Curator Choice: Top 5 Handheld Toys

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Rubik's cube

Curator Martin Wills chooses his top five handheld toys from Game ON! a showcase of handheld toys and games at the Workhouse Museum.

“Every generation has a handheld game that sums up the era. From Victorian wooden toys to Rubik’s Cubes, from Game Boys to fidget spinners, most of us at some point have been addicted to a handheld game. Game ON, which charts the evolution of the handheld game, has been designed, researched and curated by our young volunteer group.”

These are my ‘top five’ games from the new display:

Cup and Ball

This is one of the earliest and most popular games enjoyed by children and adults. It originated from France in the 16th century where it was known as ‘Biboquet’.  The toy quickly spread and has been played around the world. Countries such as North America and Japan have all adapted their own versions of the toy. Cup and ball was especially popular in England during the 19th century. Jane Austen was said to have ‘excelled’ at it.

Rubik’s Cube

The Rubik’s Cube is the world’s best selling toy and over 400 million cubes have been sold. It was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik in Hungary. It was a teaching tool he developed to help his students understand 3D geometry.  It took Rubik a month to solve the puzzle!

Etch a Sketch

The Etch a Sketch was invented by Andre Cassagnes of France in the 1950s. It was originally called The Magic Screen.  Cassagnes was an electrician who made the first Etch a Sketch using a hollow box and a pulley system to move a pen. This pen brushes away aluminium powder from the screen to create a dark line.


The Stylophone is a mini electronic keyboard invented in 1967 by Brian Jarvis. Since then, over four million Stylophones have been sold. Brian was asked by his niece to mend her broken toy piano. Instead of simply repairing the toy, he fitted an electronic keyboard. Brian mentioned the invention to his colleagues, but they needed to devise a way of making the product cheaper to produce. The moving keys were removed and swapped with a flat, metal keyboard, which when touched with a metal object would complete a circuit and make a sound.


A Tamagotchi is a digital handheld pet, invented in Japan by Akihiro Yoloi and Aki Maita. The toy was launched in 1996 and there have been 76 million units sold worldwide. The aim of the game is to look after the digitised pet until it reaches adulthood. The pet is like any other pet, it needs feeding, the occasional jab of medicine and lots of play. The creatures have a hunger meter, happy meter, bracelet meter and discipline meter. They can also leave droppings on the screen and can get ill if they are not cleaned up.

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