Only Sweden has Swedish wooden toys!

During the last century a Brio army of cars, dachshunds and ducks marched into the nurseries of the Swedish welfare state. Colourful, educational, ingenious and with their roots definitively in the southern Swedish forests. You just have to admit defeat!

Do you want to read more from 1, 2013?

German vases, safari chairs, Brio toys, Edenfalk’s glasses from Skruf’s glassworks, the journey of the tights, retro wallpaper and a guide to Copenhagen. Outside Sweden this issue is only available in AppStore.

When modern Sweden developed, Brio was there, ready to fill the country’s nurseries with toys. In keeping with the welfare state’s ideal, in the 50s, child educationalists contributed by developing toys that would encourage learning and provide motor skills. Toys should be colourful and durable, safe and educational!

This turned out to be a truly successful formula. Brio’s wooden toys spread across the world, not least as a credible expression of  “the Swedish model”. Today Swedish wooden toys are an interesting area for design historians as well as collectors. An exhibition with this name is being organised at the Bard Graduate Center on Manhattan (autumn 2014).

The distinctive design has its own collective history. Sometimes subcontractors produced a model, other times it came about in collaboration with Brio’s purchasers and carpenters. Inspiration often came from trade fairs and foreign toy brochures. Initially the actual construction work was mainly carried out in the homes of rural Osby, where families were happy to earn some extra money.

Trucks, excavators and many other large toys were made of pine. Otherwise most of Brio’s wooden toys were made of beech, a much harder wood. Parts such as wheels and ears can give a clue to the toys’ age. Wheels had formerly had a flat surface  but at the start of the 50s characteristic wheels had spokes in relief. In the 60s rubber was added to some of the wheels, to make the toys quieter, and the classic dachshund Dachsie was given plastic ears.

“The plastic ears were not introduced because they were cheaper, but because ears of thin wood broke easily when the dog fell to the floor. Quite simply the aim was to stop children putting small pieces of wood into their mouths” says Solveig Nordh, curator at the Lekoseum toy museum in Osby.

Brio kept the same distinct colours to stimulate children’s development until the 21st century. If you come across older Brio toys in odd colours, they were probably manufactured during World War II, when German factories no longer supplied the pigment to foreign paint companies. Then the toys were quite simply lacquered whitewood, or painted with colours people happened to find. Brio’s toys were painted in several thin layers to withstand tough handling. But over time they naturally began to flake, which you can see on products that have been around for several decades. If you can discern a pink colour, this means the toy was manufactured before the mid-20th century, as some products were given a first layer of this colour then.

But now, make way for the great attraction in the nursery.