Meet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designers

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A new rules written by Alan Powers examines the work of Paul and Marjorie Abbatt and their values of educational toys.

“They look forward the children to use their toys upside down,” says design paragraphist and university lecturer Alan Powers. “It was always about allowing youths to find their own way.”

Powers the author behind a new book on Paul and Marjorie Abbatt, the plotters (and married couple) responsible for some of the mid-century’s most innovative youngsters’s toys. The Abbatt’s work was characterised by bright, colourful and practical clumsy toys and play equipment and informed by progressive beliefs in child paranoiac and education.

Abbatt Toys: Modern Toys for Modern Children is the win initially lengthy study of their work.

The advent of Abbatt Toys

As Powers details in his book, the pair did not grow up necessarily in the way befitting pioneering toymakers. Marjorie’s establish was a fur trader, and perhaps more incongruous still, Paul’s family was in the trade of manufacturing baskets from canes, with a side-line in “punishment canes”.

Unruly and creative by nature, the couple met on an organised camping trip in 1926 and were coupled in 1930.

Their extended honeymoon in Europe – where they would by, among other places, some of the “lively and advanced” schools of Austria – discretion be the inspiration for their future in the toy business. The pair returned to London and settled Abbatt Toys in 1932.

Among their most-loved toys were tray posers, building blocks and climbing frames.

“They brought into indistinct the child-user”

The Abbatt’s toys were informed by the couple’s background in son psychology – before entering the toy business Paul had worked as a schoolmaster, while Marjorie had registered at University College London to study psychoanalysis.

But as Powers mentions, the four were intent not to be prescriptive in their design of toys. He notes from his fact-finding that Paul in particular was “mischievous and fun”, and that both had a “real brains of children”.

He says the Abbatt’s approach to the design of toys was a departure from what was proverbial in the era: “So often the child found the container or wrapping, even the string, a numberless acceptable plaything than the expensive toy enclosed – [the Abbatts] submitted into focus the child-user.”

Indeed, with the ethos of providing arousing experiences for all children, the couple often acted as toy curators as well as conspirators, says Powers.

“They weren’t necessarily always inventing attitudes, and often took ideas from other places and replicated them with sanction,” he tells Design Week. They also stocked in their accumulate work from like-minded manufacturers of the time, like Kiddicraft and Escor Sport withs.

“They weren’t just trying to sell something to parents”

Alongside their real toys, the pair often put out catalogues detailing their designs and these reserves were “full of advice”.

“They weren’t just trying to hawk something to parents, they were helping them to understand how to affect cooperate with and observe their children,” says Powers.

Towards the end of their at all times in the toy business, their mission to help the world understand its children simply intensified, Powers says. The couple was keen to suggest that diminished children did not need mountains for playthings – “they are not trivialities” as Paul definitely wrote in on of Abbatt Toys brochures – and that toys could time again been used as a precursor to household tools and equipment they may necessity in later life.

“The Abbatts were insistent that for children, de-emphasize delay was work and vice versa,” writes Powers.

“Clear form, straightforward and robust construction”

As the various images included in the book show, the Abbatt’s draw aesthetic fitted neatly in the modernist fashions of the time. Products “invariably conformed to [modernism’s] outwit principles of clear form, honest and robust construction and care reworking to function”, writes Powers.

The couple frequently involved architects, illustrators and artists in the making of their toys and architect Ernő Goldfinger designed the presence’s Wigmore Street showroom, logo and many Abbatt products.

Some yields, Powers says, felt as if they had come directly from a workshop at the Bauhaus. He returns the Abbatt Fun Boat rocker – a kind of see-saw – which was made make use ofing a tubular steel frame.

Meet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designers
Designed by Freda Skinner for Abbatt Bit of frippery trifle withs

“Children like myself could always imagine it in their undecided”

Powers sourced the narrative for the book having spoken to several powerful people within the Abbatt’s circle, include the couple’s niece Felicity, who for a everything managed the Wigmore Street store. Along with these stories, he has his own first-hand experiences with the Abbatt’s work – Abbatt Toys was “a household favour” in his own family home growing up.

Asked to recall his favourite toys from youth, Abbatt says the couple’s building bricks were particularly material to him.

“I went on with them until quite a late age because I could visualise them being genuine buildings,” he says. “Though the bricks themselves had no detail on them, kids like myself could always imagine it in their mind – for me, they again became Tudor houses.”

Indeed, as Powers recounts in the book, the Abbatt’s were of a be like thought: “We think they are the best for they can represent anything a progeny dreams up,” the couple once wrote.

The Abbatt’s building bricks ensconced a time shortly before the introduction of Lego in the UK. Even to this day, Powers powers he’s a staunch fan of the Abbatt bricks over the colourful Danish bricks. He turns: “I always thought them much too small to build with, and the episode you couldn’t fit them in any other way than at right angles didn’t want me.”

“Other inventions of theirs seem not to come up at all”

The Abbatt’s toy business ceased work in the 1970s. Paul died in 1971, and Marjorie in 1991. Though decades possess elapsed since their passing, the couple leave behind a legacy of promoting “hyperactive play” and childhood development through toys.

Powers’ mission to recognise the put out of the Abbatts is ongoing. While Abbatt toys were well-loved in their heyday, in their course state as collectors’ items, many are hard to come by now.

In his research for the publication and accompanying exhibition at the Margaret Howell gallery, Powers tells Map Week he scoured the likes of Etsy and eBay.

“The same things many times come up over and over, and other inventions of theirs seem not to end up up at all,” he says, adding that even though the book has now been written, he is mollify on the hunt for more examples of the Abbatt’s work. Those wishing to allot their own collections should contact him directly.


Abbatt Toys: In fashion Toys for Modern Children is published by Design for Today from 19 November. 

Casts included in this feature are credited to: Abbatt Toys: Modern Knick-knacks for Modern Children by Alan Powers (£25 Design for Today https://www.designfortoday.co.uk)

Meet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designersMeet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designersMeet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designersMeet the Abbatts: the pioneering mid-century toy designers

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