Tag Archives: toys


I recently visited a local toy shop – I had a legitimate reason. Downstairs there were toys (lego, soft toys, dumper trucks, etc.); upstairs there were railway sets and model kits (planes, cars, boats, tanks, etc.). Upstairs, there were also small figurines of World War II soldiers, generals etc. Now, clearly the items downstairs were toys; that is to say, they were intended for playing with. The items upstairs were, for the most part, not for playing with. Model planes, tanks and ships, once constructed and painted, are generally too fragile to play with (something I learnt in childhood). Train sets, however, can be used in a more playful way – though enthusiasts probably would object to that description. The small (and very expensive) figurines of Hitler and other Nazi high officials could be played with (e.g. on a mock battlefield), but that is clearly not their primary function; they are rather intended to be displayed. (They are akin to ornaments; the sort of things my grandma used to show off in a glass-fronted cabinet). One corner of the shop had hundreds of ‘classic cars’ in boxes. These were not models insofar as they were ready-built. Again these could be used for playing with. But (again) given their price, it seems likely that they were intended for display purposes.

What is a model? Well, models tend to be much smaller than the ‘real thing’, and tend also to not be functional. I take it that a ‘real’ boat one had on display in the front garden – a boat that was no longer sea-worthy – would not qualify as a model boat. Is this because it was once functional? What then about a life-size boat one built from assorted reclaimed wood and metal? This boat was never functional, but it seems odd to call it a ‘model’. Perhaps its scale is a determining factor here? But then imagine the same constructed, non-functional boat as one third or half the size of a ‘real’ boat. Would that be a ‘model’ boat?  Some ‘model’ planes can be flown (gliders or remote control), as can some model boats be sailed etc. So being functional – in some sense – does not seem to prohibit something being a ‘model’.

Here is the question: How does one distinguish between a model, a toy, a replica, and an ornament? What prompted this question was the following thought: If I was to say that I collect ‘model cups’, what might that mean? A very small cup is presumably still just a cup – albeit one that is hard to use – not a model of a cup. Even if this item had to be constructed (two halves glued together, or something more complicated) it is not clear it would be a model cup. Rendering this item unusable – e.g. by drilling a hole in the base – would not make it a model cup either. Perhaps then there are some things that are just not model-apt? What, if anything, makes something model-apt?

I have no idea what this shows.