Archival Collections Related to Artifacts of Play

The Strong collects and preserves a broad range of play-related materials through its Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play. These include marketing, advertising, and other promotional and informational materials about toys and games; design documents; business records; works of art; and other materials that provide unique windows into the many facets of play, its role in learning and human development, and the ways in which it illuminates cultural history.

Key holdings include the following:

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Aeolian American Piano Corporation Collection, 1840s–1950s

The Aeolian American Piano Corporation Collection contains records and design drawings of the world’s largest piano manufacturer in the early 20th century. The corporation, which resulted from a 1932 merger between the Aeolian (1887) and American (1908) companies and produced several brands over time, had its headquarters and factory in East Rochester, New York, where at one point it employed almost 500 people. The collection includes 300 trade catalogs and advertising pieces, 25 ledgers and daybooks, 50 blueprints for pianos, 10 volumes of piano patents, 90 photographs, 20 master player piano rolls, 15 folders of papers and correspondence, 35 monographs, and 25 newspaper issues.

America at Play: Play Stories Video Archive

Nearly 1,000 first-person accounts illuminate the evolution of play in America over the last 80 years. In these short videos, children and adults share personal stories of their play alone and with friends and family members; with favorite toys, dolls, games, and other playthings; and with found objects, indoors and out. The bulk of the collection was captured at video kiosks on-site at The Strong museum, where the contents helped inform The Strong’s  America at Play, a series of four individual exhibits that tell the story of how play has changed—and how play has remained the same—in America over time. Play story collecting for the America at Play: Play Stories Video Archive is ongoing.

Stan and Jan Berenstain Archive of Cartoon Art, 1949–2006

The Berenstain Archive provides a unique glimpse of mid-to-late-20th-century family life in America as seen through the pop culture lens of syndicated comic strips, monthly comic series, and humorous books. Stanley (1923–2005) and Janice (1923–2012) Berenstain met in 1941 and produced a prodigious quantity of cartoon art over their long careers. The archive begins with the Berenstains’ earliest work in the late 1940s and continues through their mid-1950s syndicated comic strip Sister and their It’s All in the Family cartoon series, which ran in several magazines between 1956 and 1988. Included are rough draft copies through finished drawings, some with color overlays returned by publishers. In addition, there are individual cartoons, store advertisements, other promotional materials, and rough and finished drawings for nearly all of the couple’s approximately 30 pre-Bear book projects. The archive also includes early examples of Berenstain Bears drawings and animation cells from 1980s-era Berenstain Bears television specials.

View the Stan and Jan Berenstain Archive of Cartoon Art finding aid.

See also “In Honor of Jan Berenstain” and the Berenstain Bears Collection, an assemblage of more than 450 objects representing the full range of licensed Bears products.

Coleman Family Papers, 1909–1990s

Members of one of the best-known families in the world of doll collecting, collectors and historians Dorothy, Evelyn (Jane), and Elizabeth (Ann) Coleman researched and authored three of the most comprehensive published resources on dolls. The collection contains draft manuscripts, reference materials, notes, photographs, doll and doll clothes patterns, data sheets, and other materials created or used by Dorothy, Jane, and Ann Coleman in preparation of their well-known books Dolls: Makers and Marks (1963), Age of Dolls (1965), Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Volume 1 (1968), and Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls, Volume 2 (1986). The assemblage also includes  complete copies of draft manuscripts with annotations for their compendiums. The Colemans’s reference files for doll clothes, dollhouses, mechanical toys, and other toys are also contained in this collection.

Dungeons & Dragons Collection, 1971–2013

In addition to nearly 500 different artifacts related to pen-and-paper and electronic versions of Dungeons & Dragons, The Strong owns dozens of rare early documents related to the formative years of its publisher, TSR, Inc. Founded by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Don Kaye, and Brian Blume, TSR—originally Tactical Studies Rules and later TSR Hobbies—revolutionized the world of gaming with its products. Materials in The Strong’s Dungeons & Dragons Collection help document the evolution of the company and its products. Included are numerous issues of magazines, such as The Dragon, Strategic Review, and White Dwarf, intended for serious role-playing gamers during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as trade catalogs, works of fiction, and other publications. Archival holdings include significant documents, such as TSR in-house newsletters and GENCON conference information packets which belonged to Gary Gygax, as well as correspondence and other materials related to Dungeons & Dragons from former TSR employees, important game designers, and influential gamers.

See also “Fantastic Fun: Sid Sackson, Gary Gygax, and the World of Wargaming.”

Fields of Play Film Series Collection, 1981–1982 and 2010–2012

This collection includes five historic documentary films produced for the BBC in 1981–1982 by acclaimed British filmmaker Mike Dibb. For more than 40 years, Dibb explored international cultural themes ranging from art, music, and dance to theater, movies, and sports. Along the way he explored the work and contributions of such leading, and wide-ranging, figures as Picasso, John Ruskin, Octavio Paz, Miles Davis, John Ford, Buster Keaton, and Studs Terkel. Dibb’s Fields of Play series leads off with extensive footage of Brian Sutton-Smith discussing his scholarly work on play. Other films in the series include Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other scholars. Shot in both the U.S. and Britain, the films examine play in conjunction with learning, creativity, work, leisure, and other topics from sports to gambling and war games. Individual titles include Plays of Meaning, Playing the Odds, Work and Play, Playing Ball, and Playing for Real.

