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Museum celebrates 100 years of hit toys

It was the Beyblade of its day, the toy that no youthful arbiter of cool would consider entering the playground without. But today, the cultural clout of the Combine Harvester is limited to its presence on a museum shelf.

The Combine Harvester, a miniature version of the farmer's vehicle, was the best-selling toy of 1978, owned by every self-respecting child. And it is now one of many, long-forgotten toys, games and models displayed in a new exhibition at the Museum of Childhood, in east London.

Must-Have Toys, which runs until January, highlights the most popular toys of the past 100 years. Running the historical gamut of playground hysteria, it includes both fleeting trends and toybox perennials such as teddy bears, Barbie and Meccano.

Halina Pasierbska, curator of the exhibition, said there have been few real changes over the years. "Beyblades are, basically, an updated version of the spinning-top and video games are just one up from board games. Put the early toys in front of today's children and they would adore them."

The exhibition traces the origins of many of the toys on display. Meccano, for example, emerged in 1901, when a designer decided to develop his son's engineering skills. And the Spacehopper, the kangaroo-eared cult of the 1970s, was based on a buoy floating in a Norwegian fjord.

Ms Pasierbska said: "Toys have been treated as recreational for far too long. They are a serious business. Children's lives are bound up with stress and learning. So toys offer escapism, and a way to develop the imagination."

Walking around the exhibition, 11-year-old Maya Haynes, from east London, is relieved to have been born in the Teletubby era.

"A hundred years ago, unless you were rich, you could only afford the basics," she said. "Some children played with sticks and stones. Today there are lots of different toys, and even cheap toys can be popular."

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