Inducted Year: 2022
Ancient peoples of Greece and Rome amused themselves with toys resembling the spinning tops we know today. Archaeologists have found 5,000-year-old clay tops in Iraq and 3,000-year-old whip tops in China. Native peoples of the Americas played with tops in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Top makers have formed their tops from clay, metal, stone, wood, and, later, rubber, tin, and plastics. Shapes and types of tops also vary, leading to the different ways in which the tops are used and to the different skills needed to win spinning competitions. Gamblers and bettors used carved wooden tops with four or eight sides, called teetotums, in games of chance. Jewish children use a specialized teetotum, a dreidel, in games played during Chanukah.
Twirling a top with a short stem between two fingers sends the toy off for some distance and duration. A top that has a long stem can be twirled using the palms, spinning the top much longer and farther. Peg tops, on the other hand, spin when the string wound around the top’s body is pulled away, sending the top spinning on its own. Modern pump tops made of tin, metal, or plastic invite surface decorations that deliver a variety of illusions not evident when the top is at rest. It is these optical illusions as well as the spin of the top itself that mesmerizes us.
In 19th- and early 20th-century cities, spinning competitions occurred on the streets and in parks with the spontaneity of a current-day sandlot ball game or a pick-up game of hoops. Most boys had tops, all knew the rules, and many mastered the twist of the wrist that whipped the top just so to assure victory over their opponents.
In Japan, Takara Tomy developed a modern twist on the classic top with its 2000 release of the Beyblades toy line in 2000 along with a TV anime series. In the United States, Hasbro distributed Beyblades tops. Variations in colors, materials, styles, and function (attack, defense, combination, or endurance) make Beyblades sophisticated enough to hold the interest of kids raised on video games and social media.
What’s old is new again.