View the Fields of Play Film Series Collection finding aid.

Gruelle Family Collection, 1888–2008

This collection documents the development of the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls by their creator, popular early-20th-century children’s illustrator Johnny Gruelle (1880–1938). The bulk of the collection dates from the first half of the 1900s and consists of manuscripts, graphic materials, publications, correspondence, photographs, and miscellaneous items related to the Gruelle family. Personal items of Gruelle family members Johnny Gruelle, Myrtle Gruelle, Worth Gruelle, Suzanne Gruelle, Justin Gruelle, and Joni Gruelle Wannamaker are also included.

See also the Raggedy Ann and Andy Collection, featuring more 1,400 items that have employed Raggedy Ann and Andy images for almost a century.

View the Gruelle Family Collection finding aid.

Flora Gill Jacobs Collection, 1873–2000s

Flora Gill Jacobs (1918–2006) was an international authority on dollhouses and miniatures; she spent nearly 60 years acquiring, researching, renovating, and furnishing miniature dwellings. Jacobs, a serious collector, operated the Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum in Georgetown from 1975 through 2004. Her museum (along with her publications) has been credited with increasing interest in dollhouse collecting in the United States in the second part of the 20th century. The collection includes two linear feet of personal papers related to dollhouses and the Washington Dolls’ House and Toy Museum as well as approximately 300 international reference books, dollhouse and toy manufacturer trade catalogs, 19th-century periodicals, children’s books, and scrapbooks. The materials—on the topics of dollhouses, play, dolls, toys, crafting miniatures, and more—span from the mid-19th century through the 2000s. Some of these items are in French, German, Italian, and Japanese.

Philip E. Orbanes Papers, 1905–2012

Philip E. Orbanes spent more than a decade leading research and development teams at Parker Brothers and is widely recognized as the foremost authority on Monopoly and Parker Brothers. The collection contains personal and business records that chronicle Orbanes’s 30-year career at Parker Brothers, Ideal, and his own company, Gamescience. Also included are materials related to his numerous connections in the game industry, such as Sid Sackson, plus rare documents from George Parker and his two brothers.

View the Philip E. Orbanes Collection finding aid. See also the Philip E. Orbanes Collection of more than 500 board games and other items related to Monopoly, Parker Brothers, and Orbanes’s career.

Sid Sackson Collection, 1867–2000

The bulk of this collection covers the period 1960–1995 and represents essentially the complete professional archive of game designer, collector, consultant, and author Sid Sackson (1920–2002), who created more than 500 games. Most notable among the 50 or so he brought to market are Acquire, Can't Stop, Sleuth, Focus, Bazaar, Metropolis, Monad, Take Five, and Venture. Sackson meticulously documented his game design processes, and the collection includes his diaries plus game descriptions and rules, writings, newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence, some photographs, and miscellaneous books, periodicals, and trade catalogs.

View the Sid Sackson Collection finding aid. See also the museum’s Sid Sackson Prototypes Collection, more than 300 three-dimensional game prototypes made by Sackson.

Margaret Woodbury Strong Papers, 1897–1969

The Margaret Woodbury Strong papers are from the original estate of Margaret Woodbury Strong, spanning her lifetime from 1897–1969. These materials include family papers, diaries, scrapbooks, correspondence, news clippings, guest books, photographs, bookplates, slides, 16mm films, financial papers, collections reference materials, and more. Strong, who had been a collector her entire life, amassed a vast collection of dolls, dollhouses, toys, and other playthings, with which she hoped to establish a museum. In 1968, she obtained a provisional charter from the New York State Board of Regents for the “Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Fascination.” After her death in 1969, her collections and financial resources formed the basis for what is now The Strong museum.

See also Margaret Woodbury Strong biography.

Toyland Digital Video Archive, 2010

This archive contains approximately 65 hours of filmed interviews with notable American toy and game inventors and developers. Conducted by filmmakers Tim Walsh and Ken Sons during research for their hour-long 2010 documentary film Toyland, the footage includes conversations with, among others, Betty James (Slinky), Eddie Goldfarb (Yakity-Yak chattering teeth and Kerplunk), Burt Meyer (Lite Brite and Mouse Trap), John Spinello (Operation), Milt Levine (Ant Farm), Kay Zufall (Play-Doh), and Reyn Guyer (Twister and Nerf). Also included are interviews with students at Otis College of Art and Design and with seasoned toy veterans from Big Monster Toys, Hasbro, and Mattel. The copyrighted interviews are available for historical content research on site but are not available for commercial use. 

View the Toyland Digital Video Archive finding aid.