Creative Playthings

“Play has a basic role in the drama of a child’s development. It is a serious business for the child, his true means of learning and growing…Every child should have a wide variety of play materials to evoke in him a spirit of inquiry; to develop physical manipulation to the fullest; to stimulate creative expression. He requires not only the miniatures of real objects in the adult world, but also building blocks, clay, finger paints, et cetera, that he can adapt to his particular needs.”

-Frank Caplan, 1949, Founder of Creative Playthings

Creative Playthings was founded in NYC by Frank and Theresa Caplan in 1945.  Their goal was to create educational toys and materials that were simple but beautiful, the sorts of playthings that would promote a child’s creativity and imagination.

Caplan believed that providing unpainted abstract forms that emphasized shape, color and texture, as opposed to life-like details, would stimulate a child’s imagination.  So he began to make his own forms, right in the store on 95th street, that could be manipulated and rearranged into all sorts of different combinations and and structures.

Beginning in 1949, Creative Playthings embarked on a series of collaborations with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. In 1949, the children’s room and playroom of Marcel Breuer’s “House in the Museum Garden” was composed almost entirely of Creative Playthings objects and designs, including their “Hollow Blocks.” After that Caplan worked with such notable artists, architects, and designers as Isamu Noguchi, Louis Kahn, Henry Moore, and Robert Winston on comprehensive playground designs (although some of these designs were not fully realized). He also collaborated with numerous international artists to design playground equipment, such as the Swedish sculptor, Egon Möller-Nielsen’s fiberglass helical slide

Later followed a close collaboration with Swiss toymaker Antonio Vitali to design a series of “Playforms” – smooth sculpted animals, vehicles, and figures in wood that fit neatly into a child’s hands. Each object is more beautiful than the next!

In 1966 the company was bought by, and then later sold again in the 80s, and it was never really the same again. But they had a pretty spectacular run there for nearly two decades! Why can’t children’s toys still look this good?!


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