal and disc-like shapes which were meant to be stacked and assembled together to form a toy house. The colourful blocks of wood and the resulting toy house form only part of the joy the toy gives; the very journey of the blocks from unassembled pieces to completion is part of the delightful experience as well.

Wooden Toy (assembled). Chandrima Mukhopadhyay.

    Sanjay Sen Gupta, in his article on the wooden toy tradition of Bengal, informs us that the legacy of manufacturing such toys still live on in parts of Bardhaman, Hooghly, Howrah, East-and-West  Medinipur and  Bankura in  West  Bengal;  and  Dhaka,  Faridpur, Maimansingha, Chattagram and Comilla in Bangladesh. (Gupta, p.215) While Sen Gupta’s focus remains largely on figures manufactured by the local Sūtradhara-artisans, the tradition of such toys and other forms applies to much of the above-mentioned places in Bengal as well. In the south of India, Channapatna (in Karnataka) is a major toy manufacturing hub which is famous for its wooden toy tradition tracing back to the times of Tipu Sultan who invited artisans from Persia to train the local artisans. (Govind)   

     Remembering about her toy, Chandrima writes:

“One of the earliest memories I nurture with a sense of quiet joy is of the sight of this box of colourful wooden blocks which my mother had handed over to me when I was quite young. Their shapely curves and edges has since been a source of sheer satisfaction, especially because of how uniform the blocks are and how they fit into the box, also made of wood, quite snugly. More than playing with the wooden blocks and building gates and walls, I preferred partaking in the act of taking them all out, only to put them back in the box, as they fit in fractal spaces, time and again, since it was rather therapeutic.
This box of wooden building blocks was a gift that my mother had received on her 8th birthday, which was back in the 1960s. The toy was probably manufactured in Bandel (near the Dunlop Factory) in the Hooghly district of West Bengal and was purchased from a nearby location. Unfortunately, by the time my interest in the object as an artefact developed, it was too late to ask around about it, as my grandparents as well as the family member who gifted this to my mother had passed away by then. I’m now left with this beautiful box of wooden art, that was once created with utmost precision, in the hopes of providing elation to a child.”



Wooden Toy (closed box). Chandrima Mukhopadhyay.
Wooden Toy (open box with wooden pieces). Chandrima Mukhopadhyay.
Wooden Toy (wooden blocks). Chandrima Mukhopadhyay.

[Descriptions of the Images: The wooden toy set comprises small blocks of wood in various shapes, all housed in a wooden box.
    In the first image, the assembled house can be seen with plain wooden blocks making the main structure, the cylindrical green ones making the columns and the pink and green triangular slabs making the capstones of the house. The house has a simple doric column-like façade with the top pieces being in colour.
    The second image is of the wooden box of the toy; it has a rectangular lid and the dimensions of the box is about 8 inches by 5 inches. The side of the box has the usual wavy marks of old wood. The lid is placed on the top and the space is depressed as compared to the side of the box.
    The third image is of the same box but in an opened position. The box has been opened vertically with the lid on the right and the interior on the left. The box contains the colourful wooden blocks in various shapes which are evenly placed inside it. The blocks are in slab-like triangular, cuboidal and disc-like shapes; the long cuboidal ones are without colour while the cylindrical one and the two triangular slabs are in pink; two cubes are in blue and the remaining triangular ones are in green.
    The fourth image has the box with the lid detached and placed beside it. The box is now empty while the blocks are strewn beside it.]


Additional Resources:

Sen Gupta, Sanjay. “Tracing the History of Wooden-Dolls in Bengal: a Study of Two Specimens from Chandraketugarh.” Journal of Bengal Art , vol. 22, 2017, pp. 215–222., www.researchgate.net/publication/319289316_Tracing_the_History_of_Wooden-dolls_in_Bengal_a_study_of_two_specimens_from_Chandraketugarh

Govind, Ranjani. “Bid to Restore Channapatna Craft to Its Original Glory.” The Hindu, 3 May 2016, www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bid-to-restore-channapatna-craft-to-its-original-glory/article7941995.ece.


(This post marks the beginning of the Beyond Ephemera series of The Ephemeriad Project in which objects which are not conventionally ephemera but belong to the broad category of antiques will be covered as well.)